Abby blogs about how she was paralysed by panic attacks, sought help and now hopes to retrain as a mental health nurse.
Sat outside a coffee shop I started to feel funny. The only way I can honestly describe it is uncomfortable, so I decided to head back to my car to get away from the busy area. When I got back there, I sat down and started to feel lightheaded. My toes started tingling and that quickly turned to a numb feeling creeping up my legs. At that point I asked my boyfriend to phone an ambulance because something didn't feel right.
My whole body was frozen, my hands had turned to claws and I couldn't move my tongue.
As we were waiting, the numbness spread all the way up to my face. My whole body was frozen, my hands had turned to claws, my lips had pursed up and I couldn't move my tongue. I thought I was having a stroke at 25 years old. When the paramedics arrived, they got me into the ambulance. At this point the numbness had faded and I could speak, but my body was trembling and my heart was beating at nearly 200bpm.
The incredible paramedics, who made all the difference in that moment, explained to me that they thought I was having a panic attack but, as my heart wasn't calming down they took me to the hospital. Once I got there, they ran tests and everything was perfect except my heart was still going up and down. That's when they confirmed it was a panic attack. I honestly found it hard to believe. I was still convinced it was something more than that.
After the incident, my body was tired, and I pretty much slept for the whole week. I was completely drained. Every moment I was awake I felt on edge like it could all happen again. This quickly spiralled into a constant fear of leaving the house or even being alone in case it happened again. I was trying everything – talking therapy, meditation, white noise, aroma therapies and any other self-help I could find online.
Eventually I couldn't handle the constant panic and depressive moments, so I reached out to my GP.
I was sceptical about medication – I had the old school notion in my head happy pills change you as a person. But I was quickly losing touch with reality, feeling incredibly low about waking up every day and not being able to function 'normally'. I was crying to my boyfriend every night that I just wanted to go back to before when I didn't feel like every minute was a struggle. I would wake up in the night gasping for air feeling like Alice in Wonderland – I was either growing or the room was shrinking.
Eventually I couldn't handle the constant panic and depressive moments, so I reached out to my GP to speak about medication. They put me on an antidepressant to help with my anxiety and panic attacks, and while the side effects were uncomfortable, they eventually balanced out. It wasn't the quick fix I had imagined, but I also didn't change as a person. I needed them. I had tried everything, and I don't know why I had shamed myself into believing it was a bad thing to be on them. You wouldn't shame a diabetic for their body not being able to produce enough insulin, so why shame yourself for a chemical imbalance in your brain that is out of your control?
I spent a long time waiting to get back to normal, rather than accepting that this was just a new chapter for me and that instead of aiming for 'normality' I needed to learn how to accept and adjust to my new self. Mental health issues will never magically go away. You just have to learn how to work with them and not against them.
I am now back to work on reduced hours after a year off. I am just beginning an access course at college and I will be applying for university to become a mental health nurse. I have just been accepted on to a local volunteer programme helping others with mental health issues. If I can help just one person realise they are not alone I will have succeeded in what I aimed for.
I still struggle daily with little battles and extremely anxious moments, but I try to tell myself that my brain isn't trying to harm me and take a moment to recompose. Sometimes that's impossible and it does spiral a little. Then I have to take a longer pause, watch something funny, listen to music I like, hug a loved one. I always remind myself that the moment will pass.
Although it's taken me a long time I have learned I am a strong person who has the potential to help others.
I am very lucky with the people around me – my amazing boyfriend, my incredible family and friends who have supported me and tried their hardest to understand and accommodate me over this difficult period. If it wasn't for them, I don't think I would have come as far as I have. But I do also have to take a little credit myself because I am a warrior. I fight these battles in my head every day. Although it's taken me a long time I have learned I am a strong person who has the potential to help others, and that is what I strive to do.
I know it can be hard to talk to people about these things but if you are struggling and don't feel you have anyone to talk to, I promise you there are people out there who care and know what you are going through. Reach out. Don't be ashamed. Never worry that you might be troubling them or someone needs a service more than you. There are people out there who genuinely want to help and care. You are important – and you are a survivor.
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