Hello Lovelies 🙂
Today I wanted to share with you all an extremely personal part of my life. I have never fully been able to open up to others apart from those super close to me about this but I feel much stronger in myself now and want to share my experience to hopefully help others and now I have created a blog there is no better time to do so to help spread support. (Also this will give you a chance to get to know me a little better 🙂 )
I’m not going to go into all the ins and outs otherwise I could end up writing for hours and hours. This is a long post (so grab yourself a cuppa) but I tried my hardest to shorten it as best I could. I wanted to share some of my personal experience about my battle with anxiety. As it has been Mental Health Awareness Week I thought this was the right time to post this, hopefully my story will be able to help someone out there who is struggling with something similar or struggling with anxiety to also see that it does become brighter in the end with time and support 🙂 * Huge hugs* to anyone who is suffering from a Mental Health disorder or has in the past, I think the more we share and open up about our experiences the more we can support others and spread the word….You never know what anyone is going through and you should never assume a person is okay just because of how they may look or even act from the outside. When you pass someone in the street you don’t know what they have or are going through.
Firstly, I want to start off by saying that no matter what mental health disorder you have you should never feel embarrassed or ashamed! So many people are going through the same thing and when you reach out for support you understand better that you are never alone! There will be lots of people who don’t understand but there are also a lot of people who do and you need to surround yourself with those who do understand! And hopefully those who don’t understand will do with time after having a more open mind and hearing more about mental health disorders.
On a side note, I personally feel that there are times when ‘having a panic attack’ can be an overused phrase. I have heard a lot of people say “oh you nearly made me have a panic attack” or “I am so anxious so I suffer from panic attacks.” It is not my place to say that these people are not experiencing panic sensations at all but when it is said in such a lighthearted tone for me it is obvious that they are most likely just experiencing a mild amount of anxiety like a normal emotion. When you suffer from actual panic disorder it is a lot more scary and feels very terrifying than just “oh that gave me a panic attack nearly.” That’s why I think it is so important for people to realise the difference between a normal amount of anxiety and panic compared to a full on panic disorder. Panic disorder and anxiety when it interferes with your daily life is when there is a much bigger problem than just a normal emotion of panic or anxiety.
I have struggled with anxiety and panic disorder since I was 13, so 8 years now. I only fully knew that it was that when I was 15 years old (after various hospital tests that came back all clear thankfully.) At the start it was extremely hard because all these scary symptoms would come on from absolutely nowhere…with the occasional things that triggered it off. There were many times when I was younger and I used to think: I am going crazy and why am I not normal i’m always feeling like this. My main symptoms were dizziness and off balance sensations, sweaty palms, super racing heart, shaking alot and shortness of breath. When it was going on I would often feel like I was going to die. It’s extremely hard to describe the sensation but describing it as best I can; everything blacked out around me, all i could really focus on was the pounding of my heart, negative dying thoughts and fears and worries of where am i?! how do I escape?! what is happening to me?! etc… it was like a very unreal situation and I would often feel that I was detached from my surroundings. For me it has been the scariest thing that I have ever experienced and my symptoms felt so intense.
The worst feeling when I first started to experience panic attacks was that people around me would say whilst they were happening “Charlotte your fine, nothing is happening” or “Charlotte why are you feeling ill a lot” or “Charlotte just calm down!” In my mind I knew what I was going through and feeling but it was so hard to show others how I was feeling and deep down it didn’t feel normal and I did feel very weird so I used to say I just felt ill and sick because I didn’t want anyone to think I was going crazy. Because of this people around me would just think I was feeling sick always and just not wanting to go do different things, which didn’t help because then people would just say nothing is wrong and I was fine. Which scared me even more because like I said I knew how I was feeling at the time but I had no idea why. Words will never be able to describe the exact feelings I felt but in my mind it was and is a lot scarier than what I have just written down.
