Now you might want to grab a cuppa and a couple of biscuits as this is a major long post. I know that there are hundreds of posts about panic attacks flying around the blogging world already but I really wanted to share my experience of panic attacks and how I've learnt to live with them.
My first panic attack happened when I was 15 but I didn't know what it was at the time. I just felt this cold wave wash over me and I felt like I was about to drop to the floor and die. I know that sounds extreme but if you've ever suffered from a panic attack you will know what I mean when I say it feels like you are actually going to die! I thought it was a one off so I didn't bother questioning it any further but it was always in the back of my mind.
Fast forward to the age of 18 and I constantly felt this sense of not feeling like I was really here. I'd feel like I was floating or in a dream. My arms didn't feel like my arms, they almost felt floppy, in fact my whole body felt lifeless. At this point I thought I was either not getting enough sleep or was just a complete weirdo so I didn't bother saying anything to anybody as I was actually quite scared about what was happening to me.
Within the next year, I split up with my boyfriend, tried living with a friend and eventually moved back into my family home. I thought that maybe I was unhappy and living at home would make me feel like a normal person again. Months went by and I completely forgot about how I'd been feeling before until one day at work, a panic attack struck me with a vengeance.
I was sitting at my desk on a Sunday just giggling with my work friends when suddenly I felt like I couldn't focus on anything. My palms started sweating and I felt myself getting really hot. My arms went all weak and everything seemed to go into slow motion. I felt like everything was so hazy. I kept muttering 'i don't feel well, i don't feel well' to my supervisor and then that wave came over me and I started screaming. IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. I didn't care or even realise what was happening at the time but looking back I feel so embarrassed by the whole ordeal.
My friend took me outside and by this point I was in floods of tears as I honestly thought I was dying. Everyone was trying to reassure me but I was just convinced that I was going to die so I got sent home. I told my Mum what had happened and she explained to me that it was a panic attack. I then learnt that she'd suffered from them in the past which instantly made me feel more comfortable.
The panic attack really shook my confidence and I had to have a couple of days off work before I could face going back. When I eventually went back to work, my confidence was just so low that I didn't feel like myself. That one panic attack really knocked me for six. Long story short, after that I must have had about 3/4 more panic attacks at work that lead to me quitting my job.
After I quit my job, I had a lot of 'me' time. I went to the Doctor's and they just said it was anxiety and that it was perfectly normal but I didn't feel normal. I felt terrified, trapped and overwhelmed. I felt like I couldn't breathe properly and I constantly had to take deep breaths. I thought I was actually crazy! I felt like I couldn't go out the house on my own in case I had a panic attack on the bus or in a shop. The lights in a Supermarket always used to trigger my panic attacks too as I thought my vision was going funny but it was just the lighting! It sounds stupid but I seriously started to doubt everything. The tiniest little thing could set me off like a vein in my hand looking too blue, looking in the mirror and thinking that my eyes looked different, even my heart beats! I decided to take matters in to my own hands and find the route cause of what was making me feel this way.
I thought about everything. Was it lack of sleep? Was it because I wasn't drinking enough water/eating the right things? Was I happy? Was I just simply bored? I thought and thought and just couldn't put my finger on it. I noticed situations where I felt more exposed to having a panic attack though - when I was alone at home, on the bus, in confined spaces and when I had to go and talk to people I didn't know.
After a couple of months my panic attacks and anxiety calmed down and I actually felt normal again! I had a job at a local pub that I enjoyed. I started this blog that took my mind off things. I started playing Cafe World on facebook (it's the little things!). I just forgot about feeling panicky but every now and again something would trigger that overwhelming feeling where a panic attack was about to hit me but it was different as I'd learnt to control them.
I understand that panic attacks will probably be a part of my life forever but I haven't had a proper panic attack for 3 years now and this is how I've managed to cope with them:
- By telling myself that it is all in my head. I would just think to myself 'you are absolutely fine, there's nothing wrong, it's all in your head, nothing is going to happen to you' whilst deep breathing.
- When I feel like a panic attack is coming on, I pinch myself or pull a little strand of my hair. It takes my mind off the panic attack and I focus on the pain (which really isn't that extreme!).
- Go outside. I just stand outside for a couple of minutes and breathe. It cools me down so I can't feel myself getting hot and I then just start to forget that a panic attack was coming on.
- I always carry Bach's rescue remedy pastilles around with me. I think it's a psychological thing but when I feel like I'm about to panic, I just suck one of these and it calms me down. Definitely worth buying if you suffer from panic attacks.
- Tell people around you what is going on. I'm not talking about telling everyone just people that you spend time with the most. Tell them what you'd like them to do if you have a panic attack. This is really important as people can sometimes make you feel worse if they nervous laugh or just tell you to 'stop being weird'. My boyfriend would always say 'you're fine!' and I would always scream at him 'I'M OBVIOUSLY NOT FINE AM I'. I just tell people to sit with me and reassure me if I have a panic attack now and it works.
- Keep busy. I find that I'm less likely to think about a panic attack when I'm distracted by doing something. I like to paint my nails or read a book or just tweet a lot when I'm feeling a tad anxious.
If anybody would like to talk about panic attacks/anxiety in more depth then send me an email - firstname.lastname@example.org and we can chat. I understand how alone you can feel and although it sounds selfish, you do take comfort in the fact that somebody else has also experienced what you're going through too so just talkkk to me as I'd love to try and help you.
If you suffer from panic attacks, share your experiences below and leave tips that have helped you deal with the horrible little things!