Hi, my name is Richard. I am a 31 year old male who was diagnosed with GAD and depression over 12 years ago. Over those 12 years my journey through the mental health system has been very much like a rollercoaster, with some very high highs and extremely low lows.
So going back to how it all started, I was a normal 19 year old. I had a big circle of friends and was working as a Bar Manager in a busy pub. I was the life and soul of the party. I gave a big friendly smile to the customers as they walked through the door. I was training in the gym 7 days a week as a body builder, so my life was busy, but good.
I was living with my grandmother at the time. She practically brought me up, so she was more like a mother to me. At the bright age of 84, she was the strongest person I knew. She point-blank refused for any of the family to take her shopping, so she would walk to the local supermarket and carry back many bags of shopping. She was so healthy and so fit for her age, I almost thought she was indestructible. Then one day she became very ill and was hospitalised. Something inside of me told me that I wouldn’t have her in my life for much longer and it was so devastating.
Even when she was lying in her hospital bed, her only concern was that we all went home and got some rest. She always put us all first, she put anyone first before herself, that’s just how she was. After 7 days in hospital, she sadly passed away in front of us and this absolutely shattered my world and it changed my life in more ways than I could ever imagine at that time.
I will never forget my first anxiety attack. It was about 2 or 3 days after my nan’s passing and I was in the living room, watching some daytime garbage on the telly when I went to stand up, my vision went black and blue. I got terribly dizzy, my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest, my throat felt like it was closing and the sweat was like I was back training in the gym. I honestly thought I was dying.
After about ten minutes or so, it started to pass and I started to feel normal again, then of course it was closely followed by the anxiety thoughts; “I’m having a heart attack” and “I must have a brain tumour”. Anxiety likes nothing more than to make you feel these awful thoughts.
It took me a long time, many A&E visits and hospital tests to come to terms with and except that what I have is 'anxiety'. It was extremely hard to accept my physical and mental symptoms were 'just' anxiety. I myself pre-anxiety was guilty of putting down mental health as something people came up with as an excuse to not work, or to not want to socialise. WOW! how wrong I was!
There is a true and defined difference between feeling anxious about something, and having an anxiety attack. This is where the problem lies in as far as acceptance and understanding around anxiety.
We all, at some point in our life, have experienced being anxious about something, Taking our exams at school or our driving tests. We may show similar symptoms such as sweating, feeling on edge, shaking, etc, but these are common symptoms that we face many times in our normal everyday lives.
An anxiety attack, or panic attack, is very different and has many forms. For me personally, I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder which means it can strike at any time, and for any reason. There are no particular triggers, it just comes on out of the blue.
I have done quite a bit of research over the 12 years into anxiety and its triggers and causes. Anxiety attacks are a trigger of the human defence system, also known as the 'fight-or-flight' system.
Humans were built with this defence system to help them escape from dinosaurs and other predators apparently 1000s of years ago, which, hey, is great when you need it right? But these days, we have no use for it, hardly at all. So we all, more than likely, have experienced this sensation in our lives when we are faced with danger or what we consider a threat. Your legs might feel a little shaky, your heart might start to beat a little faster and you may even feel that little surge of adrenaline rush through your body. But that’s normal right? Of course it is, it’s our fight or flight system kicking in. But what happens when all the sensations of the fight or flight system are heightened 100 times over and you are in no danger or there are no threats around? This is an anxiety attack.
Everyone will experience different symptoms, feelings and sensations during and after an anxiety attack, so below I will list my most experienced symptoms and thought processes.
- Heart palpitations
- 'Jelly' legs
- Shaking hands and arms
- Rapid breathing
- Feeling of needing to escape my surroundings
- Throat feels tight or like something stuck
- Stomach cramps linked to anxiety related IBS
- Brain zaps
- Uncontrollable sweating
- Can’t keep still
- Vision disturbances
- I am going to die
- There is something seriously wrong with me
- Something bad is going to happen
- I am having a heart attack
- I am having a stroke
- I have a brain tumour
For me, after living with these symptoms and thought processes for over 12 years now, I have finally come to recognise that all this is part of anxiety, and how it makes you feel and think. However, at the beginning and before diagnosis, it was absolutely terrifying.
Even 12 months or more after diagnosis, I really didn’t believe what the doctors were telling me. It was only after talking to my brother-in-law, who also suffered anxiety but which none of the family knew about at the time, did it finally sink in that this is what was wrong with me.
Once I believed it in my own mind, it made living my anxiety a little bit easier. Don’t get me wrong, to this day I still have anxiety attacks, but I am in a position now where I can calm them down quite quickly.
Over the years I have been on many medications. I think I’ve tried them all actually but I think the ones I am currently taking have been the most effective.
One thing to remember, if your just starting your journey through anxiety, is that medication is an aid to help you get better, but it won’t solely solve the issues that has caused your anxiety to trigger!.
You may want to discuss with your GP or mental health practitioner a course of CBT therapy or counselling, or even both, which I have done myself.
While you are on the waiting list for therapy there are self-help things you can start to make progress:
- Find someone who has been through the same experiences.
- Find online support groups, one I use myself is Elefriends by Mind; the mental health charity.
- Guided meditation
- Find some useful blogs
Thanks for reading and good luck on your journey.
A brilliant mix of real world experience and fantastic advice courtesy of Richard. We have withheld his surname, but we really value the fact that he shared his story with us. Does anything Richard mention ring bells for you? What helps you or what advice would you give? Let us know in the comments below.
If you want to read more of Richard's writing (and who wouldn't), he has his own blog over at myjourney247.wordpress.com. You can also keep up-to-date with Richard on Twitter, where he's @MyJourneyBrez or on Elefriends, where he's Brezza1206