My first panic attack. I was laying in a hospital hooked up to an ECG machine and about to have my blood taken. Guess what, there was nothing physically wrong with me. A little dehydrated sure but physically tip-top; healthy, strong and fit. Rewind to 40 minutes before I thought was going to die. That was the day I began losing a grip on myself and without knowing it, the day Finding Me Again began.
This is how it ends. Can’t breath, struggling to talk coherently, pouring with sweat, shaking with fear, vision tunnelling, darkness closing in. Is this a heart attack? I need to get help, I need the hospital.
My diary notes from my first panic attack in 27th April 2017. You know that dream when you feel like you’re falling? Or when your chair is about to tip over? That’s how a panic attack feels but constantly. All you want is for it to end.
The build up
A few months prior to this I was having trouble with overthinking, which I have spoken about in a previous blog post (go check that out!). Lots of my thoughts around that time were on death, my own and the fear of other people dying. This overthinking grew into quite bad anxiety to a level where I was having severe physical symptoms; blurred vision, dizziness, tingling sensations down my legs, arms and in my face. I was to used to my anxiety being mentally driven and less physical. Maybe I would feel nauseas sometimes but these physical symptoms were new. I began to think something was wrong with my health. I believe thinking about death regularly had spurred this thinking on and fuelled the anxiety.
After the panic attack I expected things to get better quickly, but I hadn’t anticipated the enemy in the room, which was myself. I beat myself up for ending up in hospital, I felt shame for taking up their time. I was still fighting all my anxiety symptoms which hadn’t subsided. If anything they were getting worse. Having a doctor tell you its 100% your mind and nothing else it makes you think you’re crazy. I refused to take anti-depressants that I had been advised to take, again the thought of taking them made me feel like a failure.
I started suffering from unreality, sometimes called depersonalisation. This a symptom of high anxiety. I don’t typically hear people talk about or see much advice surrounding it. Believe me though its real and it can be absolutely terrifying. This was my experience of it; my anxiety levels were extremely high, and I was struggling to accept this was all in my head and not physical. I was in the bathroom staring into the mirror and I literally didn’t recognise the person there. That sounds very cliche “I wasn’t myself” but I shit you not, the person in the mirror was not me. I felt disconnected from myself and everything seemed delayed. It was like that scene in Peter Pan when his shadow isn’t doing what he does. It was like that but obviously not as enjoyable in fact it was horrendous.
I saw doctors prior to ending up in hospital. I was told it was “just stress” and “just anxiety”. Their decorum and manner had a negative effect on my mental health if it was better maybe I wouldn’t of had such a huge panic attack. I feel bad saying that as I have massive admiration for doctors and health care staff.
The emergency doctor in hospital sat with me and talked about mental health. For someone in that role to take that time I really appreciated it. It set me off on the right direction going forward. She was firm but caring at the same time which struck a great balance. She kicked my ass about not drinking enough water though…
The doctor I saw after hospital was great. He showed sympathy for where I was at. He talked me through more than just the medical side of the anxiety and panic attacks. Yes he encouraged me to take medication but he also highlighted the benefits of exploring other areas of help, he offered counselling, he wrote down books for me and websites he knew of.
When it comes to approaching doctors be persistent. They are human too and some will react in different ways to you presenting your mental health problems. Going back the 3rd time I was calmer in my approach and explained exactly what was going on.
I had been seeing a counsellor for a couple of months prior to my panic attack. I was luckily that work benefits covered 5 free sessions and found someone local who was really helpful.
Counselling again similar to doctors you need to find a fit. I had counselling as teenager and it just didn’t work for me. I had a major issue connecting with the guy doing the sessions and I actual came out of the sessions pissed off about the guy (probably not his fault). Seeing a counsellor this time around I realised that you need to find the right fit. If you’re not getting anywhere try someone else.
If you’re seeking a therapist or a counsellor Mind have some recommendations on how to find someone.
This can be scary. Opening up to a doctor, close friend or family about your issues is hard enough but to your manager or other colleagues? That’s really tough. I can 100% guarantee you its not the first conversation they’ve had with someone about a similar situation.
My work were really supportive during this period. I was signed off work for a few months by my doctor. Despite my anxiety and stress not being work related I still needed time away to get myself right. They were understanding of this but keen to keep a return date in mind and help me work toward that in a phased manner. If it was checking emails from home at first, then a few mornings in the office we built back up.
If you’re open and honest with anyone about this subject you will get help. Its when you try to close up and hide away from it you may hit issues. For me being able to talk to people at work about mental health and especially that time in my life its super helpful.
Your support network
I am lucky enough to have a fantastically supportive family and friends network who really rallied around me. But unless you tell them whats going on they cannot help you. You have to open up. I was shocked by the amount of people who had felt or were feeling similarly to me during my time of need. Their support was unquestionable and I really do appreciate it. Try it. Open up you will be surprised how many people feel the same. It really highlighted to me how much we don’t talk about mental health.
That being said they may well be the rock which you can stand on for support but that jump to shore…thats all you. We cannot overly rely on those around us. Because the only person who can affect a change is you.
No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path – Buddha
Rebuilding me again
The first step is to seek help but after that be aware not everything is going to work. As I always say in my writing what works for me may not work for you. I grabbed everything to try and help me out of the situation. I opened myself up to new ways of thinking, accepted things I had dismissed in the past. Below are some things I tried that worked for me;
Meditation via Headspace app –
I bought a years subscription then and there. I was meditating maybe 1-2 times a day for between 10 and 20 minutes. When you say meditation to people they used to raise their eyebrows, now its a little more accepted. But I think people still think you need to ‘monk up’ or be religious. With apps like Headspace, Calm, even just YouTube based sessions you will quickly realise its not like that. Its more about taking some time for yourself and being present. Try it see what you think.
I bought it as soon as I got home from my panic attack. This really worked for me it use a technique called Defuse Approach Engage Run Toward, the idea behind that you challenge anxiety and panic attacks. The closest I get to panic attacks now and previous to my first one is flying. This book now travels with me on every flight and every away journey. Honestly if you suffer from panic attacks get this book I promise you will get something from it.
If your lucky enough to get a great counsellor like I did then you get lots of homework from them. I got loads of directions to explore in terms of books to help, techniques ranging from mindfulness to CBT all sorts. As I keep saying you have to open and try it all out. I still don’t find CBT massively easy to pickup but I was always willing to try.
Exploring other ideologies
I considered myself an atheist at the time of my panic attacks and to a large extent I still do. My counsellor introduced me to Buddhism and the works for Thich Nhat Hanh particularly his book No Death, No Fear. The idea behind this was to research the Buddhist approach to life and death. At first I was sceptical. The idea of following a religion or believing in something other than science was crazy. It worked for me though. My feelings around life and death are of the Buddhist approach and it has led to me having a better relationship with the topic of death. Don’t discount things, be open, explore it. You don’t have to shave your head and sit in a monastery to believe in something, if it works for you use it.
I still take medication for my anxiety even now. I have tried to come off and its just not worked for me. Again people are different but what I would say is if you’re at the bottom and you have this option take it.
I feel like it helped me. Its still something I am working on though I would like to come off but I know its not that simple I spoke about this in my article Citalopram – withdrawal effects
Finding Me Again
In closing here we are, Finding Me Again. I created this blog to get my thoughts down and help me find the tools and techniques to combat my mind. But its now here to serve you, the person reading this. I hope it can guide you to techniques or practices that help your mental health. There is a reason my logo is a compass, I want this blog to be your compass. Use it in your journey of finding you again.
I am always searching and always pushing for ways to be better myself. To better my mental health. I hope you can join me.
All the best 🙂
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