Last week I had a panic attack.
I don’t have panic attacks any more. I know how to control them. Sure, I panicked during a 48 hour final exam at uni (fair enough, really) and it happens occasionally drunkenly in packed nightclubs (also, fair enough) but I haven’t had a panic attack that can’t be followed by (fair enough) since I was at school.
I guess, then, that it’s not such a surprise that 4 weeks into what is, essentially, school, my anxiety reared its ugly head.
Lessons freak me out.
See, I have a short attention span. Like, the thoughts in my own head don’t get finished kind of attention span. It’s also an overlapping kind of attention span like there are at least 15 thoughts going on at any given moment. If you’ve ever held a conversation with me you’ll probably have noticed two things: firstly I find it hard to get complete coherent sentences out from my head (because I find it hard to isolate thoughts) and secondly I find it impossible to sit still. I’ve had boyfriends refuse to sleep in my bed because i run my feet like a dreaming dog chasing squirrels at all hours of the night. My family members all avoid sitting next to me on the sofa because my fidgeting distracts them from the film they’re concentrating on.
But for me, I need a distraction in order to concentrate. I need to get energy out in order to make space for information to go in. If I want to focus on a big conversation, I like to do it on a walk. If I want to focus on a film, I like to look up the actors on Instagram. Etc.
So, lessons are hard for me. I can’t walk around. I can’t play on my phone. I can’t fidget too much. I can’t talk. I can’t make any noise… I have my coping mechanisms – I take a lot of notes and I doodle in the margins – but they’re hard. What’s interesting is an hour is fine – hence why lectures at uni didn’t phase me. Then suddenly, past the hour, each minute gets a little slower, and as the attention dwindles the panic rises… 70 minutes and the restless leg starts going. 80 and my heart rate is 10 above it’s (already high) bpm. 90 and i’m looking around the room for an emergency exit.
Here at SCA we have lessons every day. They usually last about 90 minutes. I’m good. When they’re longer, I’m not so good. They’re interesting, every single one. In fact, they’re beyond interesting. They’re masterclasses from absolute advertising legends, who give their valuable time and incredible insight to us – a bunch of pale snoozy aspiring creatives with ADHD. But it doesn’t matter how interesting every last word is, I can’t rewire my brain… After x amount of time the energy builds up and I freak. So, even when I’m being addressed by an industry legend, 91 minutes: queue, panic.
So on Wednesday, about 17 minutes into a Q&A session that started after an 110-minute talk… I panicked. A full blown panic attack for what felt like absolutely no reason at all, for the first time in 4 years. I left, I smoked a cigarette, I walked and I fiddled, I got out the energy, and I was fine.
But I can’t have a panic attack every 130 minutes while I’m at SCA. I need coping mechanisms.
Enter: play-doh. Or Jemma. Or, really, Jemma bringing me play-doh. On Friday, our masterclass was a full day. At approximately 92 minutes my leg was shaking, my thumbs were twiddling, my panic was coming… When Jemma got up, went to the bathroom, and came back with a pot of play-doh. 92 minutes later, the blue plasticine warm from a million remouldings in my hands, I still hadn’t panicked and I was still listening.
A distraction that allowed me to concentrate, without distracting anyone else from concentrating.
So fuck you anxiety, and thank you play-doh (and Jemma, but there will be plenty of odes from Zoe to Jemma, and probably only one to play-doh).