Shortly after being playfully scolded for ogling Samantha’s posterior, my anxiety began to flare up. At first I thought it was a direct result of her threat to leave and never speak to me again – which my anxieties had taken as the gospel truth – but as time wore on, and I became less and less able to manage the symptoms, I realised that there was more at work to what was fast becoming a full on panic attack.
It had taken a tremendous amount of courage to meet up with Samantha. Aside from a brief evening, our friendship had played out entirely in the online world. There, I could hide my mental health issues, minimize my lack of confidence and portray myself far more closely to who I believed I was. But now that she was standing beside me, witnessing my sweaty palms, incoherent (almost mute-like) speech and trembling left leg, I couldn’t hide just how nervous I was.
As we walked down Glasgow’s main shopping strip I began to focus on how quiet I had become, I became acutely aware that my body (and mind) was reacting to the entire situation and – as I was in someone’s company – wasn’t able to just chill out in order to get things under control. I felt I had to hide what was happening so she didn’t realise just how broken, useless and pathetic I really was.
Out of nowhere she took hold of my hand – an action which caused me to flinch suddenly – and began to lead me away from the throng of people into a dingy back alley. Without saying a word she sat me on the cold cobbled surface and positioned herself cross legged in front of me.
“Breath,” She said. “Just breath and focus on that breath,”
“What?” I stammered.
“You’re having a panic attack, yes?”
“How did you…?”
“I’m super-special,” She smiled. “Okay, just focus on my eyes,”
At first I couldn’t. I’ve always felt overly-conscious when I look people directly in the eye. I think they will realise I’m a fraud; that I’m not a real human being, but some form of anxiety-riddled monster. But her voice was so calm, so non-threatening, that after a few breathless moments, I met her wide eyes with my own and stared directly into her soul. My heart-rate began to increase as she took a gentle hold of both of my hands, the feel of her soft fingers on my skin breaking eye-contact.
“Just focus on my eyes,” She smiled. Nervously, I returned my eyes to hers and began to breathe slowly. “Okay, now I want you to tell me three things that you can see,”
“Three things that you can see, doesn’t matter what they are, just tell me,”
“I can see your eyes.”
Several things shot into my mind; the dimples on her cheeks as she smiled, a strand of rogue hair tickling her nose, the wooden necklace she was wearing, the fact the necklace plunged toward her cleavage.
“Cardboard boxes behind you,”
The fact her top had slipped slightly down her left shoulder to reveal half a dozen prominent freckles, the Celtic knot work decorated silver ring on her right hand, her glorious purple and black tights.
“A cat sniffing around the cardboard boxes,”
She turned her head on that one and let out the cutest giggle I’d ever heard. When she turned back to me she asked me to name three more things, which I did, and then three more, which I did. Then she threw me, asking me to name three things that I could feel: the cold stone on my behind, her fingers on my hands and our knees gently touching together.
The next question that came out of her lips was completely different: three random things that you want to do today; fly a dragon over the length and breadth of Scotland, spend more time with you, not have any more anxiety or panic attacks.
She smiled when I said that last one. “I don’t care, you know, if you do have another,”
“It’s who you are. It really doesn’t bother me Andrew, I know from reading your blog the sort of stuff that you have to deal with, to be honest, I’m surprised you’re even here with me today, I half expected you to freak out and stand me up. Which I would’ve forgiven you for in time. So don’t worry ‘bout it, okay?”
“You never have to apologise to me, ever,”
“I just wanted this day to be something wonderful and then I go and…” I trailed my words off.
“I didn’t mean to upset me when I…you know…was…”
“God. You didn’t upset me. I was teasing you. Who wouldn’t want to check out my arse?”
“I know. It’s just my mind tells me otherwise.”
“Then your mind is stupid.”
I couldn’t agree more with this statement. We sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the cat roam around the alley, listening to the crowds of people a few meters away, having staring contests which – unsurprisingly – Samantha always won.
By the time we left the alley my anxieties were under control; a panic attack averted with the help of a non-judgmental friend; the first time that had ever happened to me.