I used to experience panic attacks a couple of times a week, my first major ones were in two shops and I just all of a sudden remember feeling like I couldn’t escape and what would happen if I fainted in the aisle and then all the symptoms came on and I rushed out of the shop. I used to also rush to windows or exists when I felt the panic and honestly I still do now… My panic attacks have ranged anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours for the sensation to pass. (My couple of hour ones will be when I have had a few spouts of high panic attacks and then high anxiety after, causing me to struggle to relax and even struggle to sit down without jumping up again.) Anyway, by the time I was 15 years old I was getting panic attacks a couple of times a day. I had stopped going to school so much and had quite a lot of time off and I would just stay in my bedroom. I got pretty bad because I would really struggle to go downstairs, I couldn’t sit in my house in the lounge or dining room (due to bad childhood memories that happened in those rooms) and I would not go outside and avoid it as much as I could.
After my hospital tests came back all clear (the doctor thought it could be a problem with my heart) I was taken to the doctors again because it was really affecting my life whatever it was at this point and my mum could obviously see the distress in me. So I went again and that’s when the doctor said it could be anxiety and they signed me on a waiting list to CAMHS which is a child and adolescent mental health service for young people and parents.
At first I didn’t want to go because I was getting panic attacks everyday, barely leaving the house, avoiding things and didn’t feel like going in the car because that also set one off too. I think my mum rang the counsellor to say that I was worried to go and upset etc…and she kindly talked to me on the phone and really helped put my mind at ease. So I went to my appointment and it was one of the best things I could of done at that young age for my anxiety.
The counsellor I had was honestly so lovely and kind, she really made me feel less crazy and I felt she really wanted to help me. We went through what in my life triggered them to start ( I had a bad past in my childhood with my dad) and I always remember her telling me that I had severe anxiety and panic disorder and that it would most likely only really get better once my serotonin levels (which is basically your happiness level and good times can boost it up) would level out to a more normal level that they should be. She strongly recommended that I take medication because mine was quite severe.
I am not against anyone taking medication for mental health I think it’s a preference and your own personal choice and whatever works for you, you should keep doing that. But for me I didn’t want to take medication because I was scared of all the possible side effects I could get but the biggest reason was because I wanted to conquer it more naturally if possible. I don’t want to offend anybody by writing this (i’m just writing about how I felt) but for me personally I didn’t want to mask my symptoms with a pill as I was worried about how it would affect me in the long term. Like how hard it might be to come off them, would I rely on a pill too much just to get me through a day. I personally wanted to heal the root of my problem rather than just mask the symptoms. I felt that my panic attacks arose from a traumatic experience so I wanted to heal my mind with a more natural approach.
Even though I had chosen this route to go down I can also see why medication can also be a big help for alot of people. It gives you that little extra boost that you need to help manage your symptoms. From the bottom of my heart I do get and understand that massively and I have always said that I would never just continually say no to medication forever for my mental health (if I really felt I wanted to try a different route with that I would) but I would always like to try and find an alternative treatment that could help me beforehand. So I didn’t take any medication and knew it would take ALOT of baby steps before I could see any improvement. And honestly at the time I believed that I would never get better and I would always feel like this everyday. I was wrong though.
Steps to recovery:
I had regular sessions with my counsellor and she would tell me various tips to try to help me. Tips for breathing, focusing on things in my mind like the alphabet or counting, doing games like I-spy to keep me occupied, if I had irrational thoughts about things like going to the shops, getting on a bus, walking down stairs she would tell me to draw myself and then speech bubbles around saying what I think is the worst that could happen. And then below another me with speech bubbles with actual realistic things that could likely go wrong which ended up being not very many. She also would set me little tasks to do like go on a bus for two stops and then get off and meet my mum and then gradually build up to go to more and more stops etc…or go to the shops with a few things on a list to get, go in and out and gradually add more items on my lists. I did all these things and was gradually seeing an improvement I went to counselling honestly for just one year. I remember the day she said “well Charlotte looks like you are all set now, your controlling them better, going out more and I think you have some helpful tools that will help you to manage your panic attacks better now.” She told me that she couldn’t believe how quickly I had progressed for someone with huge panic when I first arrived and she said she saw me a lot brighter and better. She had given me the tools that I had needed and the answers of why I developed panic attacks to help me understand them and control them better. At this point I was having panic attacks only a couple of times a week again so a huge improvement from a couple of times a day!!
