I have had panic attacks: does this mean I had a 'mental health issue'?
I remember the first one clearly. I was eight and at a cousin’s house, where we were playing one of those sensory-deprivation games children love – I can’t remember much except that it involved a stool and a blindfold. The aim was to disorient you, but in my case, the effect was much more profound.
I felt a frightening sensation wash over me, like falling asleep in a public place and waking up with a start. For the rest of the afternoon, that feeling of having “stepped out” of my own consciousness lingered.
Though it would take me years to recognise the term, that was my first panic attack. The rest came in similar, unpredictable waves. In McDonald’s, aged 11, staring at a strawberry milkshake and wondering how I got there. In art class at 15, gazing out the window at the autumn leaves, and feeling that sickening rush of panic.
Eventually, I told my parents I thought I was going mad; they suggested that panic attacks were a more likely explanation.
Their support helped, as did having a name for it. Over time, I learned to isolate the triggers and developed techniques for talking myself down. But in the end, what helped most was accepting that occasional panic attacks are simply part of who I am.
If we want to normalise so-called mental health issues, and tackle the shame and secrecy surrounding them, we need to start by demystifying them.
I’m not suggesting a blanket ban on the term “mental health issues”: there are very serious conditions that fall under this heading, and rightly so.
But no one should be defined by a mental health issue, whether it’s a temporary problem, or one with the potential to have a serious impact on their life.
Helpfully, Robinson herself uses measured language in her memoir. She describes feeling “exhausted” and “depressed” but doesn’t attempt to medicalise her experience.
Sometimes, what are popularly labelled “mental health issues” are simply by-products of being alive: sane responses, as the Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing might or might not have said, to an insane world.
Don't give up the
MICHELLE OBAMA is the “mom-in-chief”. Ann Romney is the proud stay-at-home mom and cheerleader for a love “so deep only a mother can fathom it”. Sarah Palin was a “mama grizzly”. Spot the trend emerging here? It begs the question: why are bright, powerful and articulate women such as Michelle Obama and Ann Romney so keen to identify themselves first and foremost as mothers? Men don’t seem to suffer from a similar compulsion to out themselves as dads.