I have always been a worrier since as far back as I can remember. I was an extremely sensitive and shy child, preferring to be on my own in my room reading my books than out playing with friends.
My mum always tells the story of when she organised a party for my 5th birthday…the house was full of people and presents but I point blank refused to come downstairs.
There was also that memorable Christmas morning when all my family were eagerly waiting to watch me open my presents, but I just sat in my Wendy house on my own, my arm appearing through the little door when I wanted to open another one. I just hated being the centre of attention.
My first real memory of anxiety though was when the Gulf War happened in the early 90’s. I was 9 years old and completely terrified after watching the reports on the news. I remember looking out of the window paralysed with fear, convinced we were going to be bombed to oblivion. Each time a plane flew over I would panic.
My first major panic attack occurred in 2005. I had just returned from living in Holland after a year, I had no money, no job, in a relationship I didn’t want to be in, and had also moved to a different area where I didn’t know anyone.
Strangely I didn’t feel stressed at the time though, which is why it shook me to my core when the attack happened.
I was on a night out back home with my best friend, we were having a great time, dancing and laughing, in one of our local pubs where we knew everyone.
All of a sudden this intense rush of adrenaline coursed through my body, causing my heart to beat out of my chest and making it hard to breathe. My thoughts began to race and and I had an overwhelming urge to run out of the building, convinced that something really bad was about to happen.
As I got outside I just burst into tears, I had never experienced anything like that before, and as I tried to make sense of what had just happened my initial thoughts were that my drink had been spiked.
As the panic slowly ebbed away, I thought that after a good night’s sleep I would be better in the morning. How wrong I was.
The following day ended up with a trip to A&E, so convinced that I was having a heart attack I had to have an ECG test. When the nurse told me that my heart was fine and I was just having a panic attack, if anything that was worse as I was then panicking that I was losing my mind.
At least if it was a heart attack I would have a reason for it!
What followed was the worst time of my life, with what felt like a year-long panic attack.
I was treated with Citalopram and Diazepam (too scared to take the latter just in case I became addicted…oh the cruel irony of anxiety!). My chest was constantly tight, my muscles ached from being so tense all the time, I had heartburn every day, and I generally felt like I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
Looking back I probably did have one, although I was never diagnosed with anything, and wasn’t offered any kind of therapy. It was during this time that I experienced intrusive thoughts, really weird stuff that just added to my misery.
I did a lot of research online as I wasn’t getting anywhere with my doctor. Just knowing that what I was going through was actually quite common, coupled with the medication, meant that I (slowly) started getting better.
It was tough, but I actually thank my lucky stars now that it happened when it did. It has made me resilient, and meant that I coped with post-natal anxiety so much better.
If I had experienced that first frightening panic attack when I was alone with my baby, then I honestly don’t think I would have survived.
Although it was the lowest point of my life, having those attacks and living with anxiety never held me back. It would have been so easy to just lock myself away from the world, claim sickness benefit & take more medication without actually dealing with the problem.
I come from good stock though, a strong Irish family who lived through a war, and I’ve definitely inherited that fighting spirit.
So now my ‘panic station’ is not so much at the controls of my brain, but very much on the sidelines in reserve. Occasionally it makes an appearance, mostly when I’m overtired, hungover or have PMT.
Luckily I can keep it at bay now, as it no longer has the ability to scare me, it’s just really f***ing annoying!