I was 19 when my anxiety was in full spin, it was when I was first diagnosed and I thought I was going crazy. I didn’t know anyone else with anxiety and it seemed as though others around me saw it just something that was just in my head. At the time my Nan had lung cancer and here I was imitating the boy who cried wolf constantly telling people I couldn’t breathe and asking to be taken to the emergency room.
Every day I would wake up and thank God that I’d made it through the night and was still alive. I’m not an overly religious person but during this stage of my life I would find myself laying in bed in the midst of panic saying in my head ‘please God let me live’ and promising things like ‘I swear I’ll be a better person, I’ll give to charities I’ll help others if I can just not die.’ I don’t know if it was the help of God, or the fact that I was 19 and relatively fit and healthy but I survived.
When I first started having panic attacks I would seek reassurance from my Mum and Sister whom I lived with. They would basically both tell me the same thing ‘you’re not dying, if you couldn’t breathe you’d be dead by now.’ It was frustrating for them because I was clearly physically ok and equally as frustrating for me because I legitimately felt like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs. When I’d exhausted my family I moved onto seeking reassurance from my best friend. Her husband is a nurse in the emergency department so I would pester her until they would come and pick me up, take me for a drive and he would put my mind at ease by checking my obs and giving me a medical explanation about why I wasn’t dying. I became addicted to this, the feeling of relief that someone who is medically trained told me I was going to be ok was just enough to get me through the night and have a decent sleep. My friend eventually put her foot down when it came to the late night drives to calm me down (my anxiety is always worse right before bed) so I had to find another way to get that dose of relief. In come my doctors appointments.
I would visit the doctor 1-2 times a week. Mostly always to report that I couldn’t breathe and I had chest pains which my doctor would reassure me these were just symptoms of anxiety. It would annoy me that she was so quick to brush it off as anxiety, I had actual pains in my chest why wasn’t she taking me seriously? But the logical part of my brain was usually satisfied that a medical professional had deemed me ok and I was going to live to see another day, thus I could sleep that night.
After the chest pains came dizziness, shaking/trembling hands, headaches, sweating and random pains in random parts of my body. My mind was so convinced that the doctors were missing something and there just HAD to be something wrong with me. When the high of visiting the doctor wore off I moved onto going to the emergency department. I figured the emergency department is in a hospital with surgeons and specialists and they can definitely save me if there’s something wrong with me. The first time I went was because I couldn’t breathe properly. I was rushed in straight away and had an ECG done and tests ran. I was fine, there was nothing wrong with me. I felt so betrayed by my body that it could make me feel these things and cause me so much stress and discomfort all for nothing.
When things were at their worst I feared everything. Mainly sleeping and showering. Crazy right? Literally two of the most satisfying things. Sleeping obviously because it’s a timeframe of 8 unsupervised hours where anything could happen to me and it would be hours before anyone would notice and come to save me, and showering for basically the same reason. It was 15-20 minutes where I would be completely alone without anyone to notice if I spontaneously combusted.
The second time I visited the emergency department I’d convinced myself my throat was closing in on itself and I was going to suffocate to death. It was during a weekend away with my sister’s, we were to attend a music festival and I’d been anxious the whole time consumed by the thought that I was moments away from dying. My sister’s got really cranky that time, of course there was nothing wrong with me as confirmed by a doctor and I decided that the thrill of attending the emergency room wasn’t worth the scalding from my older siblings.
I was prescribed Zoloft shortly after by my regular GP. The poor woman probably needed some herself after entertaining me for the past few months. My anxiety was so bad that I was reluctant to take the Zoloft not because I have an anti meds stance but because I stupidly read the information booklet from front to back including the side effects section. For someone easily convinced they’re about to die this wasn’t my best idea. Eventually I ballsed up and started them, and boy what a difference. Between that and seeing a psych once a week I was able to take control of my life again. However I was only on the meds for a few months because I didn’t want to have to depend on them to live a normal life.
Honestly I don’t know how long all of this went on for. When I think of my anxiety I think of it in bouts and this bout was certainly the worst. Obviously seeing the psych helped a little (I’m lazy and probably didn’t commit to the exercises as much as I could have) and the Zoloft definitely played its role, however in the end of this bout I feel like my mind was just so mentally exhausted it couldn’t be bothered to make up scenarios anymore to convince me I was dying. It just seemed to get better without me noticing and then before I knew it I was basically my normal self again. I’d still have a moment of panic every now and then but it didn’t come in the tidal waves I’d be used to for what felt like months and months on end.
I feel like once you get past the first bout of anxiety you find it easier to deal with the next ones – at least I did anyway. You soon notice that the breathing difficulties are just a physical symptom of your anxiety and put in place practices to deal with them. You ignore the headaches, the hot sweats are less intense and you don’t think twice about the shaking hands when they happen. Growing up and entering ‘the real world’ sucks, it’s boring and there’s bills to pay however with work and other adult commitments sometimes I find myself so busy I just don’t have time for anxiety. My brain is too preoccupied that it doesn’t have the capacity to make up terminal illnesses. Maybe that’s how I got better, maybe I just got too busy and found ways to keep my mind occupied but somehow I did find a way to climb out of the dark hole I felt like I was going to be trapped in forever. I absolutely still suffer from anxiety however it’s wayyyy less intense and thank God, has never been as bad as it was during this bout years ago.