*I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed below are my own. If you have any questions about the subject, please contact your local GP*
The brain is a funny old thing, isn’t it? One minute it’s your greatest ally, providing you with brilliant ideas like how perfect Angel Delight would be at 1am and then crippling you with paranoia that some how your cats might suffocate you in your sleep the next. Mine likes to play the delightful game of What If? Often during the witching hour, keeping me from sleep.
It’s thanks to the bizarre way our synapses fire that last Monday, I had a panic attack.
This wasn’t my first rodeo and I doubt it will be my last. Generally, they come fast, punching the air out of my stomach and rendering my hands numb. Often, this happens in the middle of busy shopping centres. Sometimes in work. Both leave me feeling like a fool of epic proportions and I’m never sure if it’s the actual attack or the humiliation that angers me the most.
This was different.
In an effort to soothe my sinking mood, I was indulging in some pampering. I’d run a warm bath and settled in to soak.
It began in my toes.
Being a sufferer of RLS, I’m acutely tuned to any tingles in my lower legs. This started in the same way. It tricked me, the git.
My toes twitched.
My ankles cramped.
Suddenly my knees ached.
I took a deep breath and began to perform the stretches that normally ease the restlessness. I twisted, tensed and relaxed my legs but the creeping sensation continued.
While stretching, my fingers began to tingle and a thought blasted to the front of my mind, blocking out all sense and reason: My hands were swelling and my throat was closing. I had to get out.
The panic began.
Forcing myself to breathe deeply, I pulled the plug and clutched my knees to my chest.
I was shaking.
I was hot.
I was clammy.
I couldn’t breathe.
I gingerly stood up in the bath and turned on the shower, hoping that the sudden shock of water would help distract and calm my nerves. By this point, tears were flowing hot and fast. My breathing was ragged.
Rather than helping, the feeling of the bath water around my ankles and the shower hitting my back from above combined to form a thick, cloying sense of claustrophobia – intensifying the feeling of suffocation even further.
With the water still running, I grabbed my towel and threw myself from the bath.
Crouched on the floor, struggling to get enough air in to my lungs to stop my head from spinning was where I stayed for over 40mins.
I had only been in the bath for 15mins.
Why am I telling you this? I don’t know.
Last week was Mental Health Awareness week and, having voiced my views on how I’m not 100% sure about these campaigns in the past, it seemed like the world’s way of nudging me to talk more about it.
Maybe I’m telling you because, for me, this was incredibly strange. For the most part, I can “hide” panic attacks, internalising them so from the outside I seem normal. I’ve been living with anxiety for around 8yrs now – a lovely addition to the Bipolar that I already have – and I’ve become practised at putting up a “normal” front.
But maybe it’s because, in recent years, my anxiety actually makes me more “normal” than I’ve ever been.
A study in 2014 estimated that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health problems, with 1 in 6 experiencing a specific neurotic disorder such as anxiety or depression. On top of that, almost 10% of the UK suffer from a mix of depression AND anxiety, making it the most prevalent mental health problem in the population as a whole.
The most recent YouGov survey found that 1 in 5 people feel anxious either all or a lot of the time and, sadly, that one-fifth of people who have experienced anxiety do nothing about it. The stigma around mental health and anxiety is such that fewer than one in ten people have sought help from their doctor to deal with anxiety.
All those people, walking around with these feelings inside them and doing nothing. That’s terrible. Especially when you consider the numbers of how many of us are affected.
Anxiety isn’t a trend and depression isn’t just about feeling sad. These are serious things and they require attention. Please, please, please, go and see a medical professional if you have any questions or think you may be affected.
You can find out more about the UK statistics here. “Living with Anxiety” is a comprehensive report that was commissioned for Mental Health Awareness Week 2014 and contains more detail about the above data.
And, so it’s not all furrowed brows and serious faces, here’s a picture of my cats being a cuties. Enjoy!