ALEXANDRA SHULMAN NOTEBOOK SPECIAL: Panic attacks? I know they won’t stop Emma Raducanu… and I say that as someone who’s suffered them for decades
Last week, I wrote of Emma Raducanu’s potent – and lucrative – mix of youth, talent and beauty. Just a day later she was forced to retire from Wimbledon with breathing difficulties.
The general conclusion – still unconfirmed – is that she suffered a panic attack on court and, if so, she has my deepest sympathies.
The only positive for the poor girl is that at least panic attacks are a recognised phenomenon now. That wasn’t always so. When I experienced my first one back in the late 1970s, they were almost unknown. Certainly no one I knew had ever heard of them.
It came completely out of the blue when I was in bed at home. I ran downstairs to find my parents as I was convinced I was having a heart attack. Since I was only 20, they took the view that this was unlikely and eventually calmed me down.
A few weeks later it happened again but worse, and the frequency increased until they were almost daily. I thought I was going to die. Nobody ever mentioned the words ‘panic attack’.
The general conclusion – still unconfirmed – is that Emma Raducanu suffered a panic attack on court and, if so, she has my deepest sympathies
Now they seem almost as common as Covid. While all these incidents are unpleasant, not all are equal in ferocity.
Obviously the pressure on Emma was intense and panicking could be a perfectly rational reaction, even if she had been trained for championship-level performance.
But panicking is not a panic attack, which is when emotional pressure manifests itself as physical pressure, very often on the chest, which leads to a feeling that you can’t breathe.
An overdose of adrenaline released by the fight-or-flight mechanism floods your body. Often such attacks don’t happen in a stressful situation but appear out of nowhere, when you might least expect them.
In my case the pressure was always in my head – a buzzing that got louder and louder until it felt as if my brain would explode – accompanied by dizziness and sometimes that breathlessness.
I could breathe but felt no air in my lungs. All these years later I am still susceptible to them and even though I know what they are, nothing will convince me that I am not in dire physical danger. I have been known to call an ambulance.
The most insidious aspect of panic attacks is the risk of becoming a victim of the fear of them, which itself becomes a trigger.
Hopefully by removing herself from this year’s tournament, Emma will be able to quickly cauterise that connection and learn how to manage them should it happen again. Some people only have the experience once or twice and never again.
When I was first diagnosed – and this was after visits to several doctors – I visited a therapist who would inject me with Valium, lie me on the couch and talk me through how I felt when I was having one.
It was a lovely feeling – I still remember the warmth of his electric bar fire – but it didn’t work. More recently, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and a variety of other medication has been more helpful.
At least now it’s possible to acknowledge vulnerability of this kind rather than being advised, as I was, to keep it quiet in case it damaged my career.
Friends and family knew, but it certainly wasn’t something I spoke about with everyone. Now mental health is on everyone’s lips, and having suffered some difficulties is not the impediment it was then considered.
The reasons why these attacks occur are peculiar to each individual. Luckily for me, I always knew that it was never pressure from work.
Even during the most high-wire moments at Vogue, I never felt remotely close to a panic attack. And today, as I very occasionally experience one, I still can’t figure out exactly why.
But at least I can advise younger people such as Emma that they won’t stop you leading a successful life.
Boris Becker was accused of sexism for calling the partner of Hungarian Marton Fucsovics ‘very pretty’. I bet she didn’t mind at all.
Boris Becker was accused of sexism for calling the partner of Hungarian Marton Fucsovics (pictured with her Anett Boszormenyi) ‘very pretty’
But are we allowed to comment on men’s appearance? I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought the Danish team beat England on looks.
And how about their manager, Kasper Hjulmand? Was he deeply sexy or a dead ringer for a bent copper in a Scandi drama? Or both?
Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence is a novel where he employs everyday objects to tell stories – of romance, of history, of his own past.
I thought of it yesterday when I found a tin of spinach puree in the garden shed, along with a tin of lentils and some canned vegetable soup. I had bought them right at the start of the pandemic when we weren’t sure what we were going to be able to get hold of, or even if shops would be open.
I’d never bought any of these before and they remain there, unused reminders – along with the N95 respirator mask, the lateral flow kit, the miniatures of hand sanitiser and the sourdough starter – of this very specific period.
Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk’s (pictured) Museum of Innocence is a novel where he employs everyday objects to tell stories – of romance, of history, of his own past
It’s not a time I particularly wish to remember but I wonder whether in years to come, once the pandemic is a historical event, they might serve as curious mementos of these extraordinary months. Something to show the grandchildren.
Having got through the past 18 months without being sick or called to isolate, I’m desperate not to fall now.
Huge numbers of people are turning off their NHS apps, keen to avoid the ping telling them to isolate.
Not me, though. I’m taking more extreme measures, retreating to a minuscule Hebridean off-grid island in the romantically named Gulf of Corryvreckan. Population: ten people and a lot of red deer.
There’s pretty well zero chance of Track and Trace finding me there – but I’m not quite so sure about the ticks and midges.
I’m not ready to join the silver sirens
When I saw a picture the other day of Mary Portas, she of the tangerine bob, I was fascinated.
Mary has coloured her hair for as long as I’ve known her. We first met when she was working at Harvey Nichols in the early 1990s and she always wore extreme hair colour, her brilliant locks standing out among a sea of tastefully balayaged blondes and streaky brunettes.
When I saw a picture the other day of Mary Portas, she of the tangerine bob, I was fascinated. Mary has coloured her hair for as long as I’ve known her
Now, though, she’s joined the proud-to-be-grey movement. As has Princess Caroline of Hanover, seen last week at the Chanel Couture show in Paris, and actress Andie MacDowell on the red carpet at Cannes – the famous black mane of her Four Weddings days now brazenly pepper and salt.
Also at Cannes was Helen Mirren, the long-time patron saint of the greys, as shimmeringly silver as ever.
So what’s stopping me from taking this plunge when I could save myself thousands of pounds? And precious hours of time.
It’s not that grey would make me look older – there are already many bits of me doing that job perfectly well – but that it wouldn’t feel like me.
Some women go grey young and, if I had been one of them, I would definitely have let it stay that way.
Mary has joined the proud-to-be-grey movement as has Princess Caroline of Hanover, seen last week at the Chanel Couture show in Paris
There’s a nasty transition moment but once you’ve done it, you’re home and dry. You become a person with grey hair, just as others have mouse or brown.
You learn how to best make it work with your clothes and make-up and, if you have the right skin tone and right hair texture, grey can look fabulous at every age.
You are a powerful warrior queen with flowing gunmetal locks. You are a silky silver siren. You can have that lovely Latin grey that looks fantastic with red lipstick.
Even though my grey is still relatively patchy, it’s wiry and dull. It makes my skin look washed-out. Every now and again I contemplate joining the gang. Proudly exposing my natural self.
And then I happily put that self back away waiting for another day.
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