15 January 2014

Anxiety, Panic Attacks and How To Beat Them.


After speaking to some of you on the #lbloggers chat a couple of weeks ago, I was finally inspired and encouraged to publish this post which I have wanted to for ages, but never knew if people would actually want to hear about others experiences. I know that reading other bloggers posts on anxiety helped me with mine because I know how alienated anxiety sufferers feel - you honestly think you're the only one who has this disorder and no one else understand. So, I hope this helps at least one person suffering from an anxiety and panic disorder feel more encouraged and connected.

"A panic attack is an exaggeration of the body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement. It is the rapid build-up of overwhelming sensations, such as a pounding heartbeat, feeling faint, sweating, nausea, chest pains, breathing discomfort, feelings of losing control, shaky limbs and legs turning to jelly. If you experience this, you may fear that you are going mad, blacking out, or having a heart attack. You may be convinced you are going to die in the course of the attack – making this a terrifying experience.
Panic attacks come on very quickly, symptoms usually peaking within 10 minutes. Most panic attacks last for between 5 and 20 minutes. Some people report attacks lasting for up to an hour, but they are likely to be experiencing one attack after another, or a high level of anxiety after the initial attack. You may have one or two panic attacks and never experience another. Or you may have attacks once a month or several times each week. For some people they seem to come without warning and strike at random.
Panic attacks can also come in the night and wake you up. These nighttime attacks occur if your brain is on 'high alert' (due to anxiety) and can detect small changes in your body which it then interprets as a sign of danger. Night-time attacks may be particularly frightening, as you may feel confused and are helpless to do anything to spot them coming
."
Description taken from Mind.

I remember the first time I got a panic attack - I was 19 walking to the university bus stop. There was nothing at all that could cause "reasonable" panic. The first feeling was a strike of dizziness and I felt lightheaded, but I just tried to shake it off thinking maybe my body hasn't quite woken up yet (good old uni days!) but it didn't stop. I started feeling numb in my hands, arms and my legs felt like jelly. I felt sick, and my throat closed so I couldn't breathe, which was probably the most horrifying thing of all. Then came the infamous chest pains - I really thought I was having a heart attack. I was only a few minutes away from the bus stop where I was meeting my friend, so I stumbled to my destination. When I got there, I sat on the ground hyperventilating, telling my friend I was having a stroke or actually dying! Anyone who has never experienced a panic attack will think of this as overly dramatic, but I can promise you to the person experiencing it - that's the reality. I had to take off my coat and jumper and was sat in a T-shirt, shaking not from the freezing temperature as this happened just before Christmas, but from what my body was going through, when suddenly just like a switch it all stopped. I managed to get myself together, we missed the first bus but I went to uni anyway although my body was absolutely exhausted like I've done a whole day of hardcore exercise.

I spent that whole evening Googling what I felt and what it could possibly be - don't do that, because I diagnosed myself with all sorts of things which made me even more anxious. Although I was shaky, I felt fine so I dismissed it as a bug and carried on with every day life. It happened again about a week later, on the same street when I was on my way to work and got progressively worse to a point where I was experiencing a panic attack almost every day. I went to my GP back in my home town and explained to her that I think I was experiencing what I thought were panic attacks and the response I got - wait for it - "Get over it." I was so happy my mother was sat in the room with me because if I told anyone they wouldn't believe it! A source of help and trust was telling me to get over something I had no control over, and I'm not the only one who has felt like that. I know a lot of people have gone to GPs who easily dismissed them and did not bother finding a solution, thinking that all a panic attack will cause is dramatic flap of hands and "Oh I'm dying!" cries coming from the so called victims. It was very discouraging, and made me feel like a complete idiot, I already felt like I was causing a fuss over nothing because I had all these blood tests done to ensure nothing was actually physically wrong with me so I knew I was in perfectly great health.

I lived with these panic attacks for a good year, experiencing them most days, sometimes even several times a day when it was really bad. I tried to figure out what it was that was bringing on these panic attacks and put the pieces of the puzzle together in my mind. That was until I had experienced the worst panic attack to date, a night that I will never ever forget in my entire life: as most people who just came out of uni, I was pretty broke and that lead to my phone being cut off. As my way of "dealing" with anxiety was to ring my mum or my best friend and talk to them, you can imagine how terrifying this was. I lived with a boyfriend back then and that particular night he was getting ready for a night out, and I just had to find out what time he'd be back so that I kinda have something to go by in terms of when I wouldn't be alone in the flat in case I needed to call someone, or talk me out of my anxiety. The mark I got was around midnight so I was like "OK, I'm sure I can survive until midnight if anything happens." WOW was I wrong. My panic attack started at about 23:30, and as I paced around all I could think about is "It's only 30 minutes until I've got someone who can help me" - remember, I have no phone. At 00:30, I realised that my boyfriend wasn't coming back anytime soon. I sent him a Facebook message asking him to call, which he did and upon me literally begging him to come back and help me, I got a cold and hard rejection. Note in the story here: try and not rely on people for comfort when you have a panic attack, because for whatever reason they may not be around and that will send you down an ever worse spiral of panic. As I mentioned in the blurb before, most panic attacks will last from 5-20 minutes, but it is possible to have reoccurring attacks which is exactly what's happened to me that night. I paced around the room like an absolute maniac, having chest pains, hyperventilating and feeling sudden flushes of freezing and boiling temperatures until around 5am, when my body literally just gave up and I fell into the deepest sleep. If you're wondering what happened to my then boyfriend, he showed up on sunrise - thumbs up right here. During my hours of pacing, so many thoughts had crossed my mind from running out in my PJ's to find a pay phone to calling the hospital and signing myself into a psychiatric ward because being crazy is the only thing that made sense in my mind.

Something had to be done because I don't think I could physically survive another such intense panic attack (now I know, yes you can. Your body is a lot more clever and capable than you think) So off I went to my GP in Bath who was completely different from my GP at home - she listened, she explained panic attacks to me properly and gave me options on how to make it better. You have to push your GP, if like me your first experience was useless, then go back and demand that something has to be done. My first option was to go on medication which was called Citalopram. Citalopram is widely used in treatment of anxiety disorders as well as depression, I know at least 3 people who have been on Citalopram for those conditions. I was prescribed 20mg, and although I didn't experience horrific side effects like some do (sickness, vomit, dry skin) I felt so spaced out. I was like a zombie walking for a good week before I started to feel the positive effects of the Citalopram. It definitely phased out more of the minor panic I was experiencing, however I was still having intense panic attacks. By this point in life, I lived with a girl friend and usually we were at home together - after my mega attack when I was alone, I developed a fear of staying home alone in case I had a panic attack and no one could help me. I had a couple of attacks which were really bad and I had to have someone come and stay with me when my flatmate was out of town. I took Citalopram for over a year, until I came to live with my mum when I came off it because I had a good support network around me. I wouldn't recommend Citalopram, mainly because I feel that all it does is phase out the panic attacks and doesn't actually fix the problem long term, or at least it didn't for me.

