If you were to rewind back to this time last year, I would have looked pretty much the same as I do now, but the state of my brain would have been quite the opposite.
From the outside I would have appeared relatively ‘normal’ but inside I was fighting a battle with what felt like an evil shadow creeping up behind me wherever I went.
This shadow was my uncontrollable, debilitating anxiety, which clung to me day and night. And with this, came horrendous panic attacks which struck me like a train almost every day.
Anxiety and panic attacks fuck your shit up.
If you can relate to the feeling you get when you step into a road without looking properly, and a car speeds past you and for a split second you think you’re about to die, that’s what anxiety feels like.
Except it’s not for a split second, it’s every second, of every fucking day.
People with anxiety don’t need to ‘just chill out’ or ‘take a deep breath’ it’s not that simple.
To give an insight into a day in the life of a person suffering with anxiety, I’ll explain a typical day during the height of mine:
Wake up. Feel like shit from not being able to sleep the night before (like every night). A sudden wash of pure terror engulfs you, no reason for it, it just gets under your skin and sets up camp for the day. You force yourself out of bed, thinking of ways to get out of going to work because the thought of leaving your house makes you feel violently sick.
Reluctantly get yourself ready, pace around, knowing you’ve missed your train, eventually leave the house, the feeling of terror grows, your heart’s beating unnaturally fast, your legs are wobbly, you get to the train station, and instantly you’re reminded of yesterday’s panic attack on the train, and the one the day before that.
Convince yourself it will happen again (it will happen again) get to the platform, let 2, maybe 3 trains go by, like you do every morning, because they’re too busy, finally get on a train, have a panic attack, get off, go to work, pretend everything’s fine, and repeat on the journey home. Go home, and you’re safe again.
This happened for nearly a year. It’s exhausting. It’s every part of every day, even a trip to the shop for your food shopping can be a harrowing ordeal. It’s not fun and it’s not something to be mocked.
A panic attack is a whole other piece of pie. They can strike you because you grow overly anxious, or they can strike you for no god damn reason at all, like when you’re half way through a McChicken sandwich whilst out shopping for example.
They manifest differently in everyone, but in general people experience a lot of the same symptoms.
Mine would go as follows:
For whatever reason, a panic attack would hit, and it would begin with the same overwhelming feeling of terror as explained above, but much, much more intense. Alongside that would come such a high heart rate that it literally made my chest vibrate. I would get really hot, dizzy and my vision would blur.
I’d lose all sense of where I was and I’d feel horribly sick, which was made worse by my phobia of being sick, you can imagine how that would mix so beautifully with a panic attack. Psychologically I would feel as if I was losing my mind, because why was nobody else around me feeling like this whenever they went out?
I’d have to get out of wherever I was until I felt isolated enough to bring back some level of calm. It would slowly subside. These could last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.
Now it sounds quite extreme, and it is, but bare in mind these are quite horrible symptoms to feel, especially all at once.
Once you’ve had one panic attack, you can go on to develop what is known as ‘generalised’ anxiety. Living in fear of having another panic attack, and spending most of your conscious time in a bubble of dread. Generalised anxiety – worry about having a panic attack – have a panic attack – worry even more.
It’s a horrible, lonely feeling, and it’s so hard to understand if you haven’t felt it, but please, if you know somebody who has anxiety, or experiences panic attacks, don’t get frustrated with them, don’t give up on them and for the love of fuck don’t make them feel stupid (like I was made to feel).
I say this because it’s not a permanent thing, and with a solid network of support around you, you can escape its grip and continue your life the way you did before.
It’s so easy to succumb to it, and struggle through every day thinking you’re stuck like this forever, but you’re really really not.
– If you don’t have the right support, go and find it, and don’t give the time of day to anybody who makes it worse.
– Read. Learn about what anxiety is, the science behind panic attacks and what is actually going on in your brain.
– Remind yourself every day that your brain is not a separate entity, as much as it feels like it. And you are in control of it, not the other way around.
I researched night and day, read books, tried counselling, but what really matters are the people around you. It is vital you are taken seriously.
I am anxiety free now, it does not last forever, and it does not define you.
I guess I’m writing this for those who might be going through this horrible stuff. But I’d also like to reach out to those who do want to help someone they care about, but don’t know where to start.
Be patient, ask them what might help them when they start to panic (everybody is different, it could be as simple as getting them some water), but just like if a loved one was choking, your instinct would tell you to help them.
Treat this the same, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t decrease its intensity for the person feeling it. Basically, just be kind.
And if reading this can help just one person who feels like no one quite ‘gets it’ then that’s just fucking awesome.
Words by Sasha Nicole