petite anglaise

November 9, 2006


Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:15 pm

“So, what was it all like, that stuff, back in July?” a few people asked me this weekend.

These were people I hadn’t seen for a year or more. People who had met me once (while tipsy) back in the days when I was being branded an internet adulteress and I had that slightly indecent, back in the saddle, new relationship glow about me.

Not an easy question to answer. My responses ranged from “scary” to “surreal” to “terrifying”, and I didn’t feel able to elaborate. But it got me thinking nonetheless. About everything I didn’t/couldn’t say at the time.

When I think back to the weeks that followed my unceremonious dismissal, I see myself at home, shutters closed, Tadpole (fortunately) with her grandparents. I was in pieces. Watching ten episodes of Lost a day, back-to-back, in my pyjamas. I had little or no appetite. Sleep was elusive. My hair hung in a gnarly, unbrushed ponytail. I shook like a leaf if I so much as smelt a cup of coffee. Kind friends invited me for cups of tea, and I spilled my guts, talking at one hundred miles an hour, high on adrenaline.

My life was a web of lies. Or, to be more accurate, withheld information. My readers couldn’t know I’d been fired because I wanted that news to come out only when I judged the time was right, and when I was sure that coming clean couldn’t cause me any additional harm. My notary, estate agent and bank manager couldn’t know I’d been fired, because I was still figuring out whether I dared sign my loan documents without disclosing my new circumstances.

I spent two months in limbo, consulting lawyers, worrying about whether or not there was any substance to the threats of legal action, regularly speaking to my journalist friend but asking him to hold off, yet simultaneously fearing that by July, it would be old news. I had mixed feelings about letting the story run at all; agonised over whether I had more to lose than I had to gain.

The story ran on a Tuesday, and I had no idea it would be the first of many until my phone started ringing, in the middle of my ASSEDIC interview, where I was sorting out my entitlement to unemployment benefit.

I was scheduled to move into my new apartment five days later, knee deep in boxes, flitting back and forth making final preparations. The new place had no internet access, so any time I spent there meant I was offline, unable to see how my story was snowballing across the web. I built wardrobes, took deliveries of appliances, and waited in for technicians while simultaneously fielding calls and giving interviews on my mobile phone in French and English.

Paris was in the throes of a heatwave, and I dripped with sweat every time I so much as changed a lightbulb. But in between the furniture assembly and deliveries I scampered back to the old flat down the road to approve hundreds of comments and scour a mountain of email for the important stuff that needed answering immediately. To change into any clean clothes I could find and have pictures taken by some photographer while my arm rested against a scalding hot balcony railing. I answered my emails at midnight, wrote a piece for the Guardian at 3 am, dropped Tadpole off with Mr Frog at 7 am so that I could have my picture taken for The Sunday Times in a café (photos never used, to my disappointment) while people all around me drank their first coffee of the day, nibbled croissants.

It was scary. Surreal. Terrifying. There wasn’t a single moment when I didn’t worry that in exchange for fifteen minutes of “fame” which no-one would remember a few weeks later, I would be left with a handful of yellowing press cuttings and no prospect of working as a PA in Paris again. When my full name was revealed – and I wasn’t stupid enough to think this couldn’t be found, just naïve enough to think that it didn’t add anything to the story and therefore people might respect my wish not to use it – I was left wondering whether the gamble had been worth it, after all. Journalists were sniffing around my home village, trying to find my daughter’s name, to contact Jim in Rennes, Mr Frog, and god knows who else. I felt exposed, picked over and extremely foolish for thinking that I could remain in any semblance of control.

I could only hope against hope that the emails coming in from agents and publishers represented some sort of genuine interest, although I didn’t have the time to explore those avenues just yet.

The day before I moved flats, there was a hasty trip to Ikea. Mr Frog and I had decided to make use of the van I’d hired (which he was driving), so that I could pick up a few things, and he could buy Tadpole a new bed and find some plants for his flat. We stopped for a snack; I knocked back an ill-advised espresso.

A few minutes later, in the lighting section, I had an enormous panic attack. There were people everywhere, but I didn’t care, all I wanted to do was let my legs go out from under me and curl up in a tight ball on the floor. My heartbeat was rapid, erratic; I couldn’t breathe. Stricken, I stared at Mr Frog, wide-eyed, unable to speak. I wanted to be hugged, for someone to whisper calming words in my ear. But Mr Frog couldn’t be that person. It was too much to ask of him. Instead I found a chair, put my head between my knees and took deep breaths until the feelings subsided. Not completely, but just enough for me to stand up and carry on, gripping the trolley with white knuckles.

I still get the panic attacks, although less often, less intense. Waterstones, Birmingham, August. An Italian restaurant in York, October. I always do my utmost to hide them from Tadpole, and whoever I may be with. Good things have happened since July and I feel lucky, grateful and slightly disbelieving in equal measures. But when every single thing in your life changes – your boyfriend leaves, you move house, you lose a job, find a new career – all in the space of six short months, it cannot fail to knock you sideways. It will take time to make sense of it all, to process, digest, and make it a part of who I am, not just something that happened to me.

I’m not quite there yet, but I hope I will be, soon.


  1. whew! That is some story gal… But as they say, what doesn’t kill you…

    Good luck!

    Comment by .t — November 9, 2006 @ 10:32 pm

  2. I love reading every new post. I can identify with so much of it, msybr not the exact same way, but close. I wish I had your talent for expressing the complicated emotions that are all bottled up.

    Comment by Mike C — November 9, 2006 @ 10:32 pm

  3. I just love this line

    “make it a part of who I am, not just something that happened to me.”

    more people should think like you

    I’m sure you’ll get there soon.

    Comment by Margret — November 9, 2006 @ 10:48 pm

  4. If Yaxlich had really long arms he would reach across the English Channel, hug petite and whisper calming words in her ear.

    But he doesn’t and his breath still smells of last nights garlic despite obsessive teeth brushing.

