My Anxiety and Panic Attack Success Story
My Anxiety and Panic Attack Success Story
I thought it would be a good idea to explain my story about anxiety and panic attacks.
It’s quite common for anxiety and panic attacks to start in a person’s early twenties. If you have suffered from anxiety it may have started much earlier as a child. Anyway, I started noticing things weren’t right when I was in my last year of university aged 21. Like most students I would go out once or twice a week and get drunk and crash into my bed early morning. It was then that I first started noticing that alcohol was having a strange effect on me. I would often wake up about 5 or 6 in the morning when the booze was wearing off and feel my heart racing away in my chest. Looking back now, modern high sugar alcohol pop type drinks were causing my sugar levels to go all over the place. I thought my body was indestructible. I thought I could drink anything I wanted and get away with it. I was also taking my studies seriously and was putting myself under quite a bit of pressure not to fail. On top of this my diet was fairly awful. I would often skip breakfast and have chips and sausages, or chips and pie at lunch. I started to buy sweets, something that I had never done before. Also fruit and vegetables were not high on my agenda to eat. I was a keen sportsman but at university I had given up sport and the only running I was doing was chasing girls in nightclubs!
Looking back I was a panic attack waiting to happen. Saying that, some people can get away with drinking, eating poorly, living a stressful life, etc; and never suffer anxiety or panic. It really does depend on your genetics and predisposition to it.
Over the next 2 years I slowly got more symptoms especially the day after I drank any alcohol. At this stage it was not affecting my life and I was not feeling particularly anxious.
Around 23 years old I visited the doctor and I explained the most frightening and distressing symptoms to the doctor. I found that watching TV, using a computer or just reading would cause headaches and fear sensations. My sensitivity to light was terrible. The Doctor seemed genuinely concerned and said the first thing I should do was see an optician. I did this and they found nothing wrong. I remember seeing another doctor who carried out a blood test for everything under the sun but found nothing. (An overactive thyroid can cause panic type symptoms.) At this stage my mind was running wild with various things I thought was wrong with me. I saw another doctor who dismissed the idea that I Multiple sclerosis because I was convinced I had this! I then had an ECG done and nothing was found to be wrong with my heart. To be fair because I did not explain the full array of symptoms I was experiencing, the doctor didn’t have a full picture of what was wrong with me.
Several weeks later I ended up in A+E one afternoon gasping for breath and having to wait 6 hours to see a doctor. Eventually the doctor clipped an oximeter to my finger to read my pulse and told me I was stressed. I was then sent packing back to another GP in my local surgery. When I eventually met him late in the day he immediately diagnosed ‘acute anxiety’ and put me on medication – Seroxat.
I was a bit ashamed I had to go on medication for a ‘mental illness’ (that’s how I thought about it at the time) but I was use to taking a few pills and then expecting to be cured. When I was younger if I had an infection I just took antibiotics and I got better. So it didn’t really bother me that much. I just thought I would take a course of pills and I would feel better. I remember reading the side effects (which didn’t seem too bad) and it wasn’t addictive. It seemed much better than the antidepressant medication I had occasionally read about that anxious and depressive people took i.e. Diazepam. I also now had a diagnosis and something to research.
My denial that I had a ‘mental illness' had certainly exacerbated the problem. I had no idea how ill your own body can make you feel. I was naive and totally oblivious to how to look after myself. I was young and thought I was invincible. About this time the mad cow disease was happening in England. This was often called CJD. I went through a period thinking I must have this and was internalizing every thought and sensations that was happening inside my body. As I discounted one disease I would replace it with another – MS, brain tumour, heart issues, losing my mind, etc.
Around the age of 24 I vividly remember walking to the shops in the morning and I felt this really strange sensation on the side of my head. It was almost as if I had a butterfly fluttering inside my head. I thought I was having a stroke or something. Soon after I started to feel anxious whenever I left the house and in social situations. I had never felt this before. When I went to the local pub I would often self-medicate and after a couple of pints I would feel like my old self again. Of course, I paid for it the next day.
It was about this time I started a new job doing exactly what I had trained for at university. Before this I had been doing temporary jobs, and I had generally been feeling fine. But now I was beginning to experience anxiety in the normal walks of life. I was finding dealing with people stressful. I would feel anxious and could not wait to get away from them. Meetings at work were becoming a problem as being confined in a room was torture. My panicky feelings were also being to happen to me during the drive to and from work. I had started to play football again but even this was not immune from being effected as well.
At this stage I was experiencing full blown panic attacks but the anxiety was not too bad. Around 25 years old I decided I needed a change and got a new job (a much better salary) and moved 40 miles away from where I grew up in the Cotswolds. The salary meant I could afford to buy a small flat. How I got through the interview I don’t know. There nerve wracking enough without panic attacks!
By now I had been involved in a couple of long term relationships where it was impossible to hide what I was experiencing. My girlfriends had tried to help but none of them had any idea of how to cure this affliction. My parents knew that I was suffering from panic attacks and a few close friends but I had tried to keep it a secret as best I could because of the stigma involved. I really didn’t explain to anyone just how ill I was feeling and how it was completely controlling my life. My confidence was complete shattered. Any stressful situation would cause a panic attack. Standing in queues, going to the dentists or hairdressers, walking down a busy street was a living hell.
When I moved in to my flat I was single again. I had been on medication for a few months and it had helped to lessen my symptoms. I started to buy a few books and read up on the condition. I learnt a healthy diet helped and taking regular exercise. I joined a local gym and found exercise made me feel so much better. My weekly shop at the local big supermarket could only be done after I had exercised, or else I would be frozen with fear half way down the supermarket aisle. I was scared to death of walking through the doors, going to the back of the shop and going through the checkouts.
I took football back up and played for a local side. I would often experience panic attacks playing football. Looking back I just don’t know how I got through it. I would often feel like I could not breathe on the football pitch and I would suffer palpitations. It was awful.
My work life was not much better. I had coping strategies to get through the day. I would often sit down or hold on to something if I had to talk to someone as my legs felt so weak. In certain situations the build-up of fear was so immense I just made excuses so I could leave. I kept myself to myself on the days I felt bad and tried to be more social when I felt better.
I started to develop all sort of phobias. Driving on motorways was incredibly hard and over long bridges. Heights made me feel awful. Flying in planes was a complete nightmare. Anything which meant going away I use to dread.
I have never been a big drinker as only a few pints would make me feel drunk. I was now only drinking about one night a week as I knew alcohol was not doing me any good. I was still self-medicating when I went out as it calmed my nerves. It was so hard to give up drinking as a young adult. When you go out on the town you are expected to drink with peer group pressure. The morning after I always suffered from the effects of drinking the alcohol.
DECLINE OF HEALTH
Over the next few years I suffered a downward spiral and escalation of my symptoms. I was much more aware of how panic attacks start and what you can do to cope, but I was not really wholeheartedly sticking to any sort of recovery program. My panic attacks were now a complete panic disorder. I was often experiencing several panic attacks a day and I was beginning to become an agoraphobic. I was only living life to about 50% capacity. I hated the way I felt, I was not enjoying life and everyday was a struggle.
I could tell you all sorts of things like how I was playing cricket and the game had to be stopped as I had a panic attack in the middle of game. I never played again after that, too embarrassed! I somehow managed to go on lads on holiday to Greece and spent 7 days virtually panicking all the time.
The main thing was I persevered with life and never gave up. I was determined to keep living some sort of life even if I was not enjoying it! I did not want to become a recluse.
THE BEGINNINGS OF RECOVERY
During this time I met my future wife. She was a nurse and kind of tolerated my anxious/panicky moments but often got frustrated that we could not do things other people could.
By my early 30’s with a baby on the way and married I knew I had to change and I started to make a concerted effort to break free panic attacks. I started to re-read the books I had bought previously. Lots of great websites had sprung up on the subject and soaked up the information and knowledge like a sponge. I had come off medication and went back on it again, but I knew I did not want to stay on medication, so I withdrew slowly again. I then started to apply my new found knowledge.
Through trial and error I started to improve my health and feel better again in short, I devised a program.
I can assure you there is no quick fix to curing panic and anxiety but if you apply the techniques I have learnt through trial and error you will see results.
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