I wish there was a big button you could push or sound the alarm when a panic attack occurs. I wish there was a shelter we could go and hide in until it passes. I wish I could press the reset button, or switch myself off and then back on again.
It doesn’t happen like that.
I had a friend ask me what a panic attack feels like, how do I know when it’s coming, plus how do I deal with it?
For a long time I never admitted I had anxiety. It was like this dirty little secret and I didn’t want people to know. Why would they want to know and how could they help me if they did?
I didn’t even want to admit it to myself.
I knew something wasn’t right. When a close family friend died in 2011, I became obsessed with seeing my parents daily, or at least hearing from them. My irrational thoughts around death went to the point I was worrying about whether my outfit looked right because, well, what if that was the last outfit I wore?
My husband knew something wasn’t right, I wasn’t myself at all and it came to a head that same year when I lost my job. I had recently got married and we’d had a fantastic first Christmas together. I was looking forward to the new year, getting used to married life , being employed and saving for our future
Going from being employed and thinking about the future to suddenly not having a job changed my outlook. Gone was a major reason to get up in the morning, my routine and the interaction with people I was used seeing every day. It all suddenly went.
I found it hard to find another job. This pressure to be employed started to mount up, to the point where I found myself not wanting to go to work and instead stay at home and hide. I was fine doing the mundane jobs of life, but not actually having a job that paid.
After several months I found a job. I remember a feeling of dread in the days leading up to my new start date, but I tried to put those feelings aside and just got on with it. When I started I found that whilst people were pleasant enough, my desk was situated behind a filing cabinet in an obscure part of the building. I couldn’t interact with anyone in the office, and most people didn’t know I was there. My lunch break on that first day was spent sitting in my car in a supermarket car park. I’d been left to my own devices and the feeling of rejection began to overwhelm me and I began to cry. I realised then that I wasn’t right, but I hadn’t heard of anxiety disorders before and didn’t make the connection.
I did know that I didn’t want to be there and that accepting the job was just a way of stopping other people from putting pressure on me to find one. There’s a huge expectation that in order to be a part of society that you need to be gainfully employed, but I didn’t feel that I could stay in this role
The feeling I had when I returned to the office was like being trapped with no escape. My heart rate was racing and I couldn’t stop this feeling of being walled in. I also couldn’t stop crying either. I wanted to escape.
In that moment I knew had to get out. So I left. I walked out and didn’t return.
The next day my husband took me to the doctors who diagnosed anxiety disorder and put me on medication. I was prescribed two beta-blocker tablets a day to help manage the symptoms.
I felt like a failure.
However I soon started to learn what I needed to do in order to start to feel better. I had a lovely friend who I had worked with before who offered me some part-time work and that was the start.
I wasn’t ready to do full-time work again so I changed my job search criteria and found something part-time. This helped me because I knew there was an end to the job each day which wasn’t too far away. I could do a few hours then go home without experiencing the pressure of knowing that I’d have to stay there for a full 7 hours.
I was still on the medication, but I was beginning the process of feeling like my old happy, healthy self again. Within that time I enrolled onto course providing counselling skills. I’d previously worked in Human Resources, so wanted to have extra people skills for when I wanted to go back to this sort of role.
This was the first turning point. I suddenly learned how to talk about my issues, that I shouldn’t be ashamed, and that actually sharing and talking about my illness helps. I started to realise I wasn’t alone.
My next turning point when I found out that I was pregnant. I had reduced my tablets down to one tablet a day, but being pregnant meant I had to come off the medication. Suddenly my focus switched from me to my growing child and doing the best for her.
I had started to find what worked for me, so that when I do get a panic attack now, I have some extra tools in my imaginary tool box to help me.
In my next blog I’d like to share the techniques that work for me to cope with a panic attack. I’m not saying that they’ll work for you (I think we’re all different and you need to work out what’s effective for you) but they might help