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.