I've brought this issue up previously, and I think it's time it comes up again. Mental health is something I am extremely passionate about and anxiety is something I have been dealing with now for years.
I experience panic attacks. For those of you who don't know or have never had a panic attack, it is probably the worst feeling you could ever feel. There was a study done with people who had experienced both a heart attack and panic attacks which found that panic attacks were far more frightening and disabling! I hope this puts it into perspective a little!
When I have a panic attack, it feels like extreme fear, and my 'flight or fight kicks in'. I'm usually more of a flighter, I get out of the situation as soon as possible to reduce the feeling, but this only feeds the panic and makes it worse causing me to avoid.. well life.
The physical sensations can vary but include dizziness, trembling hands and legs, numbness in the extremities, dry mouth, rapid heart beat, shallow breathing, blurred vision, churning sensation in the belly, rapid bowel movements - pretty much everything in the body is affected.
My attacks got even more severe when I had to stop driving. I had lost my independence. I was holding on to that last bit of control I had, I couldn't handle being a passenger in the car and was always the driver. I wasn't venturing far from my home at the time. After I realised it was too unsafe to continue to drive I knew I had to stop. At the time I also quit my job because of my vision issues and anxiety. I decided that it was time for me to start from scratch, and so I hit rock bottom.
Rock bottom felt like a big, dark hole that engulfed me from every direction. All the light was sucked out and I was stuck, too scared to move forward. I got to the point where I could no longer leave the house and even looking out the window brought on an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia and fear.
I knew what I had to do, I had to face it. At the time I was studying a subject called Behaviour Modification (awesome subject) and was learning about desensitization. My avoidance was feeding the panic monster within and the monster was winning. I didn't want it to win. I wanted my life back.
So I started small, I would walk down my driveway (which is like a street in itself) and start down my street. At first I would only get ten houses or so down before I started to feel panic, then I'd turn around and come back. I kept doing this until it got a little easier and then went further.
I was overwhelmed by the traffic on the busy road at the end of my street. There was too much for my failing eyes to take in and process and everything was a blur to me. It made me feel nauseous. So I would sit on the bus stop on the main road and force myself to breath and take it all in. Slowly I became more comfortable with the rapid movement and the little of it I could process.
Next was getting in a car with someone else at the wheel. Now I'm a HUGE control freak, if I could control the weather I would! It was hard enough just to get inside the car with someone let alone actually drive somewhere. It also comes down to trust. I had to trust someone else to be my eyes. Miss Control Freak had to give up her control! Let's just say there was a lot of tears, screaming and emotions flying around when I tried to do this with my friends and family. It started with going 100 metres down the street and coming back. Anyone I go with is now a pro u-turner (as we say in Australia, 'chuck a u-ey').
This is a slow process and I am by no way back to normal. It tests your patience, your courage, your bravery and your belief. I am slowly working my way back, and I want to emphasise that this process is slow and draining. It doesn't happen overnight. There are always times when I feel like I'm going backwards but I need to keep positive and push through. Everybody has bad days and I know I need not take it to heart. Just get up the next day and try again.
Unless you have been through a similar situation, it can be hard to truly understand what it's like. Time and time again I've been told to 'just get over it', 'try harder' and 'just do it'. If it was that easy do you not think I would?! Mental illness is a REAL illness, it's not for attention, it's not anyone's fault and it is just as disabling as a physical illness, if not worse. Most importantly, it should not be something that we are afraid to share, after all, in Australia 1 in 2 people will experience anxiety or depression in their lifetime. Support is the key.
Having a double whammy of illness is hard. But you're not alone. There is help available and most of all support. I get a lot of emails saying that my blog provides 'inspiration', but it's everybody else who inspires me to keep going and keep fighting. Community is one of the strongest forces to produce change and ensure happiness.
Let's continue to stick together to make a difference and keep living our amazing lives!