Ben vs London

Rewind three years ago I visited London with my then partner; I was 21 and in the midst of one of the worst periods regarding Ben. I had been struggling to cope with ‘normal’ every day life and relied heavily on daily medication.

Throughout this particular trip I didn’t set foot on any public transport: no tubes, no buses, no taxis. I had worked myself up so much prior to going that my then partner had suggested we just walked everywhere – crazy when you think about how big London is and the fact we were going during a baltic winter. I had gratefully accepted this idea and actually coped considerably well for that weekend; my fears and overriding panic about something bad happening slightly quelled by the freedom of no confined vehicles: I could rationalise in my head that I was safer out in the open.

Fast forward back to 2019: I’ve just returned from a weekend away in London with a close friend. I felt relaxed and calm on our trip up, no Ben in sight. We arrived at lunchtime, I got on the tube and I looked around me: people everywhere. I was stood in a hot, stifling, claustrophobic carriage and where was Ben? I remember distinctly thinking about my previous trip and how vastly different I felt. It was testament to the progress I have made over the last few years, and how, despite still having blips, I have gained more control over Ben.

That evening we had tickets for a Shawn Mendes concert – another situation that would usually set Ben off to high levels. Despite currently not being on medication daily, I still always ensure that I have some on my person at all times: in every bag and coat I own – ‘just in case’. That evening I made the profound decision to leave my tablets in the hotel room, knowing that potentially this could result in a panic attack and therefore be extremely frightening and upsetting. However, I felt like I needed to push myself that little step further and take a risk. It was a big risk; but if it paid off the pride would be immense.

We had allocated seats on one of the upper side levels; we had a brilliant view and plenty of room to move. Usually, when choosing seats in a concert or cinema I would purposely pick ones on the aisle in case I needed to make a quick exit. However, these concert seats that evening were smack bang in the middle of the row, surrounded by screaming teenagers (even I felt old!). I remember thinking about how I could potentially be clambering over these people in a blind panic. But instead of letting that feeling override me, I tried to rationalise in my head that I would be fine and nothing bad would happen.

For those first thirty minutes of the concert I felt clammy, on high alert and acutely aware of every beat of my heart. I am so tuned in to how my body reacts to situations and also how difficult it can be to remain in control. However, that’s exactly what I did. I recognised my symptoms, reassured myself inside my head over and over and focused on keeping myself calm. And after that first half an hour passed, Ben no longer took up residency in my head. I had taken back the control and I was adamant I wouldn’t be letting anxiety take the reins over my evening. I so desperately wanted to feel calm in that environment and just live in the moment.

About an hour into the concert he played a song called “a little too much” which resonated with me and brought me back to thinking how different my previous trip to London had been. I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up that evening; not due to the music, but down to the realisation that I don’t feel like I’m fighting a losing battle anymore. Moments like those reminded me that things do get better; achievements can be made and it’s all those small, baby steps in between that make it possible. If I hadn’t had a variety of therapies, medication or spoken out so openly and honestly about my struggles I don’t think I would be making as much progress as I have. Talking has changed my life; sharing Ben and all the ups and downs he brings to my life has given me more determination and more hope. Because I know I’m not the only one who suffers. I’ve spoken to countless people who share the same fears and worries as me, and it’s reminded me that as a human, it’s okay to not be a walking, talking sunshine all of the time. Sometimes I’m a pissing downpour but I’m okay with that.

Sometimes we need some rain to clear the sky. And right now, mine is brighter than ever.

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