The first time I had a panic attack was April last year. I think. I didn’t know at the time it was a panic attack so maybe I ‘d had them before but this is the first one that floored me.
We were in John Lewis, in Liverpool. I love John Lewis. We came to the kitchen section, my favourite section of any shop. I looked at the label for something and all of a sudden the letters started moving. Getting bigger and smaller. Swelling almost. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t really see. It was a claustrophobic feeling, as if the walls were closing in. I had no idea what was happening but I knew I needed to get out of there and fast.
As soon as I was out I knew. I knew what had triggered it and what it was all about.
The John Lewis font has been the same for years. For as long as I can remember. The dark green. The lettering. So distinctive.
The last time I had been in a John Lewis was during Harriet’s first cochlear implant surgery, over two years prior. We had just got married. Harriet’s surgery was at UCH on Warren Street and lasted about 5 hours I think, maybe a bit less. We needed something to do during that time. After the hysterical tears of seeing your baby go under general anaesthetic (never gets any easier) and before the final hour or so of pacing and wondering why they haven’t called you yet.
So we went to John Lewis. Our wedding gift list had been there and we had some money in vouchers to spend. It seemed perfect. Distracting. Fun. But not too fun.
And it was. We bought pillows and duvet covers and a chopping board. A sieve and a boning knife.
Then we went back to our baby girl. Our baby girl who came round unable to hold her head up. Or support herself in any way. Who took months to relearn to walk. Who had been given the miracle of hearing but at the price of a vestibular system. Who had suffered a side affect that we had not been warned about. A side affect that impacts her daily life. That means she cannot do a lot of things. Some of which she really wants to be able to do. A side affect that the surgeon dismissed. A side affect that I had to fight to get recognised and treated and accommodated. A side affect that makes me wonder if hearing is really worth it.
I didn’t give John Lewis a second thought.
Until I was back there over two years later.
And my brain lost the plot. Freaked out.
Fight or Flight.
It’s what we do. No matter how advanced or evolved we think we are.
Fight or flight.
My brain remembered that last time we were in John Lewis my baby got hurt. Real bad. And I had to flee. I had to run. I could not let her get hurt again. I could not let that happen.
All of this inside my head and I didn’t even know.
The power of parenthood. You’ve got to keep on keeping on. Because who is going to do your job for you? Such a good thing. To have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. To keep you moving forward.
But it hides things. Leaves things undealt with. And they do return. Sometimes when you least expect it. Like in John Lewis. Your favourite place. That you now have to flee.