I was the last person you would expect to be suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. I have always been one of those people that are seen as confident and outgoing and rather self assured. I was also a bit of a control freak though; people rarely describe me as relaxed or cruisy and I am very much inside my head. So many thoughts, always racing. Knowing what I know now I was actually a prime candidate for panic. It was just a matter of time…
My first experience with anxiety was back in November 2010 when I had a panic attack over an imagined spider bite that was apparently poisoning me. Well it wasn’t entirely imagined. There was a strange lump on my wrist that I was unable to identify with what appeared to be two tiny dots in it (for spider fangs). I’d had a really big weekend of drinking (which doesn’t help anxiety at all – I now know this) and it just seemed to tip me over the edge. I even made my mum call the ambulance. I honestly thought I was going to die.
The ambulance dudes were very cool and did not tell me I was an idiot but did encourage me to not waste my money (and their time) by going to the hospital. So my mum and step dad kindly went with me to the GP instead who was next to bloody useless. As I didn’t live in the area she had no interest in helping me AT ALL. Even when I said to her that I felt I’d probably been anxious for awhile, she basically just said “Oh well, run along. Go see your own Dr”. What sort of freaking duty of care is that? I was clearly an absolute mess. If that happens to you, please don’t feel like you have wasted someone’s time. Find a new Dr and try again as it was eventually a Dr that actually helped me the most.
Anyway so off I went on the train back to Sydney fighting having a panic attack the whole way (which could have been eased significantly if that Dr hadn’t been such a f***head). And all I could think the whole way home was “Is this going to be the rest of my life? Am I always going to be living on the verge of a panic attack?” because right in that moment that is truly how it feels. I knew squat about panic attacks or anxiety so my mind had a field day filling in the rather substantial blanks I had on the subject. I knew of a friend who had panic attacks sometimes and had done for a number of years but that was my only real knowledge of it so my sample size of one wasn’t all that comforting. All I knew was that I did not want to be having this experience for another day, let alone years.
The next day I packed myself off to Jury Duty (I was the sucker who accepted the foreperson nomination on a rape case. NEVER take that job. Sit in the back and be responsible for NOTHING). I got a coffee on the way as I didn’t know any better and the OMG I’m going to have a panic attack feeling started up again. It got so bad I had to put a request in for the jury to be excused for a break so I could deal with it. At that point I decided enough was enough (and this was only day 2 – I don’t know how people go with this untreated for YEARS) and asked the judge if the jury could have the rest of the day off so I could see a Dr and attempt, once again, to deal with it. Humiliating was how that felt.
The Dr I saw was nothing short of amazing. Even though it was one of those medical centres that has a bit of an in and out get them through the turnstile philosophy the Dr took his time talking to me and explaining everything he could about anxiety and panic attacks. I didn’t feel rushed for one moment and he encouraged me to come back and see him anytime at all if I was struggling. He advised me that I had two options: I could go on medication first and then try to deal with it OR I could just go straight to see a psych specialising in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). He explained that CBT has been shown to be as successful as medication for dealing with anxiety and was probably the best long term option. Obviously I had to be able to handle it until I could get into seeing someone but I was hesitant about going down the medication path so it was CBT for me. I think for some people medication is absolutely necessary but I didn’t feel I was there yet. The Dr was able to give me some techniques to help keep the panic at bay (like breathing exercises) and there started my journey with overcoming the beast.
I am still on the journey but I no longer struggle with anxiety and panic every day and it certainly doesn’t have a significant impact on my life anymore. I think my propensity towards anxiety is probably something that will be there in some respect for the rest of my life but I now know the signs and I know how to ward it off and keep it at bay so it simply doesn’t stress me out the way it used to.
The key for me in the beginning was information. I needed to understand what it was, how to manage it and that it was possible to get over it. And that the only person that could make it go away was me. It’s my brain after all. And I am in control of it. For me, more information led to more understanding and more understanding led to less panic so if my bloody long story helps even one person gain a little bit more understanding and less panic then I will be so happy.
I have also put together a post with some tips for dealing with anxiety. Stories are good as they help you feel like you are not alone but tips are better. Tips are something that you can actually use. So check them out!