My New Friend

This is the first in a series of pieces about my experience dealing with anxiety. If anyone suffering with anxiety/panic attacks comes across it and wants to comment or contact me, please do.

I recently made a new friend. I say ‘friend’ – I actually mean callous, mean-spirited, wearying and troublesome bully. But I guess I’m going to characterise him as a friend anyway. Perhaps it will make things a little easier, because we’re going to have to get along.

A couple of weeks ago I was sat at my desk at work, doing what I do on a daily basis, probably feeling quite happy with where I found myself in my life. It was Monday lunchtime, I was tired from my usual Sunday night lie-awake-athon, and was just getting ready to go to the canteen. The next thing I know, I’m calling out for an ambulance. I’d felt a strange feeling or tingling in my left arm which somehow got to me. I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t in fact having a heart attack and that it was probably just the position I’d had my arm in all morning, or perhaps my blood pressure was low. Sadly, my sympathetic nervous system didn’t get the message.

So I end up hyperventilating, feeling as if I’m grappling to stay conscious and, by this point, causing plenty of concern for my colleagues (who I’m sure could do without all this drama on a Monday). As dire thoughts of my imminent and permanent demise flashed across my mind, I could just about make out the presence of those around me as they placed me on the floor and raised my legs. I don’t recall actually losing consciousness at any point, but I’ve never felt so lightheaded and everybody’s voices just sounded so far away. My brain filled with the most intense fear – I really did believe I was dying. I’m only 31. I’ve never even been to Ibiza! I’ll never forget the moment of instant relief when the paramedics showed up and I was suddenly able to get up and walk to one of our side offices. Looking back, that should have been a sign.

To try and cut a long story short, I was checked over by the heroes in green and given a clean bill of health. They didn’t even see a point in taking me to hospital. I found this odd – I’d just collapsed, for god sake! Fifteen minutes ago I was wondering what my funeral was going to be like! And now you want to take your expertise and your fancy kit and tootle off into the afternoon! Needless to say, the whole episode repeated itself as soon as they were gone.

The next few days saw me living in a state of perpetual, bone-chilling terror: lying in bed shaking like a leaf in a blizzard, running through scenarios of what could be wrong with me. Did I have a brain tumour? Some other kind of cancer? Had I had a heart attack? Was I developing a serious mental illness? So many symptoms, so much fear. I’d never known anything like it and I couldn’t understand why there seemed to be so little inclination to help me. I took myself to A&E twice and was told that I was in rude health. Well that’s great,  I thought, but I feel like every cell in my body is about to explode.

I eventually managed to get myself admitted. Who knows why they finally decided to do this? Perhaps they thought it better than having me constantly bothering them at A&E. I was observed overnight and my vital signs all checked out. I was hooked up to a heart monitor for about 30 hours and had blood tests taken and some poor soul was even given a perspex pot of my urine to have a think about. I was given a CT scan – a procedure which doesn’t help when you’re wrestling with generalised feelings of doom. But no, everything looked fine. Funny really, that everything should look fine, while I feel like I can’t walk, like I’m losing feeling throughout my body and trying to decide whether I’d rather be told I had Multiple Sclerosis or Motor Neurone Disease. Several times I was tested for a stroke for no other reason than my brain thought I might randomly be having one. I also entertained the idea of early-onset Parkinson’s disease. I didn’t even know I knew all these things existed.

And then, the next afternoon, a junior doctor who contrasted a pretty smile with a professional, stern tone, came along and told me it was time to go home. I think she could tell this was a shock to me because she paused at this point, broke from her brusque demeanour and placed her hand on my arm. “We wouldn’t release you if we thought it unsafe. I know it’s not easy, but try to stay positive. Are you someone who feels anxious a lot and worries a lot?”

And there it was. I could have said ‘no’, but I would have been lying. And then the time came to detach me from the various medical paraphernalia that was stuck to me or stuck in me, and I took my papers and shuddered off out of the ward in a brain fog to the hospital foyer to try and figure out what to do next. Preliminary diagnosis: anxiety/panic attacks.

It’s just over a week since I left hospital and I’m having to deal with the way I feel on a daily basis. I still have an MRI scan to attend, just to be on the safe side, but it looks like I’ve had my first panic attack. I’ve also since had my second, third and probably fourth. Most recently, I ended up back in A&E because I thought I was literally going mad. Needless to say I wasn’t, and if you have anxiety and feel like you’re going mad, you’re not either.

I’ve since allowed my GP to prescribe me some medication, although I can’t escape my own scepticism in this area. Maybe it’ll help, maybe it won’t. I’ll take it for the time being, even though it means I can’t drink, which seems like as good a reason to panic as any.

I have no idea if this will be a long or a short journey. I’ve already discovered Paul David’s book ‘At Last A Life’ and feel very lucky to have come across it so early on. I find his arguments and suggestions very persuasive and would advise anyone with anxiety or panic to at least give it a read. In the last 48 hours it’s already given me a new outlook on this condition I’m stuck with for the time being. Crucially, I understand that I can’t allow anxiety to control me or make decisions for me. And that means trying to live my life as normally as possible, bringing the symptoms along with me if I have to. I guess that’s what I mean by a new friend.

I feel like the internet and this blog gives me the perfect place to put down my thoughts and feelings as I deal with this. Even just sitting here writing about it has proven therapeutic. Anxiety happens to have struck at a point in my life where I couldn’t be happier. Now I could curse that fact and retreat into myself and away from my life and the people who make it so great. But I won’t. I have too much to lose.

3 thoughts on “My New Friend

  1. skywoodclifford (Mick)

    Hi Michael,
    You know me. This is Mick from Hinckley. I’ve just read your well written article above, brought to my attention by your dad by an email link.

    I suffered from panic attacks in the 70s, to some extent the result of bad trips – but not exclusively. In the 80s, still wary of them, I discussed this problem with a therapist. She said “let the panic attack happen”. Although I am not suggesting this the ultimate panacea, the idea is that it is the fear of the fear that sets one off. As soon as you don’t care about having a panic attack they tend to retreat. I had a terrible spasm a couple of years ago when my chemo medication disagreed with me. They had to take me off the drip and calm me down for hours, but that was largely a chemical conflict, but it felt like the worst panic attack I have ever had.

    Society is largely to blame: we all have to be 100% perfect in everything we do. What conditioning we are given. Whatever you do, leave yourself a lot of slack! – to make cock ups is human.

    But then what do I know. Enjoyed your blog though.

    1. An English Guy in Belfast Post author

      Hi Mick. Good to hear from you and to hear your thoughts on the subject. Your advice is in line with the best advice I’ve come across on the subject so far. Panic and anxiety feed on fear and worry. To lose the fear, you have to be prepared to feel it. As such, you’re right, you have to let it happen. Unpleasant as it may feel, it doesn’t cause any harm.

      I really believe that chasing recovery through constant therapy, trips to the doctor and medication feeds your tired mind the subject of anxiety and risks making you worse. The key to recovery is total acceptance, patience and a relaxed attitude to worry.

      Anyway, hope you’re holding up okay down there in Hinckley. Thanks again for your thoughts.

      1. skywoodclifford (Mick)

        Hi Michael
        Good to hear from you. One other thing I would suggest – although it may be too late in the day – is to try and keep of the anti depressants or other pills that doctors love to give out. Once on them it takes a long while to come off them, and no one knows quite what they do to you. Best if you tough this out without them.

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