A series of experiences from everyday people showing the importance of telling our stories and sharing our experiences to normalize all things mental health, bringing it out of the shadows and into the light. The more we share, the more we understand, and the more we understand, the more we can help each other come out of the shadows and into the light.
“I never use to understand what anxiety was. Sure, I would feel anxious before boarding a flight and before job interviews, but never really understood when people said they ‘had anxiety’. That was until December 2016.
I woke up on a normal work day with a strange tight feeling in my chest. No other symptoms, just this strange feeling like I couldn’t breathe naturally. My mind went immediately to worse case scenario. I was either having a heart attack or something was terribly wrong with me and it was going to end with me dying.
This is a very typical thought process of mine. As far back as I can remember, my health has worried me. Not that anything is physically wrong, I have been fairly healthy my entire life. But for some reason, I feel like I am almost waiting for something bad to happen. Any odd feeling in my chest, was automatically a heart attack, my eyes feel tired, I’m going blind.
I could never make myself believe it was nothing, it was ALWAYS something. Something bad. I think it stems from my fear of dying. I’ve had this fear for a long time and it’s tiring, but I just can’t help it. It’s the way I am wired.
I have experienced the feeling of a tight chest before. I remember, the first panic attack I ever had. I was driving back from Coffs Harbour (about 8 years ago) and I felt this sudden pain in my chest, on my left side. I had never felt it before and it FREAKED ME OUT BIG TIME. We were in the middle of nowhere, nowhere near a hospital or any help and my anxiety peaked like it had never before.
I was really panicked. I felt like I couldn’t breathe properly. I was saying to myself ‘I am going to die’. My husband (boyfriend at the time) couldn’t really do anything to help, we were about 2 hours from home and nothing anyone said was going to calm me down. I wound down the window and stuck my head out for a good 20 minutes. Anything to take my mind off this feeling in my chest.
As we got closer to home, I felt better and when I finally got home, I felt much better. The pain was no longer there, just an anxious girl who wanted to go to bed.
When I’ve experienced chest pain in the past, a niggle here and there, I of course have taken serious action to ensure my health was ok. I have had a few ECG’s and blood tests in my lifetime, because to me, this was the only thing that would reassure me that I was ok. And even then, after all the results came back normal, I still wasn’t always convinced.
Anyways, back to that December day. I went to work and tried to ignore the feeling, but it got worse during the day. I felt short of breath, and like I was going to stop breathing at any time. It made me feel awfully anxious. I felt like I was going to pass out and couldn’t concentrate at work. This went on for three days. It all got too much for me. This was something far beyond what I had ever felt before. So I booked in to see my GP.
She expressed concerns that I was suffering from anxiety and asked if there was anything that I could think of that may have been triggering it. I couldn’t think of anything. I mean work was a bit chaotic at the time, but surely that couldn’t be making me feel like this? She suggested trying a low dosage of anti-depressants and I flatly refused. No way would I go on medication, I don’t need that stuff I thought, stuff like this doesn’t happen to me, I’ll just work it out. She gave me a few days off and I went home.
I felt ok at home, but not 100%, but as soon as I went back to work, it started up again. I couldn’t believe it. At the time, my husband worked in the same building as me and I would call him constantly asking to meet up because I felt so anxious. He made me feel a bit better when I was with him. But I continued to brake down constantly at work, cried and couldn’t function properly. What the hell was the matter with me! I even cancelled on friends for dinner one night, because thinking about sitting there for hours pretending to be ok, was too much for me, I couldn’t do it! I couldn’t go on like this any longer.
So I booked in to see my GP again and spoke to her more about the medication she was suggesting I go on and setting up a mental health plan. I decided to give it a go, although I still wasn’t convinced I needed it, I just couldn’t go on any longer feeling the way I was. Constantly feeling like I was short of breath and thinking I was going to die. I also agreed to speak with someone about my mental health.
I started the medication immediately and surprisingly started feeling better after a few days. The first time I took my medication, I was with my family and I was nervous! I felt weird, slightly light headed and went straight to bed. In the morning I felt fine again. I had one more ‘episode’ two days after starting my medication and that was the last time I ever felt like that.
I spoke to a counsellor via a company provided to me by my work. The first session was hard for me, I cried pretty much the entire time. I was so worried about what was wrong with me and thought of never feeling like me again was terrifying. She diagnosed me with ‘Health Anxiety’.
Health Anxiety: Obsession with the idea of having a serious but undiagnosed medical condition.
She gave me some good exercises to work through and we spoke about things that I could slowly change to get myself back to my old self.
I started off by drinking coffee again. I hadn’t had a cup of coffee for weeks, thinking that it was contributing to making me feel anxious. I continued seeing my counsellor for a few weeks over the phone. I researched and read a lot about anxiety over the next few weeks.
My Dr suggested that I stay on my medication for at least 12 months and explained the way it works. It is not a quick fix solution.
I didn’t want to be on medication for so long, but it made me feel normal again and there was no way I wanted to go back.
Over the next year, I read a lot about anxiety, the different forms it can come in and the effects it can have on people. It has really helped me understand what anxiety is and how it affects people. I had been feeling really well and just feeling myself again, so I slowly came off my meds. Of course I was worried that as soon as I stopped, I would go back to that dark place where my anxiety lived, but I didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have days where my anxiety can consume me, but I have strategies in place now to help me deal with this and I just take it day by day. Life with anxiety can be tiring, but I’ve learnt to live with it and now realise it really is what makes us who we are.”
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