I've never been very good at speaking about my mental illness. As you've probably heard a million times, "men don't do that", but the death of Scott Hutchison has hit me so hard, I decided to write this. I'm not going to stay quiet anymore! We will end the stigma of men's mental health.
To my friends and family, many of you know this, but a lot of you don’t. I suffer from a mental illness and I have done for years. One of my favourite singers is called Scott Hutchison, he took his own life yesterday (at the time of writing this) after years of struggling with mental illness.
It's Mental Health Awareness Week, so I want to talk about it now. My mental illness is called an Obsessive Anxiety Disorder. Fortunately, I have never felt suicidal, but my mental illness is real and makes life very hard.
Sometimes it’s there constantly, sometimes for weeks on end. Other times it’s hiding in the background, but it’s always there. I find it hard to talk to people about it as I am a stubborn guy and I don’t like admitting I have this disorder, but I am I going to try to explain it.
My anxiety is a strong phobia (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) of terminal illness and death. This isn’t where you might be sitting there one day and think to yourself “death is a scary thought” or “I hope I never get cancer, or have a heart attack” and then go back to your day.
These thoughts about death and illness consume me 24/7. I think about them constantly. When I working. When I’m resting. When I’m socialising. When I’m in bed, even when I'm dreaming. I have no control over these thoughts, I just try to manage them. I take medication that, to some extent, helps to control these thoughts, but when they get really bad, I have to have counselling.
Some days these thoughts are so bad and scary that they manifest into something called a panic attack. I want people to understand what this is, so I will try and explain it.
Panic attacks are something I don’t think anyone can truly understand unless they’ve experienced it. Throughout the years that I’ve been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, many friends and family have been curious about what a panic attack is and what it feels like. So, although you still may not be able to completely understand, I’m going to try my best to explain, because I appreciate the desire of my friends and loved ones to understand my struggles.
Sometimes I can feel it coming, and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes, it is the pounding of my heart which increases in speed until I finally start having a full on panic attack. Sometimes, it comes as a sneak attack and turns into a full-blown panic attack before I even have a chance to think about it.
It usually starts in my heart. It starts pounding and gets faster and faster, then my breathing struggles to keep up with my heart. This is also when my mind starts buzzing. “Oh, no,” it thinks. “Not again. I can’t handle this. It needs to stop.” This only adds to the increased physical sensations.
My breath gets faster and faster, preventing proper oxygen from entering my body and therefore causing light-headedness and dizziness. Then, my hands and feet begin to get shaky. Soon, my feet completely go numb and I’m forced to fall to the ground wherever I am and I start vomiting. I become extremely worried about who is around, who is seeing me, who is judging me.
My breath becomes quicker and quicker until I begin to completely hyperventilate. Often around this point, if someone is around, they will come over and try to console me. I usually can’t understand anything they say. I can’t focus on anything except for my scattered thoughts that make me feel like I’m dying. Deep down, I know I’m not, but in the moment it feels like I’m never going to be able to gain control again. That’s the worst part — it feels like I’ve completely lost control. I can’t control my heart rate, I can’t control my breathing, I can’t control my shaky body, I can’t control my thoughts, I can’t control who is around me.
Eventually, my hands and feet, and sometimes my stomach, get very tingly, almost like they’re falling asleep. Another thing I can’t control. I also usually either get very hot to the point where I’m sweating profusely, or very cold to the point where I’m hugging myself tight and shivering. I begin crying; a lot of times I don’t notice it until afterwards, and I usually don’t know why this is. This is the climax.
I think my panic attacks usually last around five minutes, although in the moment it feels like hours have passed. Eventually, my mind starts being able to focus more and I’m able to remind myself where I am and what is happening. I make myself touch the ground or someone there who I feel comfortable with, in order for my body to remember what is real.
I make myself become focused on my breathing first, to start to gradually make it become slower. Eventually, my breathing comes back to normal, and with it my heart becomes slower. It still takes me a while to completely recover, my hands and feet are still numb and I’m usually still crying. But, slowly but surely, I’m able to regain control of my surroundings and know that it was only a panic attack, that it was out of my control, but that that’s OK. And I think the best thing I can do is to realise this is 'OK'.
Everyone experiences panic attacks differently, and panic attacks for someone who experiences them frequently may even be different each time. So, the best thing you can do as a friend or loved one of someone who experiences panic attacks is to recognize it is a real experience, it is something out of the person’s control and that it does not at all affect the person’s character or define them as a person. If you’ve gotten this far, thank you so much for reading.
As much as the death of Scott Hutchinson was a tragedy, it clearly moved Craig enough to talk more openly about his own battles with mental ill-health in a bid to help others. For that, we applaud him. Do you experience panic attacks? Do you recognise the feelings that Craig has or do they feel different to you? Let us know in the comments below.
If you want to follow Craig on Twitter, you can. His username is @Craigieboy2001