The Vault Regulars

Friday, August 23, 2019

My ongoing battle with anxiety and panic attacks.

It's been a while since i was on the Internet, writing or reading. It's not easy to know where to start but i will try and hope that my situation might help other sufferers. I am writing this still in recovery with many moments of dread but i am in a good frame of mind at the moment so here goes.

Myself i consider to be level head, adventurous, an outdoor person, a backpacker of many years, someone who has seen much of the world. I love challenges and problem solving and always take the hard route rather than the easy way. I have always pushed myself, so the following tale came as a shock to all my family and friends as well as myself.

I had a few minor panic attacks over the last 5 years or so, they didn't cause me any real problems and considering that i got shingles i put it down to this and almost forgot about them. Just occasionally an attack would come on but they were infrequent and short lived.

Over the last couple of years our lives and plans had more or less come to a stop because of the ongoing health problems with Dorothy, Sheila's mum. She had had heart and kidney problems which caused all sorts of other issues and meant that we supported her in every way on a 24/7 basis.
As you can imagine, this caused much stress and anguish and you don't realise how it affects you because it creeps up on you and becomes the norm.
Everyone says you need to look after yourselves, but what does that really mean?

Late last year i started to have uncomfortable sensations in the area of my solar plexus. I eventually went to the docs and had a scan and blood tests. All results came back clear.
The sensations became uncomfortable and more frequent so i went back and the doc sent me for a more comprehensive scan and more blood tests. All came back clear.

The panic attacks returned with a vengeance and i was having one or two per night. They were getting stronger and longer lasting and in some instances i wasn't sure exactly where i was. I was in a right state.
Sheila helped me through them and i went back to the docs. She said it seems like anxiety and I just dismissed it, saying theres nothing mentally wrong with me. Anyway she stuck with it and convinced me to try some tablets called Sertraline, only a low dose of 20mg once per day.
She said that they are not good at first but after 2 weeks i should start to feel better. She said she would call me and that i had to see her again in 4 weeks.

The tablets were awful to live with, i thought i was going backwards. Those first 2 weeks must have worried Sheila to death. Again, i was in a right state. My energy levels were zero and the feeling of sea sickness was constant. At times i just lay in the reclining chair with my eyes closed not really thinking anything and saying nothing. Sheila would convince me to eat but i could only manage a spoon full of soup and that was it. I couldn't stand.

During this period we decided that we couldn't get through this without professional help. I plucked up the courage and rang an organisation called Looking Ahead. I had a telephone interview within a couple of days and the result was that i needed CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). The interview lasted 45 minutes and at the end said that there was a waiting list for treatment of 5 months. I needed help right now. I couldn't wait 5 days never mind 5 months. This really deflated us both.

We decided to go private, whatever it cost. I needed help.
I managed to get an appointment to see a therapist at the Pall Mall clinic on King Street, Manchester within 5 days.
I was scared to death getting into Manchester on my first visit, like a rabbit in the headlights. What ever was said to me or what ever was happening seemed to take a few seconds to register, so it was like I was dreaming it all. I wasn't sure that I could go into the clinic but it was the best thing i could have done. It's not easy when you feel so bad but you need to have an open mind and a willingness to help yourself. I had both.

After an hour and a quarter i came out with a smile on my face. The first smile in weeks and weeks. This was only the first of many steps i needed to take but i was happy that i had made a start. I had been told that you do need to like the therapist and be able to talk openly. I was quickly put at ease and i found the therapist easy to talk too. Listening was hard work though and I remember asking time and time again to repeat.

I was given homework and a training regime to re-train my brain which had gone back to the days thousands of years ago when all we did was fight for our life or run away. I saw the therapist every week and gradually started to make progress.

My energy levels were still poor but i had to go for a walk on my own 3 times a day, just short distances and about 15 minutes. I had breathing exercises to do and muscle work. The short walks were a means of convincing the brain that i could do this and there wasnt a lion waiting around every corner. This will probably sound odd to readers but the brain rules everything and mine wasn't sending messages out normally, retraining the brain takes a lot of time.

After a few weeks of therapy and self training i felt that i could go out for longer walks with Sheila as well as doing the short walks on my own. The longer walks were only 30 minutes but they encountered friends and neighbours. I was dreading that and having to tell people. As it happens everyone has been so supportive even though they couldn't understand how i had succumbed to Anxiety.

We had been invited to a local friends 70th birthday party but because we had planned going to Scotland for a month i had said we wouldn't be at home. Now that Scotland had been cancelled i felt we should go to the partyand show our face. It was the wrong decision. It was too soon to face a crowd.

I stood at the bar with a non alcoholic drink and friends were coming over for a chat, i could see their lips moving but the words were a few seconds delayed and i found that i was looking at them vaguely. I started to panic and told Sheila i had to get out, which we did. That night i had a panic attack and the following day I was awful. I just crashed out, I didn't move all day.

Over the following weeks there were numerous similar experiences and taking on new challenges like going shopping or a quick trip to the pub was quite daunting. We met our local landlord one day when out on a walk and we told him what was happening. He couldn't believe it. I said to him that i needed to come into the pub and just have a coke. So that night i gritted my teeth and nervously entered. Straight away the landlord said "a coke Alan" and with some shaking i managed it.

The second time i went into the pub we met a person who told us his mum had just died and he was suffering anxiety. Well i just burst into tears and left immediately. That put me back a bit and i couldn't wait for the next therapy session.

A few weeks later and the tablets were controlling my emotions better i decided to go for a walk in Moses Gate Country Park, a place that i had never been before. When we got there i found that i had left the map at home and was so annoyed with myself i let it spoil the day. Usually this wouldn't have bothered me, an email to the therapist calmed me down.

Everyones anxiety is different and so i can only explain my experience. Anxiety is like waking up in a pitch black dark tunnel which is sloping upwards. I woke up somewhere near the bottom of the tunnel the route out is upwards but there are many obstacles to get out. I couldn't see the obstacles but the therapist and Sheila helped me overcome them. You cannot get through the obstacles alone because they don't make sense, you need help.
If you try and do this alone, it becomes easier to slip out at the bottom of the tunnel and that's where you find the horror. The motorway bridge, the river, the cliff, your worst nightmare. The trouble is you don't know you are actually there or why.

Right now as I write this i am not quite out of the tunnel but i can now see the hurdles i have to overcome. Its still not easy and i still need a lot of help. My therapy sessions are over but i can contact the therapist at any time. Sheila and I are going to Greece very soon and 3 months ago i couldn't see us going.

Hiking is a no no at the moment, i'm not allowed to plan anything that i might fail at. I had to stop reading blogs because of the frustration they caused. Backpacking is something i might never get to do again, i will just have to wait and see how i progress. 
Hopefully the change of scenery in Greece will assist me to get better.

Thanks to everyone who has been supportive of me at this time. You know who you are.
Without Sheila and the therapist i dread to think where i would be. But i am making good progress.

Never stop believing, never give up hope, this is only temporary.
Thanks for reading.


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