If you’ll cast your mind back for a moment with me, let’s take a momentary hop, skip and a jump back a couple of months to my adventures in Edinburgh. I had such a fantastic time, but as you’ll remember, it was a lot and there were some quite difficult moments, for a multitude of reasons. And in fact, it’s taken me a while to get those feelings of panic back under control. Perhaps they will never fully be under control again, as life continues to (generally) get scarier. They occasionally creep back up on me at strange times – on the tube, in underground bars, even on the bus the other day.
In fact, last week I also had a little panic attack while I was in the zapping machine. They bolted my mask on (they call it a shell, actually, and I always wonder if I’m going to hear the ocean – in fact, I sort of do, considering I have tinnitus in my now almost completely deaf right ear, and sometimes it presents as a whooshing noise akin to an ocean), and I thought they’d left but then I realised they were still there pottering around me and I think they sensed quite quickly that I wasn’t quite right, and they asked if I was ok.
‘I’m just… feeling a bit panicky, actually….’
One of my most favourite zappers was there (can I have favourites? Well, I do. They are all really great, but she’s particularly great. And she loves The Beatles, and ‘Rocky Raccoon’ is her favourite song, and I told her that it had been mine for years too, all through my late teen years and early Uni, but somewhere along the way there was a shift and I think I’d have to say it’s now ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’) and they all just immediately hustled around me.
‘Let’s get it off and get you out for a minute,’ they said while unbolting me from the table. ‘It happens so often, don’t even worry at all.’
I sat up and hurtled myself off the metal tray/table thing, down onto the floor, bypassing their little step they usually bring over for me to get up and down on. I didn’t want to start this. I didn’t want to have this as an option – panic attacks during zapping. I just didn’t want to entertain the thought. But here we were. I went and got a Lorazepam – if you’ll remember, I’d stopped taking them because I hadn’t needed them. But apparently this day, I did.
‘The Lorazepam takes about 20 minutes to start working,’ my favourite zapper said, as I stared confusedly at Clarence, who appeared to be hanging in the hands of another zapper. How had he got there? I reached out and took him back. ‘So if you like,’ favourite zapper continued, ‘you can go and chill and we’ll do someone else and then by the time we’re done, it will have started working…’
‘No,’ I said resolutely. I wasn’t going to even entertain that thought, I wanted to get in and out, not draw it out any longer. But it was so nice to be offered that, and to feel completely un-rushed. ‘The Lorazepam is more of a placebo than anything,’ I explained. ‘Just knowing I’ve taken one should really do the trick. The thing itself doesn’t do much.’
So, with Clarence clutched back and the Lorazepam thinking about making its way around me, back onto the zapper we went. And we got through it. But the whole time, my brain kept trying panic on or size.
‘You could panic now, if you wanted to,’ it said in its needling voice. ‘And you wouldn’t be able to escape. You’re stuck here, you know. You can’t move. You can’t go anywhere. You can’t even breathe particularly easily. How does that feel? Not nice, is it…’
I kept telling it to be quiet, and lovely Clarence kept inching his head up so I could see him out of the eye hole cut in my mask. The mask completely cuts out my peripheral vision, so I can’t actually see him unless he leaves his usual spot sitting on me and dancing his way through the zapping, and pops his head up a bit higher. Seeing him smiling at me is an immediate grounder and it gives me such a boost – through his smile I also see you all too, and I’m reminded I’m not alone. I’m never alone.
Anyway, the voice kept trying to get me to go over to the dark side but good prevailed, mostly, and we made it through. It was weird because the day before, the Monday, I had been maybe the calmest I’d managed yet. I was in full zen mode. Zen Jen. But come Tuesday, it had flipped. I suspect my residual levels of anxiety/stress were quite high in general by the Tuesday. But maybe not for reasons you would be assuming.
Something else has been going on over the past few weeks. Earlier in the month, I finally bit the bullet and reached out to a Mastering Engineer I’ve dreamed of working with on my album. I was just putting feelers out, getting an idea of timescales and if she even would consider working with me. She would. And in fact, she would generously shuffle her schedule to fit me in – would I be ready by the end of the month? The date was set -Sept 30th. I had less than a month to finish my album. And did I mention I was also starting daily radiotherapy?
That first week I lost so much time to hospital transport and pain and all sorts of things. What on earth did I think I was doing? But then I started getting on top of things. Mornings at the hospital, afternoons home to record and mix. I had maybe 5 songs ready to go, another 8 waiting patiently to be worked on and created.
The Wednesday following the panic attack, I had a break from zapping – my machine was being serviced, so I got a day off. I worried that this break would reinforce the panic but thankfully when I got back in them machine on Thursday, it was fine. In fact, I was on a different machine that day – machine ‘D’. Then back to my usual ‘F’ on the Friday. I assumed that everyone had had that Wednesday off but after talking to every single one of my zapping friends, I learned that it was only me who wasn’t in that day. The rest just moved over to D. So… I don’t know. But what I do know, is that I’ve got through all my other zappings since then, fine. So hopefully we’ve got it back under control. At least for now. But nothing is linear or predictable, each day is its own new experience.
At 4:45pm on the 30th, I pressed send and off went my completed album. I then sat down on my bed for 2 minutes and woke up 2 hours later. I was exhausted. But it was done. I bloody well did it. Still a bit of back and forthing to go, but she’s already finished the first round of masters and friends, I am absolutely blown away. It’s sounding so great. I didn’t think I could be this happy with it – being a creative usually comes hand in hand with being a perfectionist and I expected my brain to nit-pick the things that weren’t good (just like it tries to coerce me into attempting to panic at inopportune moments), but it’s not. I’m very happy. So, my friends, bookmark 12th November in your diaries as the release date (I’m hoping that’s not too ambitious) – you should be able to access it on all streaming platforms from that day and if you’re a CD person, there should be physical copies available too, I’ll get back to you re vinyl.
But back we track, through album deadlines and radiotherapy panic attacks, all the way back to Sunday, the day after I returned from Edinburgh. I had a Facetime with my parents. And I’m not sure it went completely like this, but in by head it did. Sitting on my sofa in the sun, looking at them all bundled up in warm clothes through their computer screen on the other side of the world as the rain pelted down outside, suddenly it didn’t feel like enough.
‘Do you guys want to… Fly 24 hours and come… Give me a hug…?’ I found myself saying.
‘Absolutely yes, please can we?’ Came the enthusiastic rush of a response. ‘Just say when. Tomorrow…?’
No, not tomorrow. I was about to go into an unspecified number of days of being zapped (which I’ve since found out is 30, apparently – 6 weeks), so I didn’t want them here until after that. The last thing I’d want is for them to come visit then end up spending the majority of their trip just waiting for me to go back and forth to the hospital, potentially being too ill/exhausted to hang out… No. No way. All I could really do is hope/plan for the radiotherapy to actually work (despite what my medical professionals seemed desperate to remind me whenever they got the chance) and assume that by doing it, I would buy myself some good days on the other side, so we could all hang out and have a nice time.
So they booked for 3 weeks in November.
Then somewhere along the way, they both decided separately that 3 weeks didn’t feel like enough and actually, they’d like to come back and do it a bit differently. They want to have their own little London adventure and rather than just ‘come visit’ me for an intensive few weeks, they want to be my neighbour and get a feel for this London life I’m always raving about. Seeing their excitement eminating through the computer screen when they told me their plan brought me a lot of joy.
So in fact now, it is tomorrow. Around 5 months after they left, they’re currently getting back on a big plane and tomorrow morning they’ll be moving into their first Air bnb to start their 7 week adventure of being residents of North London. And I’ll get my hug.
So expect more of this content incoming: