Diagnosed with panic disorder at a young age, Emma shares her story about the small steps she took to improve her anxiety.
With the support of my friends, family and my doctor I've finally started recognising my illness for what it is. I was diagnosed with panic disorder when I was 15, and I have struggled with bouts of anxiety ever since. I felt alone, and as if my emotions were no longer in my control, rather controlling me.
One Saturday afternoon in November 2017 on a drive home from a friend's house, I felt the world cave in on me. At the time I was living on my own in a small flat and the pressures of work and studying had been building up. After days of incontrollable crying and hysteria behind closed doors, I took a day sick from work and phoned Samaritans. In my mind, I had the blue prints of how I could end my life. The scary part was, I felt as though I didn't want to end my life, but my self-talk was telling me it was the only way.
Samaritans encouraged me to phone my doctors for an appointment and to get hold of my boyfriend and my dad. Which I did. I felt bad that my boyfriend was taking time off to come to me, when in my eyes, I should have been able to pull myself together and deal with the storm in my mind. I didn't want to be a burden to anyone. He took me to the doctors, who had arranged an emergency appointment for me.
I was ready for the world to cave in on me again. But it didn't. My boyfriend held me and the doctor offered kind words.
Stepping into the doctor's surgery, I felt my heart sink into my stomach and my chest tighten. It was as if the the oxygen was being sucked out of the room. The sudden fear and dread overwhelmed me, and before I knew it I was cowering in the corner of the surgery, unable to control the panic. Although I’ve been in this situation many times before, it doesn't make it any easier. I felt very small in a very large and scary environment. I was ready for the world to cave in on me again. But it didn't. My boyfriend held me and the doctor offered kind words.
Once I’d calmed down he discussed with me my options in terms of moving forward, and getting better. One option was medication, which I’d never had before. I agreed to a low dose and a sedative to support me with the panic, as well as a re-referral to the mental health team.
I took the next two weeks off work to try and get my mind around everything. After the Christmas hype had passed, I realised that I hadn't really dealt with the storm in my mind - rather I’d compressed it and got sucked into the whirlwind of the festive period. I ended up having another month off after having a panic attack and hiding in the office toilets.
I was convinced that everyone would think I wasn't ill, and that I was skiving. I thought people would judge me and I’d be letting everyone down. But daily I’d find myself paralysed at the thought of trying to conquer small tasks. It felt as though it’d be easier to climb Snowdon than to do household chores or study for my degree. And above all, I’d stopped doing all the things I loved, especially running and going to the gym, which gave me those all-important endorphin rushes. I went back to the doctor, frustrated that I hadn’t moved forward. He reminded me that you can't run a marathon without taking lots of smaller steps first.
I thought this was the beginning of the end, but really, it was a new start. I was surrounded by people who loved me, who gave me the validation that I so desperately needed at my low points. They offered different perspectives on those negative thoughts that felt so very real. I was also lucky that my employer was incredibly supportive.
I'm on a rollercoaster, and I still have lows as well as highs.
The people in my life supported me and kept me going, eventually giving me the motivation to get out of bed and to go for that run. It felt amazing. I only managed 5k, which was a small amount considering I’d run a marathon and two half marathons the two years previous, but it was a start. I ached so much the next day, but it was completely worth it.
Through the support I received from loved ones I could reflect on how ill I was, and to really begin recovery. My work life balance is starting to get better, I'm on a phased return to work and I’m back at the gym. I run, and I recently started boxing, which is good therapy! I'm on a rollercoaster, and I still have lows as well as highs, but not once have the people around me rejected me, doubted me or questioned me. Their constant patience and kindness has played a major role in sailing me through the storm into calmer seas.