My Anxiety Story.

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You cannot always tell by looking at someone.

Anxiety can come in many forms such as phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and my own personal one that I was diagnosed with years ago, panic disorder.

I had my first panic attack on January 1st, 2000. Way to start the new millennium hey! It came out of nowhere and I thought I was having a heart attack. I recovered, told nobody and went on with life.

Later that same year, I stood up to address the company I was working for at the time, and as I looked out at the hundreds of faces looking back at me, they all started to blur. My heart started racing, as streams of adrenaline filled my veins. I was going to die in front of my colleagues in a bad pant-suit.

I stammered through my presentation, making what I thought was a damn fool of myself in the process, before fleeing to the bathroom, where I locked myself in a cubicle, waiting for God to tap me on the shoulder, telling me that it was my time. And there I stayed until a work mate of mine came to check on me.

I still, at this point, had no idea what was happening to me.

Then, surely but slowly, my beast would start to revisit me. In shopping centres, in airports, in car parks and sometimes, just for something different, while I was sitting at home watching TV. It began to dictate to me how I would live my life, which in fact was not to live it at all. I was so frightened of having another attack.

After one particularly heinous attack, I knew that I had had enough. I took myself off to my GP. As she shut the door behind me and asked me what was wrong, I started howling. Silently, she passed me a tissue and at that moment, I just knew that I was on the road to learning to live with my anxiety.

That was six years ago. I had given anxiety a decade of my life, and now I wanted it back.

So, why did I have anxiety? I think it came down to one little word. Stress. I think I was so stressed that I could barely see straight. I didn’t even realise it at the time. I was not going through some horrendous trauma or anything like that, but add a little drama, mix it with paranoia, sprinkle in a dose of no confidence, and cook it in a pressure cooker set to EXPLODE, and there is my own personal recipe for anxiety.

Anxiety re-wired my thinking. The old ‘fight or flight’ mechanism had been permanently dialled to flight, which is all very good if you are a cave man, being chased by sabre toothed tigers, but not really helpful when you are a mum with two little boys. My GP prescribed me with an anti-anxiety medication. Escitalopram is my friend.

My GP also gave me some very good advice and some helpful suggestions, which have worked well for me.

  • Sleep 8 hours a night if possible
  • Have massages as often as you can
  • Exercise for 30 minutes or more a day
  • Cut down on coffee
  • Cut down on booze
  • Learn to say no
  • Remove yourself from toxic people and relationships
  • Meditate
  • Plan one thing every week that you really look forward to
  • Be still when you can.

So, these are all very good things to do for most people, but what else?

FACE YOUR FEAR

If you have been a card carrying member of Club Anxiety, you will know exactly what I am about to say. Your brain wants to keep you safe from danger, but your brain sometimes sends you very unhelpful signals. Let me tell you a little story…

A few years ago, I thought I would give TV social commentary a crack, and was invited by a TV channel to appear on a weekly segment. The first few weeks were pre-taped, meaning that if there were any stuff ups, we could shoot it again.

Then one day I turned up, only to be told from now on, we were going live. And there it was, that feeling started. And just when they were about to start rolling, another panellist looked at me and said…

“Don’t panic.”

Welcome to one of the biggest panic attacks, now coming to you live!

So my immediate reaction was to do the old “drop and roll”, where I would silently slither to the ground and crawl off set. And then I would run all the way home. This is what my brain was directing me to do because I thought I was going to be a big fat failure and the whole world would laugh at me, and tell me just who the hell do you think you are, you are not good enough and to get back into my box.

But something else inside me, the logical part, told me to sit still. That I was not going to die and if the worst thing was to happen, that I would say something daft, then how bad could that really be? Watching it back later at home, it turned out that I didn’t say anything daft, and if anyone was watching they would not know what was really going on in my head at that time. I continued doing this TV appearance, until it was no big deal at all.

I used to “enjoy” a panic attack on escalators, until one day I rode that escalator for an hour. Up and down and up and down until again, it was no big deal. Same with the train. Around and around I went until Lefty Logical brain informed my anxiety that the train was not going to kill me.

But the best part of my recovery was the most simple part. I told everyone. I took its power away by not keeping it a secret anymore. Sometimes now, if I have to address a large crowd, I will quite often open with the fact that sometimes I have panic attacks in these situations, and let us just see whether it is going to happen today. It never does, because I have taken back control.

Now when I feel the beginning of a panic attack, I sit with it. I tell myself, “Oh look! There is that initial rush of adrenaline.” and I concentrate on how it feels. “And look! Your palms are getting sweaty.” And I feel the perspiration develop. And by doing this, I recognise that these symptoms are purely physical ones, and more often than not, that is where the situation stops. And I am able to get on with what I was doing.

But of course, I could not get to this point on my own. I needed help. I actually needed a team. That team consists of Mr. Woog, my GP and my anxiety specialist psychologist. I continue to put the hard work in and slowly have started living nearly 100% of my life again. It is a bloody relief. I now know when I am getting stressed and run down, and I do a little lifestyle audit to get me back on track.

So what about you? Where are you at with anxiety? About one in three women in our country live with it to varying degrees. So why the stigma, sisters?

I am telling you my story to encourage you to take action. Speak up. You are not alone! Us brilliant ladies need to live our lives to the very fullest and if anxiety is holding you back from doing that, kick that bastard to the curb. If I can do it, so can you.

For more information about anxiety, please click here.

Are you one of the one in three? You know that you’re not alone.

Tell me your story.