Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Something Different. Anxiety and Panic Attacks


I generally use this blog as an outlet for my illustration work, I'm a visual person so prefer to post photographs over long blog posts. However, I wanted to use this space for something a bit different.

I find it quite difficult to talk about but after researching some stuff online, the general consensus is that writing about it can be a massive help. I'm also not convinced that many people read my little blog anyway so it won't make that much difference!

Not many people know that I've suffered for over ten years with anxiety and panic attacks. It's something that I've lived with for as long as I can remember. There's a lot of information on the web about anxiety but I wanted to pen my own feelings on the subject so to speak as I hope it might help. If someone out there in the virtual void reads this and it helps them in some way then that's a bonus. I'm in no way an expert on the science of anxiety and panic attacks and all of the thoughts expressed here are purely my own opinion.

I've experienced anxiety for probably most of my life. As a child I was very shy, and would find myself worrying about things that other kids weren't too bothered about. I'd worry about going on school trips and being away from home, being away from my parents, not being in familiar surroundings etc. Even things like sleepovers and parties were something that I would find myself in a constant frenzy about.


What is a panic attack?

When I was 16 I had my first full blown panic attack. It was without a doubt the scariest and most traumatic thing I had ever experienced. I felt like I was dying. My heart raced, I felt hot then cold again, I had pins and needles in my hands, I felt sick and I couldn't breathe. I felt like I was being smothered and gasped for air. I was convinced that this was something really serious. I also experienced bizarre feelings of unreality. I felt like I was detached from the real world, sounds and senses were heightened and I had a tremendous desire to escape.

These feelings persisted for most of my late teens and into my early twenties. I couldn't concentrate on anything, I was consumed by these feelings of dread and fear and I had no idea what was happening to me. I performed badly in my exams because of the crippling fear of being in a school hall with other people and no means of escape (ridiculous really when you think about it.)

I've lived with anxiety for ten years now and it doesn't seem to get any easier. For me, being in crowded places really doesn't help, this is why I tend to avoid them. For example, busy shopping centres, supermarkets, pubs and clubs, even driving can cause me to have a panic attack, which is pretty scary especially if halfway down a motorway! For this reason, I feel like I've missed out on a lot which in hindsight, makes me sad but more than anything, make me really angry. Alcohol is one of the major factors in my anxiety. The main thing about panic attacks is the feeling of total lack of control. For this reason, I have never (at the grand old age of 27) allowed myself to get drunk. (yep craaaazy!). Although it doesn't bother me as much now, being a teenager wasn't easy. At a time when all of your friends are going out and having fun, I felt like I was being held back in many ways because I was always scared that I was going to have another panic attack.

Some days are fine, there is no anxiety and there is the luxury of being able to do normal everyday things, like going into a busy shopping centre or supermarket without feeling any symptoms of dread and panic. I've also mastered the art of hiding the fact that I'm feeling this way purely because I find the whole thing really shameful and embarrassing.

I find that the triggers are stress and I notice that my anxiety and panic attacks increase during stressful or hectic times when things can just become a little bit too overwhelming. I've found this to be the main catalyst recently. I've struggled to maintain relationships because I hate the feeling of being a nuisance to somebody else, which only enhances the anxiety (yep its a vicious circle). I find myself getting frustrated and taking it out on people, which is probably the worst part about it. I find it easier just to deal with it on my own in a lot of ways, which of course is not the answer. Panic attacks are also physically exhausting, after experiencing up to two or three a day at their worst, it can leave you feeling pretty tired and not really wanting to do much.

After reading about it online, I've found a lot of really useful information about anxiety and it's comforting to know that you're not alone. It's actually a really common thing which in my opinion, more people should know. Panic attacks are purely defence mechanisms produced by the body as a 'fight of flight' from a dangerous situation. The excess of adrenaline causes the physical symptoms in the same way as it would if we were face to face to with a dangerous scenario. This really helped me to understand and almost accept my anxiety. For me, illustrating and drawing is something that I find can really help me to relax. I tend to use this as a release which can sometimes ease the burden of anxiety. It's still something that I live with every single day but know that it's also something that I can work towards overcoming.

There are a lot of great things out there on the internet that explain the nature of anxiety and panic attacks. I've attached links below to a few that I have found most helpful.