This time of year is always very poignant for me. Two years ago I was struggling with my mental health worse than I ever had before; and ever have since. It was an extremely stressful and frightening time for me and it still remains a fear of mine that it could happen again. But this is why reflection is so important for me: it reminds me that I’ve coped for two whole years since that point. During that time, I couldn’t see myself ever feeling better: I was so stuck in a place of abject fear and anxiety that it overruled any positive thinking; any rational thinking and any hope for the future.
When I first ever experienced panic attacks at age 15, my symptoms were: hyperventilating, shaking, nausea and sweating. But only during specific situations such as exams. Fast forward to age 21+ I was developing various other symptoms and I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I wasn’t just experiencing panic attacks during stressful situations, I was now struggling to go into a supermarket alone without panicking and feeling an overwhelming need to escape. This is when ‘normal’ feelings of anxiety turn into a disorder. An anxiety disorder is not rational. Anxiety as an emotion is normal, but when it starts to take over your life, not letting you leave your house or do normal things, then it becomes a problem.
Over the course of a year I began to have counselling that made such a crucial difference in my life. I was learning strategies to try and manage panic attacks and regain some control.
In October 2016, I started feeling significantly unwell mentally. I have suffered from anxiety for so many years now that I am usually able to recognise the symptoms and signs of decline in my mindset and my ability to think rationally. However, I had developed a new symptom of anxiety and it totally threw me off balance. I started noticing that my chest felt extremely tight and I would struggle to take full breaths. Once I had noticed this once, it became an obsession in my head that something was wrong. I spent the majority of my days concentrating on my breathing and picking up on every occasion in which I felt like I was finding it more difficult to breath normally. I can’t remember exactly what date it came to its peak; but I have never forgotten the way I felt at that time. It was hands down the worst experience of my life so far; and it made me feel like all the progress I had made over the previous 18 months had been pointless, as I wasn’t able to manage this at all. I was absolutely petrified of going to bed, I was convinced that I would die in my sleep because I wasn’t able to concentrate on my breathing. I was convinced that my life was now going to remain like this forever – I couldn’t stop my brain obsessing over my chest, I had no way to take back control. I remember ringing 111 numerous times during the week, trying to find a reason behind this feeling of my chest being crushed. I remember visiting A&E, nearly vomiting outside from the sheer panic I was feeling. I remember the doctor giving me a chest x-ray to try and quell my fears, showing me that I had more than enough oxygen in my lungs and telling me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. I think he thought that this would be the reassurance I needed to stop the panic – but he was wrong. All it did was leave me with the fact that I still had no way to stop this feeling. Honestly, at that point I would have preferred something to be wrong because at least that way there would be a way to treat it.
The fact that it was all inside my head didn’t relax me; it didn’t reassure me; it didn’t ‘cure’ me.
It absolutely terrified me.
I couldn’t believe how my own mind could make me feel this bad. I couldn’t believe how my own mind could be that powerful. The actual fact that I believed my own mind was the problem.
My selfless best friend took me to the doctors on her birthday, she gave up her time on her special day to get me the help I desperately needed. I was put on Sertraline which is an antidepressant used for people suffering with anxiety. I felt relieved that I had been given something to help me – yet it didn’t. In fact, it made me 10x worse. I reacted badly to Sertraline, it caused me to throw up numerous times every time I took a tablet, which for someone with emetophobia it was so frightening, and made me so spaced out that I didn’t feel like I was in my body. Add that to an already crippling period of anxiety and I felt like I was in actual hell on Earth. I was then told to go back onto my previous medication – Propranolol – which is a beta blocker used to reduce panic attacks. I had to take three a day, every day. It was my saving grace. Being on beta blockers for all my waking hours meant I began to feel immensely calmer – whenever I had an intrusive thought relating to my chest, it couldn’t spiral into a panic attack. This calmness meant I was able to begin thinking more rationally. I ended up having starting something called Craniosacral Therapy, which helped relax me further and my therapist was able to reduce the tension built up in my back and neck which in turn made my chest feel less tight. It was a combination of my medication and two different therapies that brought me out of this dark place. It gave me physical things to take and do to help myself and remind myself that although my brain is powerful – it isn’t always right.
This is something that I still need reminding of now. But on the whole, two years later, my life is dramatically different. I have achieved things in that time that I never would have predicted, both big and small, and I have used my experiences to help support others which is my biggest achievement to date. I am so happy that I decided to start a blog – the sole reason behind it was because I struggled to relate to anything anywhere when I was suffering; and I didn’t want that for anyone else. Maybe sometimes I’m too open, and talk too much about my mental health, but for me its played the most significant part in who I am, and I want others suffering to recognise that there are better days to come. There are achievements to be made and experiences to have that will make you feel so alive and so full of love that you’re going to burst. I know this because the last two years have been inundated with these moments and I’m not going to let ‘Ben’ convince me that my future will be ruled by him.