Last week I had a full-blown panic attack in the middle of Brixton tube station. The kind that leaves you immobilised, debilitated, and unable to breathe. Luckily, my partner was there to help me get over it, and even luckier for us, you were there to offer a helping hand too.
It all started at the beginning of my journey on the Underground, and I naively thought I could handle it. I was wrong, as I always am, about my panic attacks.
My partner and I had just spent the last 12 hours travelling south from Edinburgh, when it should have taken five. The bad wind had caused a tree to fall on the train tracks, which disrupted power and meant no trains could run on that line. Unfortunately, we were the unlucky bastards who got caught out and had to spend three hours just south of Carlisle waiting for another train to rescue us. That, plus other delays on the next two trains we had to get, meant a very long, frustrating, boring day.
We were Brixton-bound for a gig in the evening, and had planned to arrive just after midday so we had plenty of time to explore the area beforehand. That, evidently, did not happen. Our train eventually arrived at London King’s Cross at 6:40 - doors opened at seven, and we still had to make our way to Brixton. And check into our Airbnb. And get something to eat. And walk to the O2 Academy.
I don’t like the Tube at the best of times (I’m sure you can sympathise), because large crowds give me bad anxiety. Sadly, with the addition of tiredness, frustration, stress of being late, unfamiliarity with the Tube system, and general hurriedness, this whole experience was about as bad as it could have been.
It was rush hour, so there were swarms of people all around me, charging past me, and walking towards me. I was so nervous when we were navigating our way around King’s Cross tube station that I could feel my fingernails making prominent marks at the edge of my palms. My partner noticed I wasn’t okay but I insisted we keep on going, because I just wanted this to be over.
Winding our way through the maze that is the tube station, I started to feel light-headed and then realised that I couldn’t look up, because the passages were giving me a tunnel vision-like dizziness that made me feel like I was going to pass out. I was still intent on getting this hellish journey over with, so I ploughed on.
We got on a tube, and my panic attack properly took over. I couldn’t stop shaking. I was clinging onto my partner for dear life, frightened that if I let go I was going to collapse. I felt like no matter how much air I breathed in, it wasn’t enough. My face, especially my lips, were tingling and both my legs had gone into spasm, which was difficult to handle since we were standing. Not that I could move if I wanted to.
A man asked if I wanted his seat and I just clutched my partner harder, so he answered that we were okay where we were.
I have special meds for panic attacks, which I took once I eventually became able to loosen my tense body frame. The meds didn’t kick in for a while though, unfortunately.
We finally arrived at Brixton tube station, and I had to ask my partner to hold my hand and guide me out, since I still couldn’t look up without everything being a distorted blur, and I couldn’t see properly through the tears in my eyes.
I started to panic again at the bottom of the escalator. I pushed myself once more though, and I made it to the top. That’s when the sense of shame, embarrassment, self-pity and inadequacy washed over me like a big wave, and I felt like everyone was staring at me while I cried like a pathetic loser. I started to shake again and I couldn’t move. I had to stop, by the wall at the top of the escalator, because I felt so dizzy and immobilised and I didn’t know what to do. My partner held me, and I could feel everyone’s eyes on me as the horde of commuters rushed past me, while I took up what felt like all the space in the world.
That’s when you noticed us, and came to ask if I was okay, and if there was anything I needed. My partner explained that I was just having a bit of a panic attack, and that we would be fine - he knows what I can get like, and knows I just need time for it to pass. You offered me a seat and a glass of water, and I nodded. I wasn’t able to verbally respond to you, but the gentle way you spoke to me really made me feel like you just wanted to help and weren’t judging me at all, despite the weird emotional and physical state I was in.
My partner was answering your questions for me because I physically couldn’t, but from what I remember you mostly addressed me instead of my partner - this might seem insignificant to you, but it made the world of difference to me. This kind of situation often makes the sufferer feel like a burden, but your behaviour over the 20 or so minutes that I was sat there made it seem like you had as much time for me as I needed, and were just happy to help.
Once I started feeling better, you showed me that you were talking to your little boy on FaceTime, and we waved at each other through the screen. This small gesture further proved to me how unfazed you were by the whole thing, which helped me realise how much I was letting my worries build up in my head, and made me grateful that you weren’t the sort of person to over-dramatise and catastrophise when someone is having a health problem.
I wanted to thank you for making a bad situation easy to handle, and giving me space and the help I didn’t realise I needed to feel better. You might not have realised how much of an impact your actions had on me, but your kindness made such a difference to me when I was feeling so vulnerable, fragile and ashamed.
I hope this letter reaches you, and I hope it reaches others too. If reading about how compassionate you were with me makes a difference in the behaviour of even one person when dealing with someone in crisis, I will be delighted. I hope we can all look out for each other and be gentle to one another, like you were with me.
With eternal gratitude,