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I’m Matt, I was formerly a really severe Anxiety / Panic attack sufferer as recently as last year and I am thankfully slowly but surely getting back to my normal self again. Don’t get me wrong I still have the odd “rough day” from time to time, but the majority of the time I am fine. I am writing this in hope that some of you might be able to relate to some of the stuff I went through, I am not claiming to have all of the answers for you and I am not trying to diagnose every anxiety sufferer as being the same based on what I went through but if taking the time to explain my experiences and what I did to help myself helps any of you in any way then great stuff.
Before I started with Anxiety I was a happy go lucky typical lad. I didn’t have a worry in the world, I was really laid back and didn’t really let anything get to me.
My anxiety came about in a pretty stupid way really, I was suffering a bit with the Hayfever and the doctor decided the give me some different antihistamines. Unlucky for me I ended up having an allergic reaction to them and ended up in hospital. I was fine but the whole experience was pretty scary for me which I guess triggered my health anxiety and then it sort of escalated out of control from there and I hit a low.
Having suffered from Anxiety I know how hard it is to talk to others about it. You feel really embarrassed and you never get across how you really feel. If you do talk to others about it you never actually feel like they understand what you are going through and what you are worried about or that they aren’t taking you seriously. No matter who they are they don’t understand, for me this was anyone from my closest family to my doctor.
For me I don’t think it helped that I was in denial about it all. I thought I had too strong a personality to suffer from Anxiety, I was naïve and thought that things like that only happened to weak minded people. I know different now, 1 in 10 people suffer from anxiety related illness and a large percentage of these are really strong minded, intelligent people.
I felt way too rough for it to have been anxiety, all of my symptoms felt way too real and I felt so ill all of the time. No way could what I was going through be something that was brought about from my own mind. I mean anxiety is just a series of thoughts right? It can’t make crazy things happen to your body like what was happening to mine. I had some serious illness and the doctors had to find it and do something about it because I was convinced that something really bas was going to happen to me. If I am honest I was sat waiting for something to go wrong, I felt like I was going to die.
I suffered ridiculous panic attacks and on many occasion I ended up in A&E and then back at the doctors. Every time I ended up at the hospital I had wound myself up into such a mess, I look back to it all now and I can remember just how ill I actually felt. I can honestly say that I have never felt so ill in all of my life, I honestly thought that something really bad was about to happen to me. It all felt so real and I know now that it was real, Anxiety is real in the sense that you can get yourself that worked up that you can make yourself feel really ill, shocking in fact but the truth of the matter is that panic attacks are pretty harmless and the body does return itself back to normal. Of course I didn’t think this at the time because I was convinced that it was something far worse and it wasn’t a panic attack!
I had every test under the sun up at the hospital and at the doctors when I was suffering at my worse, of course they all kept coming back normal which wasn’t ever enough for me. I was convinced that they had missed something major. They couldn’t be right! I felt way too ill for this to be just something created in my own mind. No matter how qualified the doctor was who I had seen they had missed something and although the tests at the hospital coming back clear had calmed me down for a day or so, suddenly my head went into overload again the vicious cycle started all over again. I was ill, something really bad was happening with my body! Why aren’t they doing something about it? What are they missing?
This is when I did the worse thing I could possibly do, I went on the internet to an anxiety sufferer’s worse nightmare GOOGLE and I played detective and started to put my symptoms in. Dizziness, palpitations, rapid heartbeat, tight chest…….before you know it I was confronted with my own worst nightmare and in a few quick googles I had convinced myself that I had hot a serious heart problem, that I was having a heart attack, that I had a brain tumour or that I had some sort of breathing problem. My symptoms matched some of those associated with all of these horrible things.
This sent my anxiety on to a whole new level because the fear of the unknown was bad enough but suddenly I had got the symptoms of all of these horrible things that killed people. I went through the day constantly subconsciously looking for the symptoms of the illnesses and I was constantly working myself up and making myself feel really Anxious and ill.
At this point I had pretty much hit my rock bottom. I was scared to do much as I felt that if I did I would trigger something and something bad would happen, after all I was convinced that my body was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. I was off work ill and I didn’t want to do anything but sit in the house suffering with a phone nearby ready to phone 999 when something bad happened.
From waking up first thing in a morning to going to bed at night my mind was completely overtaken by my anxiety. I was constantly ware of my breathing, my chest was tight and I found myself actually controlling my breathing as I convinced that if I didn’t suddenly my breathing might stop. As a result of my Anxiety I did get the odd bouts of Palpitations and I was constantly subconsciously looking out for these. I was checking my pulse on a regular basis and I was convinced it was going too fast or wasn’t right. At night when I got in bed I would sit awake for hours on end fixated on my body and I worried myself that when I went to sleep I wouldn’t wake up. I scared myself stiff. I had no quality of life what so ever and my body was completely controlled by the horrible thoughts in my mind.
Off course nothing bad ever happened! The next day I woke up and went through the same hell and the next day and the next. Although I felt terrible nothing ever came of it. Every panic attacked that I had experienced and felt so ill that I was going to die, well I didn’t and everything returned back to normal again. It took a long while to realise this.
I don’t know how I managed to pluck up the strength but I had reached the bottom and needed to find a way to take control of my life again, looking back at it now it was probably the most difficult thing that I had ever done in my life. I still don’t know now where I got the strength from but I am so glad that I did. Now I am not playing doctor here, I can’t diagnose you and each case of Anxiety is different and needs to be taken on an individual basis therefore I don’t want to come on here saying “I have the answers” because unfortunately I don’t. I only know what worked for me and hopefully it might help some of you in some way.
I decided to fight my Anxiety face on. It related to my health and my fears of the unknown relating to my health. I realised that I didn’t actually understand what was going on with my body so I sat down and learnt about Anxiety, the effects of Anxiety on the body and panic attacks. I needed to understand what was happening to me.
So what was Anxiety doing to my body?..........I didn’t realise it at the time but pretty much all of my symptoms and horribleness were the result of my own mind. I got myself fixated and worked up. This triggered perfectly normal bodily reactions. As I began to work myself up more and more what I didn’t realise is that inside my body I was gradually increasing my blood pressure and pulse and stuff. This then triggered other things like tension headaches, palpitations, rapid heartbeat amongst other things which made me feel worse and it was just like a set of building blocks really. I was perfectly fine but my head was telling me that I wasn’t and slowly but surely I was building up these natural processes in my body and until I hit the point of panic and that was it, suddenly I was in a full blown panic attack and ended up feeling extremely ill and ultimately in hospital or at the doctors.
I then realised that my main fear was hitting this high and having a panic attack because that was when I felt at my very worse. This is when I was convinced I was dying. I didn’t like these panic attacks and I didn’t want to have them. I still didn’t know just how serious panic attacks actually are and whether they would trigger more serious things. They really scared me as I didn’t understand what was actually happening, I still at this point didn’t fully understand that I was actually the one causing them.
So what is a panic attack………Well it is quite simple now I understand it and the easiest way to describe it is that when confronted with this “fight or flight” moment when we convince ourselves that something bad is going to happen or that we are going to die, the body is a really clever thing and it starts to do things to help us. We stimulate nerves and a whole load of other things and the bodies prepares itself for whatever our head says is going to happen. The heart starts to beat faster and our breathing starts to get faster and out brain tells the body that it needs more oxygen to deal with whatever is happening. At this point I know I wasn’t really in much control any more I don’t know about you guys? My body had taken over and I felt rotten! It was all in my mind but that was it, my blood pressure was sky high and I was getting ready to hit the deck. I felt so ill.
But the good news is that it is all a perfectly normal bodily reaction, it is generally short lived and all goes away once we allow ourselves to realise that everything is fine and that there is nothing that we actually need to fight or worry about! Once we realise that things are actually fine and we start to calm down, things start to return to normal again and although it feels horrible at the time and it can tire you out a little afterwards, it wasn’t actually hurting my body and things did return back to normal again afterwards. After the doctors had done the tests in hospital and told me that they all showed clear and that I was fine, suddenly my blood pressure and heart rate started to return back to normal ranges again! Uncanny or what?
So by this point is all started to fit into place with me, it wasn’t instant but over a period of time I started to believe that I could actually be causing this and that I was indeed suffering from anxiety and panic attacks and the good news is that they are a perfectly normal reaction and couldn’t actually hurt me!.
I then had to look at the triggers and causes which all surrounded my health anxiety. I thought about it from morning until night, I had got to the point where I didn’t want to do anything as I was scared but I knew I had to break it somehow. My grandad is a wise old man, a man of very few words and believe me he is wrong more than he is right (and it’s a waste of time and effort trying to convince him otherwise at 88 years old) but I plucked up the courage to finally confide in him when I has realised that I actually had anxiety. Anyway he said one thing to me that made perfect sense, I had way too much time on my hands to think about it all! I need to get myself busy and focus my mind on other things, the less time I had to think about it the easier it would get for me. And you know what, the stubborn old bugger was right!
I decided that I had to really push myself by this point. Again I don’t know where I had found the strength but I did from somewhere and I decided to start doing some things around the house. I didn’t want to dilly dally about and knew that I had to do it properly so I decided that I was going to re-tile the bathroom! Random I know but it needed doing and to do it I would have to fight my demons and go out to buy some tiles and stuff and I knew it would be strenuous and would really test me. Anyway I got on with it and It was hard I will be honest with you, I didn’t just get on with it and forget about everything. I still had my anxieties coming through regularly and I still worried but it became more infrequent because every time I had to think about what I was doing was a period where I didn’t think about my health. This had a knock on effect because I could then think to myself “Hold on, for 15 minutes you completely forgot about it all didn’t you, and nothing bad happened and you are fine!”.
Over a period of time from then on I started to do more and push myself. Bit by bit things slowly started to drop into place, I still had moments but I was making steady progress and I had started to realise that if I could keep focussed on other things, I could actually steal some control back from my Anxiety!
A few months later believe it or not I actually found myself in 36 degree heat in Gran Canaria! I know crazy or what? I had gone from not leaving the house to suddenly going away for two weeks in the scorching sun in a strange country. I won’t lie to you part of me was still terrified. Knowing what had been happening to me how would I go on for 4 hours on a plane? What if I had a panic attack abroad? What if I became ill? Are the hospitals as trained and equipped?.....I don’t know how but I got up on the morning of the holiday and headed to Manchester Airport, I had a couple of pints before getting on the plane and I never looked back. Ok I had a couple of moments of worry on the holiday where my Anxiety tried to kick in but for the most I was on top of it and I definitely didn’t allow it to get in the way of my holiday.
This was a massive moment of realisation for me because I had just conquered probably the hardest thing I could possible go through but by keeping my mind focussed on other things I was actually pushing the Anxiety aside.
I don’t know how I did it but I did and I was at the lowest of lows in my life. I hope this shows you guys that it is possible to get over it all. I know that at the time I thought I would never get over it, I thought it would never go away but it pretty much has for me now. I have the odd “off day” where it sort of creeps in for a minute or two but it doesn’t affect me at all and it doesn’t get in the way of me.
Believe it or not I am not using what I have learnt to my advantage. I wouldn’t have dreamed about it 18 months ago but I am now qualified as an Ambulance Technician and I am confront what used to be my worst fears on a daily basis. I am now three quarters through my Paramedic degree as well. That is how far I have come and I hope that anyone going through what I went through finds the inner strength to fight it face on like I did and steal back control. I’m not saying we are all the same and that it will work for everyone but it worked for me.
So again…….Anxiety and panic attacks are a perfectly normal bodily reaction to our mind telling us that something bad is going to happen! Once we realise that nothing bad is actually going to happen, our body returns to normal and is fine again! It doesn’t hurt us, it feels horrible at the time but that is pretty much it!
All the best everyone! If anyone has any questions regarding what I went through then please don’t hesitate to ask me and I will try and answer you to the best of my ability if I can relate to them. PLEASE DO NOT ask me for any sort of medical advice because I am not your doctor or clinician and I am not suitably qualified to go diagnosing anybody and I would never attempt to do so.
Keep your chins up folks, you are never alone, 1 in 10 suffer and it is perfectly natural!
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