Living with Anxiety & Panic Attacks

Anxiety, Living with Anxiety and Panick Attacks, Panic, Anxiety, OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, GAD

I've often considered whether or not I should write this post as its a very personal and upsetting subject for me to discuss. I know I've mentioned that I suffer with anxiety and panic attacks briefly but nobody other than my boyfriend who lives with me and sees what I go through on a regular basis, knows the full extent of my anxiety and how it controls my life. I'm also wary of the fact that lots of bloggers seem to struggle with a similar problem (it must be us creative folk and our over-active minds) and I don't want anyone to think I'm jumping on some sort of anxiety bandwagon. Firstly, that would be sick. Secondly, this is exceptionally hard to discuss and not something I'd write about if it wasn't real and thirdly,  I've been dealing with this since the age of 13, that's 10 whole years. I know I shouldn't have to add any kind of disclaimer to this post but I just want to put that out there as people can be quick to jump to conclusions.

Now that's out of the way, I want to start this post by saying mental illness is not something that should be overlooked, dismissed or laughed at. Its just as debilitating as a physical illness and although you might not be able to see it, its there, in my head, at all times. What I'm hoping to achieve from this post is to help other people who might be going through the same thing as me or to help those not affected with anxiety to understand what it is, what it feels like and how it can affect a person. I truly believe in the saying "never judge a book by its cover" as you might think somebody has a happy, problem-free life but until you truly know them and the things they've been through, you really have no right to judge.

What is Anxiety and a Panic Attack? What are the symptoms?
These are two questions that I've popped into search engines on numerous occasions as I'm always trying my hardest to understand anxiety and the effects it has on the human body - physically and emotionally. Its so difficult to sum it up in a small paragraph but for me anxiety is a feeling of constant dread and the fear that something bad is going to happen. When I'm in a relaxed state, I can tell myself that my anxious thoughts are completely irrational. However, when I'm in an anxious state, all logic goes out of the window and I go into 'flight or fight' mode which is when a panic attack rears its ugly head. The body is designed to release adrenaline and prepare us for escaping or fighting in frightening situations but when you're a sufferer of panic attacks, this surge of adrenaline can kick in in the most safe environments. When adrenaline kicks in and there's no need to escape or fight, it can cause horrendous physical symptoms. This is what makes a panic attack so scary. 

Just to name a few symptoms I often have when experiencing a panic attack -
- Racing heart
- Chest Pain/Flutters/Palpitations
- Difficulty Breathing and swallowing (dry mouth)
- Feeling dizzy and lightheaded
- Tingling in my fingers and toes
- Body 'zaps' - when anxious every feeling in the body becomes heightened.
- Excessive sweating 
- Feeling 'spaced out', confused and unbalanced.

As you can imagine, its not nice at all and the symptoms can easily be mistaken for something much more serious. I thought it'd be helpful to add some snippets from a book I've been reading below as these paragraphs sum it up much better than I can myself - 

My experience and where it all began
So, now you know the general gist of what it is, let me share my experience of where it all began and how its developed. Anxiety started for me in the form of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and I've actually wrote a post about my experience with that here if you want to know more. To put it simply, its a mental disorder which makes you have compulsive thoughts and obsessions. For example, "if I don't wash my hands, I might get a serious illness!". It all began when my grandad suddenly passed away in his early 50's. I was only 12 at the time and didn't know how to deal with someone I loved so dearly being taken away from me so suddenly. It turns out I was dealing with it but in a completely un-natural way, I'd developed OCD. I won't go into too much detail but it completely controlled my life for a few years - I was obsessed with germs and would wash my hands so much they'd bleed. I'd also think every ache or pain in my body was life threatening. I genuinely thought I was losing my mind as up until this point, I'd always been a pretty happy and care-free girl. After dealing with this in secret, too embaressed to tell anyone how I felt, I experienced my first panic attack. I was 13 at the time.

I remember it like it was yesterday - I was sitting in my bedroom one night after completing my standard OCD rituals (I used to have to touch everything in my bedroom before I went to sleep) and the next thing I knew my heart was pounding, I couldn't breathe, I felt dizzy, my palms were clammy and I was hypervanilating. I truly thought I was dying and to put it bluntly, it was one of the most horrendous feelings I've ever experienced. Now imagine having to deal with that on a a regular basis, that feeling of impending doom, the feeling that something bad is always going to happen, thats anxiety. Well, thats what it is for me at least. I have a mixture of anxiety and OCD. Irrational thoughts mixed with irrational worry which then leads to a panic attack. I know it comes in lots of different forms and the way I feel and my symptoms might be completely different to someone else's, it really depends on the individual. The outcome of feeling anxious and having a panic attack is always the same though - feeling hopeless, trapped and out of control. I wouldn't wish it upon anybody.

