By the time I started my second year, I had been having panic attacks almost every day for about 7 months but I still didn’t really understand what was happening to me. I decided to keep it all to myself because surely if I didn’t understand what was going on, then others wouldn’t either. I think it was my relationship with my boyfriend that was most affected because my confidence in myself disappeared and I became very insecure and emotional around him, convincing myself he deserved someone better and ‘normal’ and that his life would be miserable having to deal with my constant ups and downs. Our date nights became a constant stress for me and I became so anxious when we went for dinner or to the cinema that I ended up in the bathroom for half of the night convinced I was going to throw up or pass out. Honestly, the only place I didn’t feel anxious was when I was alone in my room. I couldn’t even go to my boyfriend’s house because I was too scared of having a panic attack in front of him or anyone else.
I kept it all hidden from my parents too, but it was so hard to keep such a big secret.
I became an expert in lying – making up all these excuses and stories about why I couldn’t do a certain thing, or what happened in a class that day that I hadn’t even attended. I felt constantly guilty for the lies but I couldn’t get myself out of the pit I was falling into. I lost contact with a few of my new friends because I couldn’t follow plans through and became a no-show in class. I felt like I was living this double life – pretending everything was okay on the outside but shrinking further and further inside.
On a Wednesday morning in late October 2014, after two months of secretly skipping classes, I was due to begin a placement at a local nursery to help with one of my uni classes. This nursery was beside the school that my brother and sister attended and so my parents were going to drive us all there in one go. I started to feel anxious the night before when I was trying to go to sleep, imagining all the things that could go wrong and the mistakes I would make on my first day there. I felt 100 times worse in the morning, but like usual, tried to play it off like normal. As it got closer to the time I was due to leave, I began to feel the familiar wave of panic wash over me and, as we drove closer to the school, that feeling intensified.
My parents found out about my panic attacks that day, as I stood there in tears, unable to breathe and grasping on to the school fence to keep myself upright. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so self-conscious in my life, I was aware of all the parents and children staring at my red, tear-stained face and crumpled body, and this realisation made the panic worse. I remember my parents telling the nursery staff some lie about me feeling sick and them taking me back home. I remember the big jumble of tears, disappointment and anguish tumbling out of my mouth as I poured out everything I’d held inside for so long. That night, I broke down to my boyfriend and told him everything that had been going on, the panic attacks, the anxiety, the lies, the insecurities. Like my parents, he was understanding and supportive, and I felt stupid for all those months of convincing myself I couldn’t tell anyone.
On the advice of my parents and boyfriend, I made a doctor’s appointment for that Friday to discuss my feelings about university and going into public spaces. My GP discussed the option of counselling with me and put me on a course of beta-blockers to help me feel more relaxed when I had to leave the house.
I’m not sure when or how I would’ve told my parents about the panic attacks if they hadn’t seen it happen first hand, so I guess in a weird way, despite it being one of the worst days of my life, it also allowed me to start taking those positive steps to combat my anxiety. I am so grateful to have had such understanding parents and for my boyfriend taking the time to learn about anxiety and panic attacks to make sure he felt confident in being able to help me. But, like everything, there were those people who weren’t so understanding. Fuelled from the positivity I’d received at home, I decided to open up to my friends, both from university and those from my time at school. Honestly, there wasn’t as much positivity here as there was back home. I lost friends because they mocked my use of medication, I lost friends who became frustrated that I still couldn’t go clubbing or drinking even whilst on medication, and I lost friends that didn’t know how to act around me anymore. I was upset at first, and felt that feeling of being abnormal and not fitting in and those thoughts of ‘why can’t I just be like everyone else?’ and I was friendless for about a year. I had to learn to rebuild myself and my confidence because leaving my house was still a huge challenge, let alone introducing myself to strangers and making new friends. I didn’t feel so alone, though, because I had the support of those closest to me.
Telling those around me was probably the best thing I ever did.
Even though it caused me to lose a lot of friends from around me – well all my friends actually – nothing ever felt, or will ever feel, worse than feeling like I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening to me. I felt so anxious to tell my family and my boyfriend, afraid that they would think I was stupid or that they would think (insert all sorts of anxious, awful things) but none of that happened. Although I did have some negative reactions from others, the support I received definitely outweighed all the bad and I don’t regret asking for that help when I needed it.
If this seems all too familiar for you, whether it’s the panic attacks, anxiety or anything else, please reach out to someone you trust. It definitely makes it all so much easier to deal with. Also, if someone has confided in you, please try your best not to mock them, even if you don’t understand what is happening to them. Instead, try to show some understanding and if you don’t feel able to support them yourself, direct them somewhere they can find support.
We should always treat others the way we expect to be treated ourselves and we should all try to be a little kinder to those around us because we never know what is affecting each person around us.
*This post is part of a series*
http://www.samaritans.org // 116 123
http://www.mind.org.uk // 0300 123 3393
http://www.sane.org.uk // 0300 304 7000
http://www.supportline.org.uk // 01708 765200