As a therapist, you’re encouraged not to self-disclose. So, I used to try and keep it a secret that I had been unwell too. It was almost bursting out of me that I knew how it felt. I wanted to see my clients and say, ‘I know, I know how bad it can be, but you can get better.” People would ask me what evidence have you got that what you do works and all I wanted say was me, because, I’m alive, and I nearly died and I’m going to teach you all I know.
My being unwell was the whole reason that I became a therapist in the first place. I knew as soon as I recovered that I too wanted to help people.
I soon realised, that knowing how it felt to go through mental illness, actually helps you to, a) connect with clients and to understand how they feel and b) I know what it takes to get better and how it feels to be on the other side of mental illness.
So, in short blogs I’m going to talk about how the mental illness and me, began, and then move on to how I recovered. You will notice I don’t like to say ‘my mental illness’ because it’s not me, nor a part of me.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever had a panic attack, but they are hideous. I used to live in a third-floor apartment. One day I was walking up the stairs to get home, when all of a sudden, I blacked out and fell on the stairs. I couldn’t breathe, I was sweating, I felt almost as though my sugar levels had dramatically dropped. When I came around, I dragged myself up the stairs and got myself home. I felt awful but after a while it passed. I had no idea what was going on.
These episodes happened again and again and again. I thought I’d got a serious problem with my heart.
Once I realised these kept happening, I went to the GP. They said my heart rate was very fast and sent me for an ECG. Fortunately, they found nothing wrong with my heart, I was then referred to a doctor at the hospital who informed me that I was having panic attacks.
A panic attack!! I couldn’t believe it, the physical pain and physical symptoms actually felt as though I was having a heart attack or had a physical problem. Panic attacks were for people who couldn’t cope with life, for sensitive people weren’t they?
From that day, the panic attacks went from bad to crippling. They completely began to control my life, I was so afraid of having one that subconsciously I began to bring them on myself. When I realised I was doing that it seemed crazy, the fact I actually couldn’t help it. I could not help, no matter how hard I tried, stop them.
My world got smaller and smaller, as I became more fearful of leaving my home. I was avoiding situations I had previously enjoyed, or if I braved it I would be fighting a panic attack off for the whole time. I would be so afraid of fainting in public, being sick, losing control, screaming, crying, I would have tunnel vision, tunnel hearing, I couldn’t breathe, it was awful, yet I suffered in silence.
The whole time I went through this I didn’t tell my family or friends how bad it really was. I told people I had panic attacks but they didn’t know how bad they were, they didn’t know they were getting worse either. I kept all of this to myself.
I kept it to myself because I was scared, scared of being taken away, I was scared of admitting it to myself, let alone to anyone else. If I said it out loud it would be true and I didn’t want it to be. Keeping it to myself gave me a small sense of sanity that it wasn’t really going on. If I didn’t say it out loud it wasn’t happening, but in truth, it was and I was in desperate need of help.
I was practically drinking a bottle of herbal anxiety spray per day, but it didn’t do anything for me. I was so scared of my own mind, the negative thoughts I was having. I can’t quite explain how scared I was.
I look back now and understand my journey, I knew I had to experience the fear to be able to help others now, but I didn’t know that then, I could not see past the extreme fear and loss of control I was going through.
My panic attacks symptoms were;
Feeling like I was going to faint
Weak arms and legs
Really bad thoughts of something bad happening to me
The need to run away
All of these symptoms would come on really fast. So, no wonder you feel so bad when having a panic attack. I now know that these symptoms are common for someone suffering with panic attacks. There are also more symptoms which can include
Inability to speak
Throat closing up
If you have any of these symptoms, I absolutely insist that you get yourself checked out either at your doctor or the hospital. All other possible causes must be ruled out before you think about panic attacks.
So, panic attacks are hideous, and you can see with the symptoms how crippling they can be. It really doesn’t matter who you are or how strong you are, panic attacks can affect anyone. It doesn’t mean that you’re weak and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but please get help. You really don’t need to suffer with them.
The first port of call is your doctor to give you a diagnosis and to rule out anything else. It’s always better to check.
I have seen people over the years who have had panic attacks for decades but been told that the panic attacks are something they have to just live with. They may be given some sort of beta-blocker or anti-anxiety medication, they do sometimes help, but they don’t always solve the problem.
Getting to the bottom of panic attacks isn’t actually that hard. However, most people can’t remember or don’t even know why they’ve had a panic attack, but what is left is the reminder of the physical feelings which people become afraid of.
Sometimes people see a therapist and they feel they need to uncover the underlying issue and remember why they started, however, sometimes they simply can’t remember and it’s not always the fact that some particular event occurred, it’s that they now fear the reoccurring physical symptoms.
Please don’t feel as though you have to suffer, panic attacks can be resolved, I had panic disorder, I was having panic attacks most of the day, I know how bad they can be and what it’s like to revolve your life around not having panic attacks.
The next blog discusses the anxiety that I went through following on from the panic attacks and how they led me on the most crippling depression. However, I want you to know that I have recovered from it all. I want to share my story because I know how it feels, I know what it’s like to feel there is no help. But I also know how it feels to recover and to get the help. But, most of all I know what it feels like to give that help. You are worth it, you are so worth feeling great again.