Anxiety, panic attacks and me
Where to start? Anxiety, Panic attacks and me is my most personal post to date and also my most nerve wracking one… However i hope that it helps anyone who is going through a similar experience. Or anyone who knows someone who is going through it. This post is based on my own personal experience of anxiety and panic attacks. I have read and reread this post 46 times according to my website amendments. That’s a record. So if there are any errors, do forgive me. This is such a sensitive topic and my mind is racing all over the place whilst i am writing it.
People who know me will probably never have me down as someone who suffers from anxiety. The thing is, i’m not one to open up about these things. I’m not one to let my walls down to just anyone. So for me to show my vulnerability and really let people into what I’m going through is pretty big.
This post is important to me, because it is about saying that it is ok to have anxiety. It is me saying, I get you. It may be an invisible illness but it is a challenging illness nonetheless. It has taken years of this to finally be able to spot a fellow anxious person in a room. They are usually doing what I would be doing if I walked into a room full of people..that is walking straight out of it or looking too deep into my phone.
The one thing I want any fellow anxious person to take away from this post is this, you are just as important as anyone else and you should give your feelings importance. So if that means you have to avoid doing things you wish you could do but cannot do for now, don’t do it. The impact of it is far too great. Value yourself enough to not put yourself through that and try not to feel guilty about it. Eventually a time will come where you will ‘feel the fear and do it anyway.’
What is anxiety/panic attack?
This is the definition that is given on www.mind.org.uk : it is a feeling of worry/fear and uneasiness about something with an uncertain outcome and a panic attack is a sudden overwhelming feeling of acute and disabling anxiety.
The fight or flight response
When we feel under threat, we protect ourselves by releasing hormones into our bodies such as adrenalin and cortisol. These help us to physically prepare to either fight the danger or run away from it. Then when the ‘danger’ has passed, our body releases other hormones to help our muscles relax.
This is the ‘fight or flight’ response, it is something that happens automatically in our bodies, and we have no control over it. Nowadays we don’t usually face situations where we need to physically fight or flee from danger (I mean i’m not Bear Grylls), but our response to feeling threatened remains the same.
When adrenalin floods our bodies, it can cause a number of different physical and emotional feelings that may cause a panic attack.
What happens during a panic attack?
Adrenaline is released. The heart beats faster. Muscles tense. We breathe in more oxygen. Blood is diverted to the muscles, making us pale and light headed. Sometimes causing ‘the shakes’. The throat becomes dry. You feel nauseous. Your senses are heightened, you become very sensitive and aware of sounds and smells around you, that is to say they are heightened to a degree where every thing feels much louder.
Imagine feeling scared to go into a room..now magnify that feeling by a thousand. Imagine that alongside this ‘fear’ there are now physical ‘symptoms’ of panic. A thumping/racing heart, headaches – really really bad headaches, fast breathing, a really tight chest, a dry throat that feels really sore, a massive lump in your throat, sweating even when it’s cold, pins and needles, a feeling of dread, a sudden need to leave the room right away, feeling smothered..
Living with Anxiety
Anxiety can be horrible, uncontrollable and sometimes debilitating . It can come up out of nowhere. There are different levels of anxiety too. Some people, like me have much higher levels of anxiety and are pretty sensitive to it. This can sometimes cause panic attacks. Other people have lower levels of anxiety and can remain calm and collected all of the time. I wish i was like that and maybe one day i will be! 🙂
As with most things, i don’t think you can really understand panic attacks or even anxiety until you have experienced it. It actually feels silly to say that, seemingly simple things can cause anxiety e.g. a phonemail, a knock on the door
I think It is generally very misunderstood. For me, panic attacks are very physical, and the symptoms can be so severe that people often believe they are having a heart attack or something as severe. The chest can feel sore for days after an attack. I often retreat to the comfort of my home for days on end after a social outing.
There is such a stigma attached to any ‘mental’ illness. The kind of stigma that has people avoiding conversations around said illness but I think it is more common then people think. A lot of us are so reluctant to get a diagnosis/be labelled for fear of ridicule/rejection, that we don’t get the help we need and often suffer in silence.
For someone like me, who is often described as loud, anxiety wasn’t something that i thought would ever enter my world. I do believe though that every single test we face is a blessing in disguise.
There was a time when i couldn’t articulate my feelings at all. I was scared i would lose control if i tried. So instead I would stop uncomfortable conversations or just nod along. I sometimes find my self back there, feeling out of control, feeling like my voice doesn’t matter, feeling judged, scrutinised and above all that anxious. To not be able to express yourself is a trial in itself.
‘Everyone needs to express themselves. For me that is an absolute necessity. To be fully free and completely ourselves, we must feel comfortable enough to express our emotions, whatever form they take.’
I remember seeing this quote once and it really spoke to me. I’m not exactly sure where it originates from. Wherever we are, whatever we do, we have to feel free to express what is in our minds without fear of how that will be taken. Nowadays we not only have to deal with people in our day to day lives judging and interpreting our behaviour (mistakes and all) but there is the added pressure of the potential of online bullying.
I think a lot (not all!) of my anxiety stems from feeling like i am not able to be myself in social situations.
A little unrelated to this, I do believe that we teach people how to treat us and for a long time, i didn’t like myself enough to believe anyone else could like me. So being in social situations where people were treating me badly and were making jokes on my behalf, was difficult because I didn’t feel I could stand up for myself. Now i’m stronger, i believe that standing up for yourself is crucial to your mental health. There are people who will love you regardless of how many boundaries you set and people who will never like you and that is ok because guess what, you either click or you don’t. The only people we can expect unconditional love from is our families and i couldn’t have asked for a better one.
I know that I am in a stronger place today then i was six months ago and what I allowed then, i won’t allow now. I also know that what fills me with dread now, won’t fill me with dread in a further six months. So i firmly believe that whilst i will always have a higher level of anxiety, my panic attacks will slow down.
Panic attacks were and are crippling and absolutely exhausting. When I say exhausting, I mean they would drain me to the point where at times i have had no resources left to deal with anything else. Sometimes, I just made it through the day in a robotic way and I avoided people.. a lot. Physically seeing people was difficult. Phone calls were a no no 90% of the time.The reason I tried so hard to get out of visits and phone calls was to avoid a panic attack. I was avoiding a car crash of feelings and emotions that come rapidly and sometimes lasted hours as i generally had one panic attack after another rather then just one. A normal panic attack lasts 15 – 20 minutes. A series of panic attacks can last hours. The pain can last days.
So..really to avoid all of that it was easier for me to avoid those situations altogether. Obviously that wasn’t always possible. I mean how many times can you say, ‘I can’t make it’ without upsetting people. So what does an anxious person do? Sometimes we make ourselves sick by people pleasing and forget that we also deserve to have peace. That we have to protect ourselves.
Like i said there are some situations that we just cannot get out of. Like weddings for example. I hate weddings, funerals, gatherings and any occasion where there are bound to be a lot of people. This is when my anxiety is at its peak. I cannot physically cope with the thought of being in a room surrounded by people whilst having a full blown panic attack. It is far easier for me to not be around. If there are other factors that are making it even more difficult (like for example when my daughter went through a period of screaming in crowds herself) it makes me more anxious. Not because of her but because of people’s reactions to her. This was when she was 1 years old. A baby. Naturally being her mother, I wanted to get her out of a situation which was obviously bothering her which meant I wasn’t around much. Some people understood that. Others didn’t.
The thing about anxiety is, (in my case anyway) you ALWAYS feel guilty anyway. You kind of feel like a bad person all the time. I blamed myself for everything over and over again. That is quite a burden to carry.
Anxiety can really affect your confidence. I know it did mine. I think back to a time when i was the most outgoing, fun, loud girl in the room and i want to be that girl again.
I have had someone question why or how i can be around my family if i am anxious (because there are so many of us). Funnily enough, I am not anxious around people who i grew up with and who love me unconditionally, who i am absolutely free to be myself around. However, that being said if it does get too much i can retire to my bedroom! That isn’t an option anywhere else. I can’t just disappear for hours and leave my kids anywhere else, just so i can go and breathe and calm down..
Sometimes my anxiety didn’t actually make it to a panic attack. Sometimes I just said something really inappropriate instead. So awkward.
I still find it really embarrassing to talk about, I still feel like people will think I am weird because of it, I still think that people won’t believe me, I still feel like people will think i am being awkward on purpose. That’s the thing with an invisible illness, only you know how much you suffer because of it.
This year, I decided to do something about it. Well actually i didn’t but I prayed about it a lot and as a result ended up talking about it unprompted to someone who I didn’t even know had experience/knew so much about anxiety themselves. So it was through this conversation that somehow took place in a quiet part of a very crowded room that I found solace in knowing that somebody got it. Somebody who i have a lot of respect for, who is bright and kind and a beautiful soul. I felt like these ridiculous feelings were actually ok. This started a journey into the most difficult year of my life so far. Also strangely, the year in which I learnt how strong I really was.
My anxiety held me back for years. I turned down some fantastic opportunities because I was so afraid of having a panic attack. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to go into the world and grab those opportunities. I wanted so desperately to be able to go, I just couldn’t. I was so afraid of what may be that i said no over and over again. So something had to change. I could not continue to live this way anymore.
If you or anyone you know needs help with any of the issues raised in this post, there is further information/help available here. Please don’t suffer in silence like i did for so long, please get in touch with your G.P who will be able to guide you further.
Part 2 of this post will be about my journey into starting to overcome my anxiety!