Last February, Joe and I took a little trip to NYC. It had been the holiday both of us had dreamt of for years. He’d been a fan since the first Ghostbusters film and I’d been a fan since You’ve Got Mail (okay, and maybe SATC). Little did we know, it was all to end in tears and so much more.
Before we’d even left, I’d been suffering. I was in a job that was no longer making me happy and I felt like I had a lot on my shoulders. Everything had all got too much. Needless to say all of this was affecting me in a way I hadn’t known before. There’d be days where I had crushing pains in my chest, where I couldn’t breathe and there’d be others where I wasn’t listening to anyone and could barely keep a conversation going. It was like being in an extremely lucid ‘dream state’.
What’s more, clearly affected by the media’s coverage of 2016’s death toll and various Cancer Research UK TV ads, I began to believe that I had lumps. I’d go day-to-day thinking that I had cancer. And when I wasn’t believing that, I believed that I’d die at any minute because of a rogue blood clot. I became obsessed with reading about these conditions online, symptom checking and became increasingly aware of anything that talked about terminal illnesses – TV or radio ads and articles on social media. I’d even begun probing my chest and legs so hard that I’d bruised them checking hourly for lumps. Because of this, I spent months feeling terrified, before I even told Joe, my closest friends or any medical professionals. I grew increasingly ashamed too. There were people who were suffering with these dreadful conditions and the little bit of rationality I had left, knew that I didn’t really have them (or did I!?).
When I couldn’t take it any more, I looked online to see if there was something that could describe what I was feeling. I found a handbook on the NHS for ‘Health Anxiety’ and I SOBBED. It was the first time I’d found something that described everything I had been feeling over the past few months – it made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy. It was then with tears rolling down my cheeks that I finally told Joe. He had known something wasn’t right, he just didn’t know what. And being the brilliant man he is, he comforted me and told me we’d work through it.
The night before was a nightmare. I thought I had a chest infection, so was worried about the flight. I couldn’t breathe, I kept making myself cough (although at the time I thought it was real) and was shaking violently. I medicated to get myself through the night and the flight that followed the next day. I downed cough syrups of various types and was taking a mix of paracetamol and ibuprofen to get me through. I’d also begun using a health app on my phone to measure my heart rate, as my heart had begun to race when my chest was tight.
First thing we did when we arrived in NYC was to take a typical yellow taxi into town so we could check in at the Roosevelt Hotel. Upon realising the room was fairly small and not quite what we had expected, we figured that if we spent the first day shopping, then we wouldn’t be tempted to the rest of the time so we got it done – Nintendo Store, Disney Store, Bath & Bodyworks, LEGO store, Midtown Comics… it was a successful haul.
Of course, whilst we did this we got to witness the contagious atmosphere of Times Square, with its massive emblazoned ads and immense energy, Radio City Music Hall, which had David Bowie in lights all over it. We also happened upon the rather peaceful Rockefeller Plaza – there were next to no people each time we visited. It felt like a bubble away from the sirens and general chaotic fast-paced nature of the streets just beyond.
In the afternoon, as the sun was going down on our first day, we ventured to the Chrysler Building to see its magnificent architecture lit up in the night sky. It truly is a work of art. After sky gazing, we wandered into Grand Central Station to see what the fuss was about and I can say I honestly wasn’t prepared for how opulent and beautiful it was. By now, our tummies were well and truly growling.
Little did we know our first night presented us with the best food we’d eat all trip. We visited the inconspicuous Totto Ramen after a recommendation, it was only a 15-minute walk from our hotel. I ordered some delicious pulled pork steamed buns to start, then opted for the fresh shredded chicken and chunky pork ramen. I have NEVER had ramen this good in my life – I can’t even describe how perfect it was with its multitude of flavours. You simply must go.
Surprisingly, I’d made day one anxiety-free, bar the taxi ride into town.
The next day was one for walking, over 20,000 steps across NYC to be precise. We trekked from Midtown to Central Park to begin our adventure. I don’t think it was until we’d got to its outskirts that we realised just how immense this park actually was. We ventured in, taking in each site from Bow Bridge and Strawberry Fields to Bethesda Terrace and the Alice in Wonderland statue.
It was an incredible day – the sky was the bluest it had been so far, the sun had come up and was bringing the temperature up with it. For the first time in a long time, I felt truly calm. This was especially helped by a brilliant guitarist playing Imagine at the John Lennon memorial.
We stopped for a hot chocolate in Loeb Boathouse to warm our hands before walking to the Zoo. This is kind of a right of passage in every place we visit – we always go to a zoo. This one was arguably the smallest we’d ever explored but it had some of the cutest animals. The seals were splashing about in their pool, whilst one of them couldn’t help himself but pose for every photo – he shined in the midday sun.
We also spotted a colony of snow monkeys, captured the Penguins midday feeding session and saw a Snow Leopard having it’s afternoon nap.
But the highlight of the whole zoo for me was its Red Panda. I’ve never seen one so active and willing to be photographed before – it was such a treat to spend time with this little critter and its keeper.
After our animal encounters, we began walking the 25 blocks to the place I’d wanted to go to SO badly in the city – Café Lalo. This European-style café was made famous by the film, You’ve Got Mail. But on the walk there, I could feel my chest getting tighter, my heart rate climbing and my coughing increasing. I convinced myself it was the cold air getting to my ‘chest infection’ and walked on.
Despite this, as soon as I spotted the café, I let out a squeal and ran up to its fairy light-lit trees out the front and couldn’t wait to get inside. I wasn’t the only one impressed – Joe took one look at the cakes, cheesecakes and tarts on offer and he was happy. I sat down in awe and took in my surroundings; the seats were shaped like hearts, there were old Parisienne posters on each wall and I gazed at the space where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks sat.
It was then, with my Key Lime Pie in front of me, that I had the worst panic attack I’ve ever had in my life. I couldn’t breathe, I was dizzy, I went cold and I honestly believed I was going to die. I can remember telling Joe that I was going to pass out, as I checked my heart rate monitor and that we may have to call for an ambulance. But secretly I was terrified of paying for healthcare and going to a foreign hospital – what if I never left? It sounds crazy now but in my head, I had begun penning my final words to Joe. It was one of the worst moments of my life.
Once I had managed to gain some kind of control, we left and got the subway back to the hotel, with me gasping for breath as we went. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Joe, I wouldn’t have made it back. We stayed in the hotel for the rest of the day as I tried to regain control of my life. The bed became my safe haven as I continued to dose up on anything I could find.
The next day, we wanted to hit a traditional NYC diner – so we went to tourist-hotspot, Stardust. Basically, all the waiters sing and dance, as they’re training to be on Broadway, so you get a show whilst you eat. We both opted for the eggs, bacon, bagel and hash brown dish – far too much for me but Joe lapped his up!
Needing to walk off our breakfast, we headed to MoMA, just a few blocks down. Now, I’m ‘into’ my art, I love artists, galleries and exhibitions more than your average person but this museum really let me down. I’d wanted to go there for years but it just felt vacuous and cold. There was no atmosphere whatsoever and I didn’t really feel immersed in any particular section. It came nowhere close to the Pompidou Centre or Tate Modern. It was a massive shame.
Feeling somewhat deflated, having spent just a few hours in MoMA, we headed to face Joe’s worst fear – the Top of the Rock. Those of you that don’t know, he has a massive fear of heights so this was a real challenge for him. As uber-keen wifey, I marched him all the way through the mini-museum and straight to the elevators, knowing that if he didn’t do this he’d probably back out. Then there we were, on top of the world. It was another beautiful, crisp spring day and it just made the moment even more special.
After taking a million photos of the incredible NYC skyline, we wandered back through the city’s streets taking in sights like Bryant Park and the New York Public Library – a little more low-key but wonderful all the same to see an everyday side to the Big Apple with commuters having coffee breaks and families playing in the park.
With our little jaunt for the day done, we headed back to the hotel to change and get ready for our evening entertainment – Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway. It was then that I began feeling like the previous day again. I decided that it was my ‘chest infection’ getting worse, so headed to a local pharmacy and bought some stronger pain killers to try before the show.
Upon arrival, the New Amsterdam Theatre was absolutely beautiful – it was innately sculptured and romantically painted. Every little detail had been taken care of. When we were shown to our seats we kept walking… little did I know that Joe had booked us a box! It was a dream. But, sadly, this is all I remember, my anxiety had taken hold again and I was in another state of panic. All I can remember was eating all my cough sweets, my hands turning blue and struggling to breathe. I was gutted that the whole performance had been ruined and felt bad for Joe because it was a birthday present for me that he’d invested in.
It was that evening that I decided I couldn’t be in NYC any more. Joe rang our travel agent and got us a flight for the day after next. I would say that I felt relief but I didn’t. I was so wrapped up in feeling unwell and guilty that I just wanted to leave.
On our last day, we attempted to finish up on a couple of things we HAD to do. We visited the infamous Hook and Ladder 8 firehouse – I couldn’t let Joe leave without seeing it, although it was scaffolded up. His face was still a picture of pure joy.
Then we took the subway to the World Trade Center Memorial. I expected to be awash with emotion at this point but I just couldn’t muster it. We wandered around for a bit, taking in the expanse of the site but it was hard to feel anything. I felt like I’d paid my respects though, which was important to me.
Then it was time to leave NYC. Again, waiting for the taxi and going through the airport process, I was panicked. I remember feeling like I’d never get past all the checks and cradling a hot chocolate in McDonald’s wanting to sob my heart out. My anxiety had told me that I was going to die on the flight and there’d be no-one to help me. As a result, I spent the next 8 hours over-dosing on painkillers, cough syrup and fear. It was without a doubt the most terrifying flight of my life and yet another low point for me.
As we touched down, I made a promise with myself to go straight to the doctors – and I did. Feeling panicked, wracked with guilt that I’d ruined our dream holiday and like my world was ending, the doctor diagnosed me with severe anxiety and healthy anxiety. He signed me up for CBT therapy with a local group, warned me to stop probing myself as I’d bruised my rib cage and prescribed me the highest dose you could take of Sertraline.
I guess, in the end, this is the story of how my anxiety manifested itself. Just over a year on and I’m still waiting on CBT but I’m off my meds. I couldn’t emotionally feel anything and they woke me up during the night with strange bouts of insomnia. But for now, I’m happy and I can feel that I’m happy. I’m not dampened by meds and I’ve learnt to take the rough with the smooth, without putting so much damn pressure on myself. Don’t get me wrong, there are still days where I suffer panic attacks but I can manage them better now without the use of medication – something that was impossible before.
What I wanted to say in this mammoth post was, there is a light at the end of the tunnel to anyone else suffering with this cruel mentality. You will learn coping methods that work for you, you will be happy again and life does go on – you got this. Trust me on that. Accept that you may have those dark days but enjoy the many good days that surround them. Ironically, life is too short not to.