    Comment by Yaxlich — November 9, 2006 @ 10:51 pm

  5. Of course you will.

    Comment by alcessa — November 9, 2006 @ 11:22 pm

  6. For what it’s worth, I (quite literally) cast my eye over the last 8 or so months you’ve had, and it gives me something I can draw strength from.

    Comment by Huw — November 9, 2006 @ 11:27 pm

  7. Oh Petite, my heart really goes out to you, I hadn’t realised you’d suffered so much but when you relate the turn of events in such graphic detail I can see what a nightmare you must have been through, the panic attacks must have been horrid. I think you’re right, though, you may not be there yet but you are a strong woman (made all the stronger for this experience, I’m sure) and you WILL get through it very soon. Stay strong for Tadpole and for yourself but at the same time don’t be afraid to share your feelings, I’m sure it helps. Take care.

    Comment by Susannah — November 9, 2006 @ 11:39 pm

  8. I am really glad you wrote this piece. I was starting to wonder why you were not sharing these events and even if you were becoming too detached from your inner self. One only wants to hear so much about your wonderful brilliant and talented dna-sprog. I know, I know, but I have three already so speak from knowledge.
    Panic attacks are, I’m told, rather like a near-death experience but without the transcendent enlightenment. In other words, rather hellish. But they can be contained and deflected with proper guidance and experience. My partner used to get them regularly but has learned how to manage them after much effort. Don’t accept them as inevitable.

    Again, thanks for this terrific post.

    Comment by andrew — November 10, 2006 @ 12:05 am

  9. Fuck. Me.

    The panic attacks are easy though. And this is the only one I beat you on. I used to get about ten a day.

    Knowing what they ARE is the main thing (I didn’t).

    Once you do, you know what is about to happen (and the more neurotic among us can take a small panic attack into a full-on Episode) and say to youself ‘Hang on old bean, only a silly panic attack. Just ignore it. It’ll pass in a second if you do.’

    That’s just me. Of course.

    Comment by Tired Dad — November 10, 2006 @ 12:10 am

  10. Beautifully expressed, darlin’. It seems to me you’ve gotten this far, and I’m betting on you being just fine. Life’s a helluva ride, especially the parts that involve Big Change, which you’ve just done. My gut says this is all for the better and what comes next will be richer and more interesting for that which came before. Sometimes, it’s like holding onto the that last car of the roller coaster, flapping in the wind behind it. I, for one, am quite certain that we, your devoted readers, are quite richer for your having been canned.

    Here I sit, blogging away at work. I can’t get fired for trying! ;)

    Comment by Sophmom — November 10, 2006 @ 12:13 am

  11. Oh, wait, I forgot the panic attacks. That is real, my dear petite. There are people who got advanced degrees in how to help you with those. I strongly recommend that you go see one of those folks. Peace.

    Comment by Sophmom — November 10, 2006 @ 12:14 am

  12. I’ve been wondering where the real petite had gone, the one who reflected & showed so much of herself, it’s been a little “surface polite” of late (no critisicm intended, everything goes through phases and it is always a great read).

    I don’t know how healthy it is, but it is somehow comforting to know that other people struggle too, and we WILL get to the other end, knowing we’ve grown from our life experiences along the way (even when it’s a lesson we really don’t want or didn’t ask for).

    By the way, how are Tadpole’s “pots”?

    Comment by QldDeb — November 10, 2006 @ 12:33 am

  13. Are you the sort of person who, (in the past), felt she was in control?

    I am. I had a situation in 01-02 that completely spun me around. As if I had walked from “one room” into another.

    As I looked back over my shoulder into that room, the door shut. I liked that room. It was everything I had set it up to be.

    What you wrote brought all that back… :o/

    Comment by simon — November 10, 2006 @ 12:48 am

  14. that was not a smile….

    Comment by simon — November 10, 2006 @ 12:49 am

  15. Great post. I’m exhausted for you after reading about what your life has been like since you lost your job.

    It’s terrible and difficult, but you will be better off for having endured all of this down the line. Struggles make us stronger and better people.

    Comment by Diane — November 10, 2006 @ 12:53 am

  16. Good things have happened since July and I feel lucky, grateful and slightly disbelieving in equal measures. But when every single thing in your life changes – your boyfriend leaves, you move house, you lose a job, find a new career – all in the space of six short months, it cannot fail to knock you sideways. It will take time to make sense of it all, to process, digest, and make it a part of who I am, not just something that happened to me.

    wow. totally different circumstances and yet I feel like I am reading about myself in this last paragraph. I guess there is hope after all.

    Comment by epikuryooz — November 10, 2006 @ 1:08 am

  17. Delightful to read something deeper. I think many readers have waited for you to talk more about what happened, and there is still so much to tell . . .

    This kind of writing and story is what touches people. Betcha you’ll get hundreds of responses.

    Like others, I can’t help but say that it reminds me . . . and so on. I’m a bit ahead of you, fired six months before you and my book is already out . . . but what a ride!

    I guess, the pleasure of life is not the destination but the experience getting there. Although not all of that is very pleasurable. But neither is surgery, then again, it makes you better.

    And I do admire you for being able to stay on target, I haven’t been able to focus so well on my own blog. But I’m looking at your writing as an inspiration.

    By the way, don’t know if you ever visited the Dilbert blog. He is a genius. And based on your experience with corporate life you’ll find his writing hilarious . . .

    Comment by Peter — November 10, 2006 @ 1:08 am

  18. Hi Petite. Two years ago(almost to the day)I moved house and city to live with my long term boyfriend, four months later, he walked out unexpectedly, citing ‘space’ and later told me on the phone that he wasn’t coming back. I was in a temporary job, miles from home in a new area and six weeks off my finals for my post grad. I felt totally lost and out of control because I didn’t recognise anything in my life – everything had changed within a few months. I didn’t think I was capable of panic attacks until everything got turned upside down and then I found out how vunerable I really am. I’m not quite there either and I still get them too…but I take strength from not having run away, but stayed in my new city and rebuilt my life. You’re doing amazing things. No need to panic.

    Comment by Sister Louise — November 10, 2006 @ 1:49 am

  19. Holy crap! I had know idea what a panic attack was really all about except what HBO shows us of Tony Soprano’s periodic episodes. I can’t imagine how scary they must be! Good luck!

    Comment by clarissa — November 10, 2006 @ 2:02 am

  20. Sitting here reading your blog or an article about you in the media, it is sometimes too easy to enjoy the show, as you would in a soap opera. You find yourself hoping for yet another dramatic twist in the tale that will make it all even more exciting.

    Sadly, which this happens it is all too easy to forget that is isn’t a story, but a real person living her real life, not just while she is sat in front of the PC typing her blog but all day every day. While going through the excitement I feel like I’ve forgotten to put myself in your shoes and feel your suffering.

    Thank you for writing this and reminding me that you are real. I know you will be ok soon, you are as strong as they come :)

    Comment by Ignorminious — November 10, 2006 @ 2:10 am

  21. Hoping that the most difficult times are behind you…wishing you all the best in the future!

    Comment by Karen Mc Cullagh — November 10, 2006 @ 2:45 am

  22. Thank you, what an amazingly refreshing post. I went through something similar, granted without the media interest, a few years back where I left my partner, lost my job, and had to move twice within 6 months, and then start a new career basically from scratch. I don’t think I ever gave it the respect it deserved and hadn’t realised the long term effects.
    I still get those panic attacks, the latest was when I first moved back to Vancouver – even though it was supposed to be “safe”, sometimes the gravity of the situation takes control.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences as well.

    Comment by Lady Miss Marquise — November 10, 2006 @ 3:39 am

  23. I could empathise with your emotions as I read the post as I too found myself in a similar situation not too long ago.

    Good to see that you are back to doing what you do best…writing. I think you use this medium as your life-line like many of us do…you’ll get there…just keep typing.

    Comment by Templar — November 10, 2006 @ 3:48 am

  24. wow, petite.
    thank you for sharing. i knew it had to be stressful, but i had no idea. you are tough — and by that i mean “INSPIRINGLY tough”.

    Comment by franko — November 10, 2006 @ 3:51 am

  25. I think you’re a very strong person.

    Comment by Julie — November 10, 2006 @ 4:39 am

  26. In personal writing for others to read, small insights about ourselves are often exposed to us as the writer. They are revealing, useful, and improving in nature, a wonderful byproduct of writing to others.

    Going further, it is through writing to ourselves during or after a rough spot that can give some real healing and centering, some realignment and perspective. This was a revealing post that was seemingly written to yourself…and by doing this, it’s a sure sign that you’ve almost weathered the thing through.

    Good job, petite. You’ve done pretty well coming through, and change is good.

    Comment by Laughing Crow — November 10, 2006 @ 5:38 am

  27. I have had my life turned upside down 6 times in the last 25 years. After reading your blog for the last year or more, I can say, I think that you will be fine.

    Hang in there. The panic will go away.

    Your nice enough, smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like you.

    Best wishes!

    Comment by Mad William — November 10, 2006 @ 6:38 am

  28. Having been through my own bout of acute depression due to several factors,(loss of a career, death of a friend, marriage problems and severe medical issues, all at once.) I can empathize with you Petite. For me, better living through pharmaceuticals and an excellent therapist got me through all of it. The meds are no longer needed, and I learned how to cope with certain pressures better, but there is always the desire never to go down that rabbit hole again. It is part of what drives me forward, as well as learning to listen to myself and trust my instincts once again.

    What is important here is that you are not letting others dictate your life path for you. Have you ever read Sinclair Lewis’s “Babbit?” Right near the end, the main character, George Babbit remarks “I have never done the thing in my life that I wanted to do.” Babbit was never able to move his life in the direction that he wanted to as he was too weak to do so.

    Weakness is not something that describes you, though at times I am sure you wonder about that notion. You have taken control of your own life, and are moving it in the direction you choose to go.

    One of my favorite authors wrote the following: “We must be prepared to give up the life we planned in order to receive the life that is waiting for us.” It is I believe, sound advice, and a maxim that I have been trying to follow.

    It sounds as though you are doing the same thing.

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — November 10, 2006 @ 6:43 am

  29. Beautiful post Petite!

    Comment by May — November 10, 2006 @ 9:50 am

  30. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – or at least better prepared (which can look a lot like ‘stronger’ from an outsider’s point of view).

    Tu vas y arriver.

    Une Fille

    Comment by Une Fille — November 10, 2006 @ 9:50 am

  31. Well done for surviving all that upheaval and good luck with everything.

    What a lame comment, sorry. I’ll just shuffle aside to make room for more eloquent readers.

    Comment by céline — November 10, 2006 @ 10:17 am

  32. Simon – I did used to have my life pretty much mapped out, and I enjoyed being in control, so yes, I think that’s one of the reasons I felt so lost when the rug was pulled from under me.

    Tadpole’s “pots” are much better now thanks. She’s fine in herself, no more scratching, just waiting for them all to drop off now.. Back to school on Monday.

    Comment by petite — November 10, 2006 @ 11:03 am

  33. I have been reading your blog since you hit the headlines and have stayed with it ever since (thanks mainly to Google reader). Your year has been even more hectic than mine (which involved girlfriend leaving for someone else, car crashes, etc) and I can fully understand the panic attacks that can result from major life changing events. I found that my friends have become the most important part of my life and from reading your blog I sense that you also have some really good friends you can fall back on.

    Plus you can always look at Tadpole and feel proud about how great a mother you are to her :)

    Comment by Daniel — November 10, 2006 @ 11:31 am

  34. Dearest Petite,
    Spare a thought for your dear old mum – she has one beloved girl, miles away feeling vulnerable and uncertain with no significant other to take care of her and her own beloved girl to look after and another daughter suffering from pancreatitis and an operation to look forward to. Your mum must be doing her nut! Who’d have kids!!!
    I an way glad to know that you are not quite as indefatigable – personally going to get happy drugs for me this afternoon, my own axiety thermostat is broken…

    Comment by Welsh Cake — November 10, 2006 @ 11:34 am

  35. Sometimes your head takes a while to catch up with your heart. I left my husband, moved house, lost a job all in 8 months. Even thought now I know its the best thing that happened to me I can still feel the panic when I look back on what’s happened.

    It will get better, this is a phase of renewal and soon your new life will supersede and the panic attacks will melt away for you.

    PS On a more practical note, don’t drink the coffee!!!!

    Comment by Lucie — November 10, 2006 @ 11:42 am

  36. About these panic attacks: I had them when I was around 23, 24 – sometimes daily or even more often. I couldn’t sleep alone anymore; someone had to be there.

    It all got better as soon as I asked myself: Who cares? What difference would it make if I dropped dead right here on the spot?

    Glad and lucky am I that I came over this *before* having kids; I know.

    Comment by wjl — November 10, 2006 @ 12:07 pm

  37. I am sorry you have had to go through of all this – it must have been an awful place for you.

    As you say when you have things “mapped out”, for them to all of a sudden change, through no decision of your own, is a very scary thing.

    You will get through this and maybe in years to come it will be some sort of blessing.

    Every time you feel the world is caving in on you look at your daughter and think of the joy she brings to your life.

    So glad Tadpole is feeling better.

    Stay Strong

    Comment by Fee — November 10, 2006 @ 12:11 pm

  38. Dear Petite

    I understand completely how you can live on one level and hide another. Sometimes it’s actually away of getting through things. When things are down I find that to get through the normal stuff for a normal day with the children, it’s actually a lot easier to work on that different plane, and that’s probably how you have subconsiouly controlled your own panic attacks.

    I find myself writing about all sorts of trivialities, and there are days when I can possibly be even slightly wittier when things are bad. It’s sort of cathartic to write about something completely unrelated and it is part of your survival instincts.

    Then, when you are ready – which clearly you are now, bits of the truth can start to unfold. It’s not a lie, not revealing everything, it’s just choosing not to tell all to all, and also giving yourself a rest until you feel strong enough to cope with it. In the same way, it is far esaier to sort out others problems than your own. It’s the way we are designed, and as mothers we get really good at it. The fact that you crumbled when T wasn’t around, but were able to recover sufficiently for her return is indicative of that.

    You’ll be fine. Stronger and better. And besides – God a what a waste. A PA with your writing ability!!!
    Sometimes bad things happen for the right reasons!


    Comment by Sally Lomax — November 10, 2006 @ 12:19 pm

  39. Welcome back

    Comment by Parkin Pig — November 10, 2006 @ 12:32 pm

  40. bon courage ma belle. En tous cas, tu ecris magnifiquement bien et c’est la la suite de ton histoire….; enormes bisous tres calmes a toi et a todpole.
    je pense a toi de tps en tps. DP

    Comment by danielle peroy — November 10, 2006 @ 12:46 pm

  41. Very touched by your post.

    Good luck and stay away from caffiene (and Ikea!)

    Comment by Murphy — November 10, 2006 @ 1:15 pm

  42. Blue Skies ahead….

    Take care of you

    Comment by Fabienne — November 10, 2006 @ 1:24 pm

  43. It’s easy for us readers to forget that beneath the calm, measured, elegant posts from a blogger who now leads this frankly rather envious lifestyle is someone who went through a terrifying and stressful ordeal which most of us will never experience.

    Thanks for sharing that side of it. Balances things out. It’s easy to say with hindsight that being sacked was undoubtedly the biggest favour that company ever did you, but it is to forget those early days when you didn’t know that such good would come of it.

    (But I’m still jealous ;))

    Comment by anxious — November 10, 2006 @ 1:43 pm

  44. If it’s any consolation, even at the best of times the IKEA experience can make fully-functioning, in-control, grown men and women feel the need to be carted off by the men in white coats.

    Comment by Mancunian Lass — November 10, 2006 @ 1:48 pm

  45. Comment 32. (smile) yes… the map & the rug…me too.

    Happy the “pots” are getting better.

    Comment by simon — November 10, 2006 @ 1:58 pm

  46. It was very brave of you to share this story. Panic attacks are hell but I’m sure you have the strength to overcome them. Hopefully the worst is over and the hearing in February(?) will surely go in your favour.
    In the meantime, hang in there, use your blog to ‘destress’ and know you can count on your many readers for support. Pity we’re not near enough to give face to face comfort but I’m sure you have close (in both senses) friends who are more than happy to lend a shoulder and an ear. Wishing you and Tadpole all you wish for yourselves.
    love and hugs

    Comment by Sablonneuse — November 10, 2006 @ 3:01 pm

  47. Beautiful post. Worth the wait.

    If you ever want advice on the panic attacks, I am brimming over with it. I suffered from GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) some years ago, and suffered badly for a while. But then I discovered CBT, as well as also finding just how widespread the problem is, how easy to solve, and yet how pitifully publicised. There is very little awareness.

    And so I’ve been on a mission ever since to spread the word of how to deal with these horrible horrible things.

    One of these days I’ll get round to putting a section about it on my website, but in the meantime please do ask if you want help. And that applies to anyone else, too.

    Comment by Clare — November 10, 2006 @ 3:28 pm

  48. I have discovered your blog some time ago and trust me when I say I have since read every piece of it. You have been through a lot and God only knows how you have handled all this ! Bravo :)

    Comment by Dilafa — November 10, 2006 @ 3:40 pm

  49. It’s nice to look back and think about how strong you are to have gotten through this is such good shape, isn’t it?

    Comment by Lost in France — November 10, 2006 @ 4:37 pm

  50. You are very strong. You go girl!

    Comment by nataliya — November 10, 2006 @ 4:48 pm

  51. (sorry, “envious” should be “enviable”…)

    Comment by anxious — November 10, 2006 @ 5:03 pm

  52. it’s amazing what kind of adversity we can endure as human beings. and you have done so admirably.

    i love reading and following. it’s been an amazing journey reading your blog for the last couple years. thanks for that.

    Comment by mainja — November 10, 2006 @ 5:38 pm

  53. What a woman!


    Comment by Insider — November 10, 2006 @ 6:21 pm

  54. I had my first panic attack a few weeks ago. Had NO IDEA what was happening so went to the emergency room. I have to say you get quick service when you say, “I think I’m having a heart attack.” Several expensive tests later… not a heart attack, but a panic attack. A week later saw my Dr. and discovered it was set off by dried ear wax, creating a build up of fluid in my inner ear, affected my equilibrium which made driving a panic attack trigger. Flash forward, clean ears and a beta blocker and all is well. Sometimes they are triggered by physical not just mental and stress triggers. Best of luck! Glad Tadpole is better with her pops!

    Comment by Danna — November 10, 2006 @ 6:34 pm

  55. A few minutes later, in the lighting section, I had an enormous panic attack.

    Bloody Ikea…! ;-)

    Comment by Iain — November 10, 2006 @ 6:41 pm

  56. Wow… I have only experienced one real panic attack in my life… and fortunately, I managed to make it home before the world came crashing down on me. Unbelievable… and I thought I was the master of my mind… had everything under control… and then my brain decided to prove me wrong.

    One other note… when I was going through hell during my separation and divorce, Sex and the City was what I watched. My TV refuge that took my mind away from everything I didn’t want to think about.

    Comment by David — November 10, 2006 @ 7:28 pm

  57. Straight from the heart, I agree. That’s one for ‘potted petite’, right there.

    Comment by roadsofstone — November 10, 2006 @ 8:05 pm

  58. Just read about you in Marie Claire!

    Comment by Beth — November 10, 2006 @ 8:08 pm

  59. can someone please scan that and send it to me?

    Comment by petite — November 10, 2006 @ 8:19 pm

  60. Be thankful for the difficult times in your life, as they not only make you stronger but also help you value your blessings.

    I had a panic attack two weeks ago, when I was told that my divorce might be delayed due to bureaucratic hurdles. I, too, had no one to hold on to, but you learn to depend on yourself.

    Congratulations on your success!

    Comment by Pilar — November 10, 2006 @ 9:01 pm

  61. A lovely and honest post, this will be helpful to so many people. Vive the internet- as you say. You did the right thing for sure. When someone aims at you hard, be open. Il le faut ma chere.

    Comment by fjl — November 10, 2006 @ 9:22 pm

  62. I know your experiences.

    I was nineteen years old when a very like situation happened to me in college. I never exposed names, never said anything to anyone, but someone found my blog and I decided to resign from my job…I don’t think there would ever have been any other option, anyway.

    I knew nothing of my rights, nothing of who I was, and I cried for three days straight, riding my bicycle, with tears streaming down my face, anywhere but home to face the little website that exploited this pain and hurt. The pain was so severe and deep that I questioned whether or not I wanted to return to that university. I sat for hours staring at the applications for other schools, already filled out and ready to send, but scared to make a change.

    Instead, one day, I decided that this would not control my life and I went back. I faced my demons, even confronted them, and I felt like me again. I still sometimes look back on those months and wonder what I lost in that time, but mostly, I realized I gained more from that experience than I ever lost.

    Comment by reavolution — November 10, 2006 @ 9:24 pm

  63. Bonjour,

    Tout le monde ici semble détenir un diplôme avancé en psychologie avec mention spéciale en consolation, je suis donc condamnée au ridicule avec mon “courage”, mais qu’importe.

    Merci pour ce blog que je découvre petit à petit (comme beaucoup, j’ai entendu parler de cette firme anglaise qui s’est si magnifiquement tiré une balle dans le pied et j’ai cherché la personne à l’origine de l’affaire)

    Your website turned out to be a brilliant crash course in english humour (you make such an accurate yet creative use of the english language !) as well as a captivating read.

    Merci beaucoup de la part d’une petite française qui enseigne sa langue maternelle en “territoire hostile”

    Comment by Lise — November 10, 2006 @ 10:28 pm

  64. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. I think a lot of us can relate to the loss of control causing anxiety attacks. I had a not-so-nice grandfather to thank for mine (bastard). Just remember, it will get better with time…

    I think you are very brave, and I look forward to your future posts. Thanks!

    Comment by Woman of Leisure — November 10, 2006 @ 10:33 pm

  65. Very touching piece…
    I hope the panic attacks will soon disappear.

    Comment by Veerle — November 10, 2006 @ 11:12 pm

  66. Now THAT was the piece we were waiting for, at least me. Not that you didn’t sound human before, but with all that you went/are going through, I kept thinking to myself, Boy she is really strong (no, I still think that, I do but you know what I mean). I could barely keep myself together at the last notaire meeting I had to attend, and I still have my job (at least for now…). But maybe visiting Ikea with all that heavy emotional baggage was just not right. Never have had a panic attack but I could see how Ikea could provoke that if the fuse is short enough. Glad to hear you spill your guts like that, and can’t wait for the book.

    Comment by magillicuddy — November 10, 2006 @ 11:18 pm

  67. bon courage……!!!!

    Comment by jhoanna — November 10, 2006 @ 11:51 pm

  68. Did you try taking magnesium tablets (Magne B6, for example, available withoout prescription, in every pharmacie ! I found them helpful !
    bon courage

    Comment by Claude — November 11, 2006 @ 12:20 am

  69. Wait a minute – I understand the other signs that your life was in pieces, but when you watch ten episodes of Lost back-to-back, that doesn’t mean your situation is hopeless, it just means that Lost makes for damn fine, gripping entertainment!

    I’ve been lurking for a bit now, but finally had to comment. I’m a huge fan of your writing, petite! Thanks!

    Comment by Kelly in Chicago — November 11, 2006 @ 2:14 am

  70. I really hope all this grief brings with it something that makes it all worthwhile!

    Comment by teeweewonders — November 11, 2006 @ 2:35 am

  71. Whether they know/admit it or not, just about everyone has a life crisis. In varying degrees of severity.

    I think they are meant to let you know that you DON’T have control (at least not the way you think you do) but they act as sort of shift in your life to force you to where you are supposed to be and help you understand that things are always unfolding the way they should and you are always looked after by a higher power–call it god, the universe, mother nature–whatever you wish.

    Trust that (yes, it’s hard) and your instinct for what feels right for you and you will see that you feel better. I did. But I have to remind myself…..

    Your writing sounds that it’s like the right thing for you. The assistant position was just bullsh*t.

    Comment by jersey girl (that's New Jersey, USA) — November 11, 2006 @ 2:44 am

  72. Mr Frog is still in love with you. Loyalty and love are wonderful virtues, Petite….

    Just wrote a short note mentioning you. Oh, and I plan to buy your books.

    Bon courage, ma chère.

    Comment by Sedulia — November 11, 2006 @ 2:59 am

  73. Petite Anglaise – I am a French/Australian who has returned to Australia after several years in France… I miss it so much.
    Thank you for your blog which has allowed me the sensation of at least being slightly in touch with the world, as seen from the shores of France. Your story is inspiring and I look forward to my weekly update. Once again… Thank you.

    Comment by Annelise — November 11, 2006 @ 5:08 am

  74. Lost watching Lost!!…wow, that’s a beautiful and brave and powerful post Petite….you are the “man”!. Chin up girl…it’s almost Christmas…sigh!!
    Love to tadpole!

    Comment by Colin — November 11, 2006 @ 7:41 am

  75. You’ve been through quite a lot in the last several months. And still, you manage to keep your wit and humour!! Not to say that life isn’t challenging, however, maybe it is how we rise to the occasion that makes the difference. cheers, JP

    Comment by JanePoe (aka Deborah) — November 11, 2006 @ 8:04 am

  76. Mancuian girl – you made me laugh out loud!!!

    Comment by Welsh Cake — November 11, 2006 @ 9:26 am

  77. funnily enough, i found your blog in the summer while googling something about jammie dodgers being sold abroad. (was missing england after spending a year there). i’ve been lurking for a few weeks, and i enjoy your writing so much.
    i’m sorry to hear about all the stress you’ve gone through this year. i can empathize all too well with the part about the Lost-viewing marathons and messy hair! pretty much ditto to what’s already been said. hope things are smoother in the future.

    Comment by Lisa — November 11, 2006 @ 9:51 am

  78. Timing is everything. You hit mutliple life stressors simultaneously: loss of job / income, loss of a significant personal relationship, purchase & change of residence. You have successfully obtained a contract for writing (at which you excel), found a sense of personal independence, established a new home. Pas mal. You will find a way to manage or diminish anxiety episodes with your intelligence, wit and a little help from you friends and family. Persévréz!

    Comment by sauterelle — November 11, 2006 @ 5:27 pm

  79. This is going to sound completely doolally, but for panic attacks, breathing slowly in and out of a paper bag was the advice I was given. I found a cigarette less embarrassing though less healthy. However the breathing exercises for birth work wonderfully. Having had mine in UK with NCT I don’t know if you used them for Tadpole.
    I got ‘mild’ agorophobia for a while after number 2 (child not poo) so can empathise with the terror panic attacks cause. Haven’t had any for years and though pysochologically un-pc to say so, I found that the less notice I took of them, and having by now realised that they’re not fatal despite the fact that I felt as if I was dying, it was a case of I know I’m going to have several en-route to toddlers,but tough, the kids need to go, the quicker they subsided, conversely the more I focussed on them and how bad they felt, the worse and more frequent they became. Cripes, that was a badly constructed sentence, but hey, we can’t all be terrific writers. Thinking of you, and, heck, you wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t get completely stressed out after everything you’ve been through recently.

    Comment by j — November 11, 2006 @ 5:34 pm

  80. I know – it’s far too late to bother commenting on this, because the infinite monkeys with their typewriters have already responded (but then, one more monkey can’t hurt)…

    If the events of July had not happened, you would not now be the person you are. You would not have the experiences you have had. You would not be heading towards the future you now approach. You would not have such great stories to tell.

    Comment by Jonathan — November 11, 2006 @ 5:49 pm

  81. Makes realise the weight and depth of words like “being exposed”. Pretty relentless, especially when it comes as an overlay to hard times.
    Ending each chapter doesn’t make you wide open windows and shout at sky to exhaust pressure and freshly back-in-mind pictures?

    Comment by Mardo — November 11, 2006 @ 6:43 pm

  82. I had to quit caffiene altogether to eliminate my own moments of contracting space in which my heart thumped, my throat constricted, and I was possessed with a primitive urge to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING. The problem was that at the moment it was happening, I couldn’t figure out what it was I should do to make the episode pass, which only caused it to intensify until I could only sit and pray (beg) for it to pass. No more coffee for me.

    Comment by Byron — November 11, 2006 @ 8:35 pm

  83. I’ve never suffered a panic attack (thank god) despite being terrified of flying for several years but I cured that problem by going to a hypnotist and it cured me immediately, so much so that I love flying now as compared to sitting rigid in my seat for the duration of the flight. I would definitely recommend it, I’ve heard it can work for all sorts of problems, panic attacks included.

    Comment by Susannah — November 11, 2006 @ 9:21 pm

  84. Other than that though, it’s all going pretty well.

    Comment by backroads — November 11, 2006 @ 9:21 pm

  85. Humm, panic attacks not nice I have been going through those for over two years although I have not had one for a fair few months, mine like yours were due to stress. How I coped well not very well and the deep breathing works. It also helps to do what you are doing now which is to let it all out, to bottle it up is not good and as you open up you will feel better really quickly especially when you have so much support out there. xx

    Comment by Mark — November 11, 2006 @ 9:47 pm

  86. A life is little more than an extended panic attack

    Comment by Trevor — November 11, 2006 @ 10:21 pm

  87. comment 73. Annelise:- I have several friends who are French who live here in Australia.

    They felt so isolated for several years… it is just so culturally “different” here. Your comment struck a chord.

    They did get involved in Alliance Francaise …


    Lots of stuff.. eg Jane Birkin was here last year, cooking, lectures, art, music…

    I hope that helps.

    Comment by simon — November 12, 2006 @ 1:27 am

  88. “Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquillity.”
    — James Thurber

    Find a way to laugh at it all. That’s the only way I can do what I do without my chest caving in.

    Comment by Sam — November 12, 2006 @ 5:18 am

  89. Had to ad to those who havn’t read your snippets ‘your boyfriend leaves’ certainly doesn’t imply that you left him-you left him right.
    Everything else must have been hard. Of course also the vaccuum left when Monsieur frog left.
    But keep up the good work and be careful with implications that go with sentences.

    Comment by Craig — November 12, 2006 @ 7:53 am

  90. well… you know… you take yourself and your situation too seriously. You’ve not been seriously threatened with homelessness or longterm unemployment. Unemployment benefits in France are extremely generous. You’ve never had the bank or anyone else repossessing your belongings or home. You were never alone because the father of yout child lived close by, and you have money, friends, accomodation and family. Its not as if there was noone else to turn to, talk to, go visit, take your daughter for a few hrs…

    You need to realise that you were and are lucky. You have a huge amount, and even when things were ‘bad’… they were NEVER ‘that’ bad comparatively. And for a lot of people they are that bad. And they never get better.

    A blog is a diary certainly, but perhaps at least some of the eternal pity could be reserved for those in real need.

    Comment by sara — November 12, 2006 @ 9:48 am

  91. Anglaise, not only have you had huge changes this year, you’ve had sudden, unforeseen, out-of-control changes.

    It sounds as if you can be really proud of holding it all together, & ALSO of driving events to the extent that you have. Many people would have had the “Lost” episodes WITHOUT the lawyers, journalists, book deal, Ikea furniture. Well done!

    I know your panic-attack-in-Ikea scenario so well. But it passes too. I too used to get them all the time – around a big, terrible break-up, entailing loss of home etc, a long time ago – and now – never! Hurrah!

    Comment by Ms Baroque — November 12, 2006 @ 11:38 am

  92. petite, did the ‘favourite toy’ ever turn up?

    Comment by suze — November 12, 2006 @ 11:46 am

  93. Petite – You have been through so much. But you seem to be coming through it all really well – brave, honest and keeping your dignity about you.

    You are a great writer and I thank you for all that you have shared and wish you the best! The best is definitely yet to come for you!

    Comment by Anali — November 12, 2006 @ 7:51 pm

  94. I generally enjoy what you write. Every now and then it blows me away. Amazing.
    Thank you.

    Comment by meredic — November 12, 2006 @ 8:25 pm

  95. A very interesting post as usual, Petite.

    May I offer Colin Wilson’s thoughts on panic attacks?

    In his book, “Mysteries”, he goes into detail.

    Comment by Eric — November 12, 2006 @ 9:21 pm

  96. Wow, can I ever relate to the unexpected panic attacks. Mine started on a beautiful sunny day when I was finishing lunch out with a good friend, a day when absolutely NOTHING was going wrong. Not knowing what was wrong with me, I somehow drove myself home and called my office to say I got unexpectedly ill at lunch (I’m sure they thought I was lying, given it was a sunny Friday afternoon in June). A few weeks later, I had one or two more, but not as severe. Then nothing for about a year, when they resurfaced with a vengance, forcing me to undergo every medical test known to man because I was convinced I could not POSSIBLY be having panic attacks. When everything else was ruled out, I finally had to accept it for what it was and I even went to a few sessions with a therapist to learn some techniques for dealing with them. Since then they’re almost non-existent and even when I have the odd moment, I now know it for what it is and just let myself relax about it, and it fades away. But in retrospect they started when I was in the midst of a major transition, had also ended a very important relationship, was voluntarily leaving the security of my high-paying high tech job to become self-employed in a very challenging field, had moved not once but twice in six months, and in general had every kind of stress imaginable on my shoulders.

    It wasn’t until I admitted to myself that I WAS stressed out (which I had been in denial about) that it got better. So kudos to you for calling it what it is. It’s the best thing you could ever do for yourself. Not only that you will be amazed a year from now how different — and FABULOUS — your life is now, and you will love the person you’re becoming. And you’ll be grateful for all of it, even the bad stuff, because without it you would never have gotten where you’re already headed.

    P.S. Writing this to you from PARIS having arrived Friday. I did it – moved to Paris!

    Comment by The Bold Soul — November 12, 2006 @ 10:15 pm

  97. Craig – Jim in Rennes left me, three months before I planned to uproot my life to Rennes, no less. I soon realised it was for the best, but it wasn’t at my initiative, and it left me in a job, and a city, that I had psyched myself up to leave behind. Very unsettling.

    Sara – It wasn’t my intention to invite my commenters to a pity party, and yes, I’ll admit that my problems were never life/livelihood threatening, but my little world was turned upside down and I’m an over sensitive soul at the best of times, so it felt like a very big deal to me. That’s all I’m saying here. .

    Comment by petite — November 12, 2006 @ 10:39 pm

  98. A friend of mine gets panic attacks and he was told to put a paper bag over his face and breath in and out of it, apparently this causes the CO2 just exhaled to be breathed in again. He now swears by this method and carries a paper bag wherever he goes. Hope this helps, Petite.


    Comment by Jeremy — November 12, 2006 @ 11:13 pm

  99. Sara, wow, so does that mean no one can ever experience any stress because there’s someone else worse off somewhere? Or are we simply allowed to experience our reactions to things and then move on?

    And being sacked does have a way of feeling livelihood-threatening! I think Petite has earned her panic attacks for the moment, & it’s good to share these experiences. When I used to get mine I didn’t know anyone else who did, and it was really scary.

    Comment by Ms Baroque — November 13, 2006 @ 12:10 am

  100. comment 90. really?.. Everyone is different, and everyone has a “level” at which stress, anxiety, can kick in.

    I suggest that to measure someone by your own yardstick is not really fair…..

    I don’t think Petite was looking for a “Pity Party” either. Simply a frank comment on how life can spin you around…move you on.. whether you want to be moved or not.

    EG… In my late 30’s I was diagnosed with a blood disorder and have had treatment every 7 days for 4 years. (there is no cure & I am not going into detail.) Doctors said “We will get you to 50. After that we just don’t know”.

    Do I qualify for your “people in real need”?

    Petites stress would be the same as mine…may be more so…I don’t have a choice.

    Frankly, comments about people in “real need” from people who may not just plain stupid.

    Comment by simon — November 13, 2006 @ 12:26 am

  101. At the time of this happening to you, I started thinking twice about what I might post related to work…well, once and half maybe.
    Seems to me like you have done a great job of it and are coming out on top.
    Good for you!…

    Comment by Cathy — November 13, 2006 @ 1:09 am

  102. Maybe sara thinks you have to get knifed in a lift before you can blog about your pain. Or maybe just stuck in one with her.

    Comment by andrew — November 13, 2006 @ 2:52 am

  103. Petite, I’m so happy to see the way things are evolving so wonderfully and how fierce you’re being out there in Paris…and you (unlike most bloggers that get book deals) are actually keeping up your blog too, the thing that got you here. Talk about refreshing…FABULOUS!!!

    Comment by Mlle Smith — November 13, 2006 @ 6:36 am

  104. When I was a teenager a boy took me on a date to Portland Bill lighthouse (don’t ask), it was a first date as well! When we were half way up the lighthouse steps i got this terrible panic attack….i couldn’t move up or down, I was literally scared stiff. It took him the best part of an hour to coax me down….meanwhile nobody else could get up because I was holding up the queue. Boy, was I glad to get to the bottom…he never asked me out again for some reason!

    Comment by Astrid — November 13, 2006 @ 9:33 am

  105. I think that Petite was simply responding to other people’s questions about recent events in her life. She was in no way looking for a “pity party” just to share her experiences. It seems that her writing just simply struck a chord with many of the readers and so many people can relate to what she has been through. I think that life can still be tough if you’re not homeless/long-term unemployed.

    Comment by TH — November 13, 2006 @ 11:56 am

  106. Sara : Go away. You obviously believe that to post your life experience honestly, detailing stress and negativity is somehow looking for a “pity party.” You are so wrong lady, Petite keeps us all entertained weekly and just because she is not writing from the Gaza Strip, with one leg hanging off, destitute and cancer ridden does not mean she is moaning. I think they call it writing!

    Petite : I really do hope the upward cuve just keeps slide

    from Lisa with all limbs intact, not in a war zone, with food in the press, a few mad children, dieting husband and a raging hangover attending my own pity party being hosted by Neurofen!

    Comment by Lisa — November 13, 2006 @ 12:25 pm

  107. Beautiful post. My life has lurched in a different direction several times, without warning, but always for the better. I exactly know the feeling of the rug being pulled from under me. However, I find now that I recognise what I call “the carpet moving slowly under my feet” warning me that not all is exactly how I think it should be and that I should have some alternative options available just in case. Doesn’t make it any more pleasant but it lessens the shock.
    All the best for the future.

    Comment by varske — November 13, 2006 @ 1:58 pm

  108. Lisa, Sara was wrong in her judgment, I agree.

    But Lisa, not only you judge but you give the sentence. Who are you to say who stay and go?

    I’m just a humble reader (not as you apparently) though I’d like to say: “Go away” yourself.

    Comment by mestengo — November 13, 2006 @ 3:35 pm

  109. So Sara, why do you come here then? Do you feel so threatened by what Petite writes about her own life that you feel the need to drag her into the gutter to make yourself feel better? Petite is one person, with one experience: Her own. Suggesting as you do, that she has no right to experience the emotions she does because she has “not been seriously threatened with homelessness or longterm unemployment.” is a load of garbage.

    Do you always use guilt like this on people?

    When you write such drivel as:

    “A blog is a diary certainly, but perhaps at least some of the eternal pity could be reserved for those in real need.”

    you give yourself away as an elitist snob. Who are you to define “those in real need?” Everyone experiences life traumas and stresses differently. The fact that Petite has been able to face these challenges and move past them is a testament to her courage, as well her resolve.

    As someone who WAS unemployed for a long time, who DID battle depression, who wondered when his life was going to turn around, I can say with some authority that Petite is a living example of how you deal with adversity: You look it in the eye, not let it overwhelm you, and do the best you can for yourself. (and, I might add, for her daughter as well.) Yes, she had the panic attacks, but so what? It did not paralyze her life.

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — November 13, 2006 @ 7:08 pm

  110. For months I’ve been enthralled and often also amused by your blog but only now have I worked up the courage to write because your disclosure of your panick attacks hit turf I’m sadly well acquainted with.
    I was about to tell you my story in brief, but this is and should remain your forum. All I can say is that at a similar juncture in my life I thought the men in white coats would drag me away. But it is through such trials that one learns to cope with panic attacks and in the end, when you’ve become immunised, you emerge stronger than ever and can say to yourself “at this age and stage I’m ready to fly”. However, in my opinion, don’t overlook the possibility of having access to a good psychotherapist just in case of a recurrence. No matter how strong we become, there are some things we just can’t put on a blog or even discuss with our loved ones. I was extremely fortunate to find the right therapist at the worst time of my life and now I only check in about once a month.

    Comment by Blue — November 13, 2006 @ 11:58 pm

  111. But when every single thing in your life changes – your boyfriend leaves, you move house, you lose a job, find a new career – all in the space of six short months, it cannot fail to knock you sideways.

    This sounds like me a year ago, petite. Instead of panic attacks, i spent a month just staring out the window. So I moved to Paris.

    My friends were plying me with Rescue Remedy for the last three months before I left for Paris. Might be really helpful for panic attacks. Worth a try. Now Paris IS my rescue remedy.

    Comment by Polly — November 14, 2006 @ 11:25 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: