At 4am this morning I had a panic attack.
I woke up feeling disorientated, almost like I had been forced to wake up after a bad dream. I waited for my eyes to adjust in the dark room before going downstairs to get some painkillers. I had gone to bed with a throbbing pain in my hips (I have snapping hip syndrome) so I have the occasional bad night with my legs. I found my way to the kitchen and started to feel lightheaded; I blamed it on getting out of bed too quickly so I sat down and waited for it to pass. But a few minutes later I started to sweat, shake and my chest closed up. I tried to focus on my breathing but all I could think about was the blinding pain in my head and the palpitations in my chest. I tried to stand up but I was overcome by nausea and I could feel my head spinning, I was almost certain that I would faint on the kitchen floor.
I managed to calm myself down and I made it back upstairs where my boyfriend comforted me until I fell asleep. It had been so long since I felt like that, I barely recognised the symptoms. I thought there was something really wrong with me. It was only when I lay back in bed and my breathing returned to its normal pattern that I realised that I had just experienced a panic attack.
I have suffered with anxiety for many years now and although I don’t suffer from many attacks, when I do, it’s terrifying. It all started in my second year of college. I remember hearing my heartbeat in my ears, I remember feeling a striking pain in my chest and I thought that I was suffering a heart attack. It was only when I went to university, when my panic attacks became a regular occurrence that I knew I needed help. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). She suggested counselling but it didn’t work for me. I managed to keep my anxiety under control and now I only have a few panic attacks a year, if that.
My anxiety stays dormant, I forget that it exists and suddenly, almost like a tiger hunting its prey, it senses my vulnerability and attacks when I least expect it. I don’t want to live in fear of it but the unpredictable nature of anxiety forces me to be careful when I over think or when my emotions reach the surface. I don’t tell a lot of people about my anxiety because there is still a stigma when it comes to mental health. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell me to calm down, I have no control over my body when a panic attack hits. I need to believe in the moment that I will be okay and if I just breathe deeply, my body will return to its natural state.
I have to live with this anxiety, I try to avoid stressful situations but in this modern world it is hard not to fall into the trap of worrying over the little things. I don’t know what caused my panic attack this time. I have had a bad few days, a few minor arguments with my partner and I have had a lot on my mind but I didn’t expect an attack at all. It happened in the early hours of this morning and now I still feel the effects. I feel lethargic, on edge and my hands are still trembling slightly as I type.
I don’t understand why I have to have anxiety and suffer from panic attacks but I know that I am not alone. Up to a third of the world’s population suffers with anxiety at some point during their life so why do people still insist that anxiety is just a fancy word for being stressed? It isn’t. Just like depression and general sadness are two entirely different concepts. Mental health should be just as important as physical health and the reason why I don’t feel confident talking about my anxiety is because I get numerous eye rolls and sighs as a response when I tell people.
There’s no cure or quick fix solution, I find that practising yoga, writing down my thoughts and confiding in my boyfriend when I feel like things get too much helps. Everyone is different but those things help me keep my anxiety under control. As for last night, I couldn’t do anything but breathe and listen to the voice in my mind that reassured me, it said ‘Don’t panic Emma, everything will be okay.’ And you know what? Everything WILL be okay. I have accepted the fact that I have to live with anxiety, it’s a part of me but it does not define me.