Of course, there are quite a few things you can do to prevent yourself having your first panic attack three hours after reading this. The first one – and possibly key to the whole thing – is not to smoke a gigantic skunk weed bong, all on your own, while watching Later… with Jools Holland.
Later… with Jools Holland is a programme that makes me quite tense at the best of times – I find Jools Holland’s interview style uniquely agitating. (“So, your album. A bona fide delight! Remind me of its name again, dear-heart?”) But on this particular day in 1997, a set by the Beautiful South, plus enough marijuana to make all the Beatles fall over, finally tipped me over the edge.
What started as a common amount of anxiety started to grow larger and larger – first disrupting my heartbeat, then filling my lungs, until, eventually, it blew out the sides of my head. Then, through the broken skull, the monkeys came – six million chattering monkeys of evil, screeching out each worry ever invented.
Wow. I wasn’t expecting the monkeys. It was like Pandora’s Box, in reverse. I tried, desperately, to handle it for 20 minutes – but was simply outnumbered by malignant primates. I gave up and passed out.
And, when I came round, it wasn’t all a dream at all – I was still panicking, and I continued to panic, even in my sleep, for the next five weeks, pretty much non-stop.
Of course, something bad that happened in 1997 is, by 2011, not bad any more: just funny. That’s physics. Then, I didn’t know this was “just” panic – panic is running for a train while trying to get your ticket out of your bum bag. This, by way of contrast, felt like a combination of heart attack and insanity. I thought I was both losing my mind and dying and so, obviously, I, a) gave up all drugs immediately, and b) bought a bicycle, on which I spent four hours a day cycling up and down every hill in North London, trying to “sweat it out”.
As it turns out, the cure for anxiety disorders is not actually “getting sweaty in Archway”. The medical profession would have prescribed a massive whack of benzodiazepine, but I was worried that a GP would tell me off for smoking skunk while watching BBC Two (“It’s an obviously risky behaviour, Ms Moran!”) and so I never went. One friend recommended taking acid – “It’ll BURN the panic out!” – but he was the man who’d also claimed that he could “live in a hedge, on a handful of rice”, so I politely ignored him.
Do you know what worked, in the end? Telling myself to shut up. Setting up a series of huge, foot-thick iron doors in my head, and learning to clang them shut as soon as the monkeys started talking.
It took a while – I’d never tried to curb my imagination before. As a child, I’d been able to lie in bed and imagine faces coming out of the ceiling so vividly, I’d end up having to climb inside my duvet, for protection. And, at first, there was almost a perverse temptation to leave the doors open a little – test myself with a little monkey chatter, to see if I could cope with it, in the same way you test a mouth ulcer with the tip of your tongue.
But the result was always the same: escalation, pain, panic, weeping, wearily saying, “Why have I done this?” at 3am, after hours and hours of unhappiness.
And so, eventually, I learnt not to go near monkey-friendly corridors – thoughts about mortality or insanity – until, eventually, the door handles became dusty with lack of use, and whole decades passed, and I forgot what the monkeys sounded like. The spell that kills them is, simply, “SHUT UP!”
Of course, it’s not totally over. Sometimes – when I’m hung over, or very tired, or go a bit too bongo mondo with the coffee pot – the monkeys will mount a sudden surge, breach the walls and swarm. Christmas Eve was bad. I find it very difficult in hotels away from my kids. And looking at Jools Holland makes me nervous. But: shut up. It’s the best thing I ever learnt.
|—||Caitlin Moran, The Times (via naufragous)|