After a year, I visited my GP again because living with panic was becoming unbearable. I was having anxiety attacks nearly every day, I was feeling down because of them and I felt like they would never go away. I honestly felt like I couldn't live with them anymore, I was getting down because of them - I'd lost my confidence to the point where I was scared to take buses, trains and elevators and couldn't even go to town on my own without having a debilitating panic attack. I felt like I was a burden on my friends and family because I always needed them with me or I'd call them in the middle of the night crying my eyes out because I was having a panic attack. I was referred to something called iTalk which is a CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) programme aimed to help people in the South of England overcome anxiety without tablets. At first, you get a phone call where the assistants help asses your situation and put you on a scale of mild or severe anxiety. My scores were 21 out of 24 - I was on the severe scale. If you are more towards the severe spectrum, you have an arranged weekly or bi weekly meeting with a therapist. Now I'm going to be completely honest with you - I was embarrassed to go. I was embarrassed to admit to my friends and family that I'm going to "therapy". I practically zoomed into the room on my first appointment. My "therapist" was helpful and understanding, for the first time in my life I felt like someone understood what I was talking about and I didn't feel silly or embarrassed telling her what has happened to me - she gained my trust immediately. During CBT, we did a lot of exercises which will sound silly now that I tell you: one of them was to run around the block and then concentrate on our breathing. That was to let my brain know that actually, when the heart is pumping which is exactly what it does during a panic attack, our berating gets quick and deep. And what happens when breathing gets quick and deep? You feel light headed due to all the oxygen that circulates through. So actually, all the symptoms that made me panic even more are completely normal due to circumstances where my body is preparing to either "fight of flee".

I was in CBT for just a year, but within 6 months I saw a drastic change. It took me a mere 6 months to start using public transport to go on long journeys like taking the train to Birmingham on my own, or going to London on my own. It might sound silly to some, but for me that was a huge achievement. A year on, I was able to take elevator journeys on my own. I don't care how pathetic this sounds to some people, for me that was conquering a huge fear and I felt like I deserved a medal for everything that I have overcome during that one year. From feeling like I'd rather die than go through life with panic attacks to travelling and enjoying life in 12 months, I felt amazing and I started to enjoy all the little things like a bus journey that most people aren't phased with at all. I was "dismissed" from CBT officially last summer and I have only had 1 major, and perhaps 2 minor panic attacks which I handled on my own, not by calling and having others comfort me. I would strongly guarantee speaking to your GP about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in your area as it teaches you life techniques on how to handle your anxiety and I believe it is the only way to truly manage the symptoms. I feel like I can finally talk to others about anxiety and even help them through their own panic attacks because anxiety doesn't scare me anymore. I know exactly what it is, and I know how to fight it. I still have days (like now as I'm writing this post) when I fee down and suddenly my chest tightens and my head spins and we will always get those days, but the tools and power of knowing how to handle these symptoms are priceless.

I wanted to share this experience with you because I know I'm far from the only one who has felt like they're alone with anxiety, or has been embarrassed of it and you know, there are still idiots out there who think that just because you have something that doesn't quite click in your brain you're mentally ill or a psycho but those people are ignorant and aren't worth listening to. Talk to you friends, talk to your family and most importantly talk to your GP about getting help for your anxiety disorder. We're not freaks, we're just extra sensitive people and that makes us special. Think on the bright side - when a person experiences a panic attack our vision becomes sharper, our hearing becomes more intense, we gain more strength in our muscles making us virtually invincible, like a superhero in our own right.

I hope this post helps any one of you, or if you are someone who has a friend or a family member with anxiety attacks, understand it better. I feel like anxiety is still a taboo subject and I hope more people start sharing their experience to help others in their journey to beating panic attacks, I would one day love to be a speaker who helps groups of people understand that it's nothing to be ashamed of. If you have any questions, or just want to chat about anxiety feel free to drop me an e-mail or a tweet - there's always someone who gets you :)


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12 comments

  1. sweets thank you for sharing this! its a difficult subject to talk about and relates to so many of us!

    lots of love

    http://thisgirlloveschic.blogspot.co.uk

    xx

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  2. I remember my first panic attack. It felt like a heart attack. Shooting pains up and down my arm and everything. It was the most frightening moment of my life! Great post. So many people suffer with panic and anxiety, its always so nice to here that despite how alone it can feel, people we never expect are often going through the same thing. The more we talk about it, the less of a stigma there will be :) xxx

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  3. wow firstly thankyou for sharing your experience! I did a post about anxiety a couple months ago and found it a little difficult to share. I'm glad so many people are talking about anxiety and panic attacks, it makes me feel more "notmal"
    I suffer with anxiety, but not so many "panic attacks" like you have/do!
    I've tried CBT at home and it's really helped! xx

    laurathinksabout.blogspot.co.uk

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  4. Amazing post! I'm currently onto my third week of CBT now and I'm pretty embarrassed about it too, but I'm determined to get myself better. Hopefully I'll have enough courage to do a post like this soon enough :) xx

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  5. Your story sounds so familiar to mine in a lot of ways. My GP also told me to "get over it" to begin with, but eventually started to listen. I've tried counselling, CBT and psychoanalytical therapy and nothing so far has helped. So now I'm having to rely on medications, of which none have helped, and I've now been suffering for five years. So glad your story has a better ending than mine. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It gives me hope that, maybe one day, I'll be able to overcome my anxiety too!

    Kerry x
    dulltoglam.blogspot.co.uk

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  6. Very moving post, Lana. You are so brave! Thank you for sharing.

    <3

    Shree

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  7. What an informative post, so good to hear of someone else who didn't agree with Citralopram. It made me so sick, you can imagine that teamed with panic attacks was just no good!! I'm glad you're on the mend now though, thank you for sharing. Rebecca xx

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  8. The information in this blog is extremely useful for the people. social anxiety treatment

    ReplyDelete
  9. These kinds of treatment appears to myself extremely effective. That's the main reason psychiatrist always prefer when you find that a person come unglued of the ideas and your measures in order to such an extent it does not matter that which you condition or even do no longer has sufficient your manage, then it's recommended that you merely look for healthcare aid instantly. And also search for anxiety symptoms on the internet. Continue sharing!!!

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  10. when i have a panic attack this is what happens, always in this specific order:
    well first, it always seems to happen when i am driving, i guess i feel like i have the least amount of control due to the people around me, especially when there is a lot of traffic i guess...
    1. i get this throbbing, tight feeling above my knees
    2. my legs will get a pins and needles sensation, plus foot cramps
    3. after that, my hands tingle, then kind of go numb and lock into a fist, and this is all very difficult to deal with be cause i have a stick-shift car and it's a scary sensation
    4. the derealization sets in. (basically when you are detached from your own mind and it feels like you are watching a movie of what is going on around you). it is a very odd feeling, hard to explain... kind of feels like you are going nuts
    5. i will feel like i am not getting enough air. i can breathe but i need to keep taking deep full inhales and exhales
    6. i can't tell if my heart is beating fast but it feels like someone is pressing on my chest and throat
    7. my facial muscles seem to quiver or twich slightly, which is really freaky
    8. the worst part is the slurred speech, the first time i ever experienced this i thought i was having a stroke
    the best thing i can do is pull over and chug water until i calm down, which sometimes takes a while
    note: i am only 22 years old, i take 10mgs of adderall twice a day for my adhd, this panic attack all seems to happen after a night of hardly any sleep, it's really only when i'm alone, and it always is when i'm driving my car. i think it is brought about by feeling like i am losing control of the situation and feeling uncomfortable with my surroundings, but i couldn't pin-point it exactly
    does anyone ever have things like this happen? what should i do?? it's been so intense a few times i almost drove to the ER
    how long do panic attacks last

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  11. Lana I'm so pleased you wrote this! I love seeing people write about their mental health and show that they aren't embarrassed by it. The beginning of your anxiety sounds so similar to mine - I was at uni too and I was on my own one night and had a giant (what I know now to be) a panic attack. I'm still recovering at the moment at home and I've been taking citalopram for a good year nearly, but doing CBT and things like that is definitely what helps you the most! I'm hoping I can actually leave the house soon (lol) so wish me luck! Well done on doing so well!

    Robyn / Phases Of Robyn

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  12. Good information and great post.  I like the website, and am sure to keep returning.
    BEST MALIBU PSYCHIATRIST

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