Last night, eight of us were at a friend’s house for our Christmas do. I’d been looking forward to it all week. Everyone was in high spirits. I was trying to chop up some red chilis when I sensed the warning signs of an impending vertigo attack. A friend was asking me questions and I was trying to answer, but I didn’t dare move my gaze one millimetre from the kitchen surface. I felt like a teenager who’d developed a sudden fear of eye contact.
I hadn’t been right for most of the afternoon. I had hoped that an hour relaxing in the bath instead of putting the kids to bed (thank you Rhys) would put me straight. It didn’t. But I had reason to feel hopeful.
The day before I had sat on the platform at South Ealing station watching tubes come and go. I was dizzy and I was debating whether I could make the 5 tube stops I needed to travel to get to a training course that I really wanted to do. I took the plunge. I got on the tube, clung to a pole inside the carriage, shut my eyes and tried not to think about the sea of strangers surrounding me.
It paid off. I made it to the venue. As the training began, I started to feel normal again. Buoyed by the victory, I was feeling hopeful. But twenty minutes after arriving at my friend’s house, my brain had other ideas. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay upright much longer.
But I didn’t know how to extract myself from this celebration with my lovely friends.
I have this flaw you see, well it’s clearly one of many, but this particular one has frustrated me for as long as I can remember. When I feel really ropey or really sad and definitely when I feel an attack coming, the tiniest hint of human kindness opens the floodgates. It doesn’t even have to be words. It can just be a concerned look. Any sign of kindness is enough for the volcano to erupt inside me. I’m powerless to stop it. The tears pour out. I can’t talk. I gulp for air. I cry some more. And I’m so embarrassed that I wish with all my might that the floor will swallow me up.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me that it’s OK and crying is good. I wholeheartedly agree. But it definitely has its place. Yes during a heart to heart with a friend in your front room (countless times). Yes whilst watching a sad film (a few nights ago). Yes as I walked away from dropping my son off at school when he’d hugged me so tight and implored me with his big, big eyes not to leave him and his teacher had to peel him off me (this morning).
But there are lots of occasions I’d really rather not cry. On the tube when surrounded by strangers for example. Or at school pick-up with lots of other mums and dads looking on (last week). Or in front of an awesomely stoic little girl who I have never seen cry in the six years she’s been alive (a fortnight ago as I talked to her mum). And most definitely at a Christmas celebration with friends when the mood is happy and festive and fun and celebratory.
The thing is that my tears give out the wrong signal. Yes I am, in that moment, feeling desperate. Yes I hate the depths Menieres pushes me to. But I also know that soon enough, and definitely after a good night’s sleep, the volcano of emotion that is currently overwhelming me will have dissipated and I’ll be able to communicate so much more coherently and so much more productively.
So what did I do? I did the only thing I could think of. I walked into my friend’s hall, picked up my coat and let myself out as quietly as I could and called my husband. 5 minutes later, once I was safely home, I used a far safer method of communication, I texted. I told my friends I was so sorry and to please have fun and to not worry.
As I texted the volcano erupted. I cried. I howled a bit. And then I wiped my eyes with my hands. In so doing I rubbed traces of the red chili I had been chopping straight into my eyes. Within seconds my eyes were on fire and I wanted to jump around the room to stop the red hot burning sensation.
I laughed. Rhys laughed at me a lot.
And then I went to bed.
Post note: I’ve walked out of something once before. I was 17. I was in an A-level Chemistry class. I fancied the pants off my Chemistry teacher, Mr Elliot, and had done for months. I was convinced that he might finally realise how much I loved him if I staged an elaborate teenage sulk and disappeared into the woods so he couldn’t find me.
To my friends, I hope you don’t need me to tell you how much you mean to me.
But I’m still really sorry for walking out.