I had my first panic attack on the evening of the 8th of January 2015. I won’t go into details but due to also being a hypochondriac I came to the conclusion that I was dying, went to a hospital less than 8 hours before my English exam for them to tell me that no, I was not dying, and that my body had just panicked a bit. It was probably due to my exam and other things going on in my life at the time, and that it would probably be a one off experience.
For the next 6 months, I had a panic attack almost every single day.
There were days when I would have up to five or six in a day, days when all I would do is go from my bed to the sofa downstairs and back up again in the evening. I was terrified to leave my house, terrified to be separated from my safe place and my safe people. I was exhausted all the time due to my body being constantly on edge and my appetite decreased dramatically. I was miserable and scared, and what was worse was that nobody was taking me seriously. Doctors fobbed me off with anxiety meds but no diagnosis, my dad would tell me to ‘just calm down and stop worrying’. If you have any experience with anxiety, you know this is the worst thing to say.
Over those six months, through a combination of therapy and learning to recognise my thought processes, the panic somewhat lessened. I went from 5 panic attacks a day to one. I got a job in a fast food restaurant in my local town which gave me a purpose and something to keep my mind occupied, although there were many nights I ended up calling my dad on my breaks sobbing that I couldn’t make it through my shift.
With time and therapy though, I began to understand what was happening to me. I learned that when the panic kicked in, my brain was thinking illogically and that by doing sums or counting I could force my brain to think logically to help me calm down. I figured out what my triggers were, things including large crowds of people in a small space, heights, illness and feeling generally out of control. By understanding my triggers and what to do when my anxiety was running high, my panic attacks became somewhat less frequent and more manageable.
In June 2015, I went to the USA for three months. I spent two months working at a summer camp and one month travelling. In my time there, I had one, very minor panic attack in a Walmart that I managed to get a hold of within 2 minutes. With the stress of camp dynamics and having a job where I was ‘On’ for 22 hours a day, I didn’t really have the time to panic, and so my anxiety took a back seat.
When I returned home in September of last year, everything was great. I managed to get a job within a month and I was much calmer and more relaxed than I had been before I went. Around December however, the panic attacks started returning.
They were small at first, things I could handle with two minutes and a sit down in the stock room. But then at the end of a shift in about April a major one hit. Luckily it came on about 5 minutes before I had to clock out so I rode it out and immediately went into the changing rooms to do my counting and breathing exercises that always brought me back eventually. It took me half an hour to calm down, and I spent the rest of the evening in bed because I was so exhausted.
Thankfully, I haven’t had a big one since then. I still sometimes can feel my heart racing or feel a bit dizzy, but I can usually intervene with the exercises I’ve learned help me before it escalates. However in about a month I will be returning to University, thrown into a city I don’t know with people I don’t know and I’m scared it’s going to flare up again. I’m well aware that these past few months have been a good patch and that I will probably be dealing with anxiety for the rest of my life. But that’s ok; hopefully through understanding my triggers, therapy and knowing what works to calm me down, I can take on University and life and not let my anxiety hold me back in the process.