What should I do? Can I get help?
You might be reading this thinking 'none of it makes sense' and thats completely fine, a lot of people don't understand anxiety unless they've experienced it themsevles. Lots of people presume its just their loved ones 'worrying', especially if they're a natural worrier anyway like me. In a way I guess thats what anxiety is - worry. However, its unnatural worry and worry so strong that it becomes unbearable to deal with and can make day to day life very difficult. My family used to be guilty of calling me a worrier and shrugging off my panicked states. After all, they just thought it was 'Kayleigh being Kayleigh'. However, when I finally plucked up the courage to tell them that it wasn't just worry, but something more serious, it didn't seem so funny anymore. I remember when I first told my mum and she couldn't stop apologising for all the times she'd made a joke about me being a worrier. I always knew she didn't 'get it' and thats not her fault, I probably wouldn't either if it wasn't me in that situation so my biggest piece of advice would be to tell your loved ones how you're feeling. My mum has been nothing but supportive since I opened up to her about the problems I was having and it really helps me to know I have a support system around me. Knowing I can pick up the phone and tell my family how I'm feeling takes a huge weight off my shoulders. Its also important to note that if you're the family member of someone going through this, be supportive and listen to them. You might not fully understand what they're going through but being there for them will mean more than anything.

Another thing I'd advise is going to see your GP. I've been on two seperate ocassions now, both of which weren't successful but eventually I got the help I need. On my first visit to the doctors, the GP did a 'test' by which they evaluate the level of your anxiety and I was told mine is 'severe'. However, I was sent away with a helpline and the name of some books to read - not what I was expecting. I tried the books ('Overcoming Anxiety' photographed in this post is great for helping to understand anxiety better) but I knew I needed professional help that would get to the root cause of my anxiety. After plucking up the courage to go back to the doctors and see a different GP, I finally got some answers. I was told about various medications I could take and although I've been too scared to take them since being prescribed, I was also told about CBT- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This seemed like the right route for me to take as I believe changing my thought processes and behaviours will help me the most. I've been for a few sessions now and although it was hard opening up to a stranger about experiences in my life that may have triggered my anxiety and panic attacks, it was an amazing feeling to know I'm finally taking control and getting the help I need. I can't say its 'working' just yet but I'm feeling positive and determined to take all the techniques and coping methods I'm being taught on board. Please don't be like me and spend years feeling embarrassed as its really nothing to be embaressed about. Doctors and therapists see people suffereing with the same symptoms as you day in, day out. Its their job remember and they aren't there to judge you. 

Things I've learnt throughout my experience
- I'm NOT Crazy - its very easy to feel like you're losing your mind when you're panicking for no reason whatsoever in a safe environment.
- The symptoms I'm feeling are real but they won't hurt me - I'm NOT having a heart attack. My therapist has taught me a technique to say "I'm always okay" repeatedly until the panic subsides. Reminding myself its just a panic attack and its happened a million times before stops it from spiralling out of control.
- I don't have to feel embarrassed, millions of people suffer with panic attacks on a day to day basis.
- I can confide in my loved ones and know that they'll be there for me and with time, they will understand.
- Its okay to get upset and let my emotions out when it all gets too much - don't bottle things up.
- Seek help and don't suffer in silence. Talking to someone about the issues you're having might help. If it doesn't, you've lost nothing. Anything is worth a try!
- Focus your mind on something you enjoy - for me, that's writing this blog. Whenever I'm blogging, I feel relaxed. It gives me something to focus on and doesn't allow my brain to think about anything else.
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone - I'm still working on this one myself but its SO important to face up to the things that make you anxious. I had a bad stage not too long ago where I had to take time off work as I was having panic attacks in the office every single day. However, I pushed myself to go back as if I didn't, the problem would have become worse and I'd of become more withdrawn and afraid to return.

That's all I'm going to say for now as I could go on and on and on about my experience and all the things I've learnt about anxiety and panic attacks for hours. Trust me, I'm a bloomin expert on the matter after spending hours and hours reading about them and trying to understand them. The biggest lesson I've learnt is that it definitely helps to admitt when you have a problem instead of bottling it up. This post was terribly hard for me to write and terrifying to publish on my blog but I feel its something I need to do. Panic attacks are a huge part of me and my life and although you might only see the happy me in blog posts, some days are tough and everything isn't as great as it might always seem. I think its important to remember that when reading blogs - you're only seeing a snippet of someones life and not the whole picture so try not to judge based on what you think you know. Thats another big life lesson I've learnt. If this post can help someone to know they aren't alone and they CAN get help, I'll be a happy lady. I often get emails from people asking for advice and what not so although this is a terrifying thing to write about, its very important to me.

If you or someone you know suffers with anxiety, please share your experience in the comments below. The more we can help each other out and make people aware that anxiety is a serious problem, the better. I'd also like to say thank you to each and every one of you who takes time out of your day to read my blog. Blogging and all the amazing people I've met because of it is one of the best things thats ever happened to me and its given me something positive and consistent to concentrate on, even when I'm feeling low. 

I'm still on my journey to finding the 'cure' for my anxiety but I'm positive that one day I can say good riddance to it forever.


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