Panic attacks, anxiety, and depression
I was always a pretty laid-back person. I don’t normally worry or get stressed although I can be negative sometimes.
But at age 30, this started to change.
It took a few years to really notice it. I would randomly start feeling lonely while driving or would obsess over small things that were not going my way or I could struggle to answer the phone at work because I was in dread the potential caller. I felt like I was losing my mind – thoughts were racing constantly and I kept feeling I was slowly losing control.
Then one day at work I had my first SEVERE panic attack. Nothing special had happened, I was just at my desk replying to letters, and then suddenly I felt myself experiencing shortness of breath. It was like I just couldn’t breathe properly, I was gasping for air and could not cope anymore with literally anything. I didn’t know I was having a panic attack at the time – all I remember is feeling like I was having a heart attack.
I was in the UK at the time and an appointment with a GP was not easy for me but with the help of a friend, I eventually got to see a therapist. I was taught different techniques and ways in which to cope with what was happening to me – I learned about mindfulness, breathing techniques, visualization, and the power of detachment, that I was okay – that my anxiety was going to go away eventually. It was really helpful.
Although I was more in control of the panic attacks, it wasn’t good enough for me and I really wanted to understand why things were suddenly changing, and how I could go from total control to feeling depressed. I wasn’t looking after myself. The amount of alcohol I was consuming was low but it seemed to be a trigger. It was self-destructive and not only made me more ill but also caused more emotional and personal problems. I wasn’t eating either and quickly lost a lot of weight.
I began to feel more lonely and detached from everyone meaningful in my life. I found relationships complicated and I over-analyzed constantly. My self-esteem and confidence are completely nose-dived. It was a vicious cycle because I felt I always wanted to be alone and never said yes to anything social or to do with the family. My work colleagues barely noticed as I had always been quite introverted and was very focused on deadlines.
One of my vivid memories from that time was standing on a bridge in the city center, rain pouring over my shoulders and looking down at the fast-flowing water and thinking that the pain would be eased if I could only have the courage to climb over.
I eventually went to a nearby bar and a random female person asked me if I was ok and I remember breaking down saying “I feel guilty for my mother”. I’d experienced suicidal thoughts for the first time that day and I was shocked that thinking about what it would mean to my family had a big effect on me. They would get over it eventually? Unlikely, I can’t go on feeling like this. I think that was the worst day of my life but It didn’t end there.
Going home helped me start to get better. My mother noticed how thin I was and made a big effort to look after me. Being around family also just reminded me of who I was and that I was loved. We sat and talked about my childhood and about the struggles my parents had experienced in their marriage, the financial struggles caused by alcohol, and the times I was upset with my dad over his drinking.
I realized then that I had wasted most of my life being my own toughest critic, trying to control my life through the accumulation of money and that this anxiety had begun as a result of my coming close to going broke. . For the first time ever I realized how I ticked, the fears I had and the causes of my anxiety – I felt sorry for my mother. I empathized with her and suddenly saw her differently. I realized there is nothing wrong with her. There is nothing wrong with me.
I returned to feeling happier and looking forward to seeing everyone but I cut way back on alcohol. I was also really looking forward to going back to counseling. I had 12 weeks of sessions and it honestly changed my life. I learned things about myself.
Now, things are good. Not perfect! But that’s never going to be the case. I started to attend Al-Anon meetings for adult children of alcoholics and I started to hear stories from others.
- I keep a gratitude journal and write positive things in it every day.
- I look after myself. My anxiety and depression are still very physical but I just stop– I don’t push myself to try and do anything until I feel better. And I definitely don’t
go out and drink.
- I don’t beat myself up for having a bad mental health day/week/moment.
- I do more for myself. I don’t try to be all things to all people anymore. Nothing badis going to happen if I’m not a perfect person and if someone doesn’t want to be in my life anymore – that’s their loss.
I’ve had a tough few years but I can honestly say that I’m a very happy person and I have no shame in saying that I am a very happy person who sometimes suffers from anxiety and depression. It’s not me all the time and it does not define me. When I see someone who seems sad or lonely I always ask, in a polite non-intrusive way – ARE
YOU ARE OK?. Helping others helps me to help myself – being depressed never define a person – they’re still the same person.