If there is one thing I have learnt from counselling it is that not everything they say to try out will work for you and out of your own findings and experience that is when you will truly know what helps you personally. Honestly the majority of things she said to try like focus on something else etc wouldn’t work for me because I would also get panic attacks when I concentrated. So you should know that these things don’t work for everyone and you have to find through a lot of errors what really works for you. One example of this I will share is that now when I experience a panic attack I will grip onto a chair or a bed whatever I am sat on and really squeeze it, it helps my balance as I can feel it not moving and it’s still so it soothes my mind knowing it’s just my mind feeling anxious. I was never taught to do that it was something that my body would want to do naturally and when I let it I found it calmed me. Sometimes it really is best to listen to your own body and what it needs.
How am I now…8 years later?
8 years later I still have my panic disorder but not like I used to experience. When I was 17-18 years old that’s when I really started to feel better by not experiencing them every week but about once every month. And now I am 21 I have them even less! I only really experience a full on strong panic attack every 2/3 months. I will be totally honest, there are things I do still struggle to do (things that may seem simple and easy to others) but I usually try to not let my anxiety stop me anymore. In between the proper panic attacks I do experience panic sensations, these are usually either each week or every other week and they heighten depending on the time of the month or getting an illness or if I have an event coming up etc but they are much more easily controlled now because I have learnt what works best for me and I can manage them much better now.
I also have given myself a bedtime routine as my panic attacks went through a phase of occurring at night time. I go to bed after some light reading, drinking my calming chamomile tea, taking some Bach night rescue remedy spray and putting on my 1001 remedies sleep balm for a restful nights sleep. I have found that having a stable routine helps me have a peaceful nights sleep. Because of my experience with anxiety I have also been very involved and interested in my well-being, taking time out for myself and realising that I am very important and my needs should come before anything else sometimes. For example if I really feel like my body needs time to chill out I will just spend a day relaxing having me time and doing what I love…like going for a short quiet walk in the park or reading in the garden or having a full on at home spa day with face masks, baths and foot spas etc.. just giving my body time to heal after say a busy few days.
If there is one thing that I have learnt from panic attacks it is that time is a real healer. My mum has been the most supportive with this situation since I was 13…and she always stuck by me and honestly really fully understood which I am so lucky and grateful for. She gave me time to focus on myself and not to rush into college or university or a job etc… I was able to do a home study course and volunteer which I think was a massive help for me as I could still focus on myself and take each day as it comes and fit in my course when I felt okay (now I have a job which I never thought I could handle with my panic so it proves things do change!)…my mum gave me the opportunity to do that and she was extremely supportive in her ways of helping out…Like also having a gorgeous addition to the family a little puppy who helped me go out for walks and decorating our lounge differently so i could sit and relax more in there. My boyfriend I met when I was 18 has also been very supportive too because he would always help me through a panic attack just like my mum would, he has never judged me for my own needs (needing a couple of days relax after a few busy days or not being able to shop for long in big grocery stores etc…) I am very lucky to of had those two to support me in my life. Because I was given time to focus on coping with my panic in my own time, it has helped me massively in the long term with my mental health. When I feel one coming on now I just do what I know helps me the most and I feel much much better which means they aren’t brought on as much now.
Like I said before I still after 8 years get them and yes at times they have fluctuated between getting them when i’m out, to then going through a period where I only got them when I was home alone, to then getting them mostly at night. It is still a struggle and can be a daily struggle still at times depending on what is happening in my life however, just because I get them still after this many years doesn’t mean I haven’t improved. I know I have improved due to how I can cope much better with them now and can still continue to live a life that I want too without the panic attacks stopping me from doing what I want to do.
My main message to you all would be to listen to your body and mind and what you feel. Never shrug off your emotions and feelings as they are deeply important. If you feel you would benefit from support seek it and surround yourself with people who love and understand truly. You may feel like you don’t always have control on how you think or feel but even by making some small simple changes to your life you can see a difference in your mental health, like I said listen to what your body and mind needs maybe 10 mins to relax and think positively and calming, making a short walk to clear your head and fill your lungs with fresh air or even a pamper session, just do something you love to boost how you feel…that helps alot. I hope whoever is reading this can get a little something from my experience and please let those who struggle know that they are not alone and they are loved and surrounded by a lot of people who care 🙂
I’ll finish up with a really strong message that has stayed with me ever since I first read it many years ago;
“Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are NOT a sign of weakness. They are signs of having tried to remain strong for way too long.”