For this year’s Time to Talk Day, I am very pleased to announce that I have a guest post written by the amazing writer and mental health advocate Eleanor Segall. Eleanor has written a wonderful, honest and very relatable post about living with panic attacks, having anxiety and how she has sought out therapy and support for these issues. I see a lot of myself in Eleanor’s writing here and just know many of you will too. She doesn’t shy away from the realities of mental illness and the troubles with getting help through therapy and support, so please do check out her work through her links at the bottom of this post.
Adrenaline pumps through your body, sending sweat pouring down your face. Your heart beats faster and your mind replays the feared event or situation in your head over and over. The only respite is to sleep, but you can’t sleep because your body is so fired up with anxiety. You feel on edge, alert, uncomfortable. You try eating or drinking something cool to calm you. Doesn’t work this time. So whatever it is in the next day that is making you anxious, you cancel the event and then the relief floods through your body. You are sad you couldn’t go through with it and don’t want to let anyone down. Later, comes the guilt. But for now, you are peaceful. Your heart rate slows down; you wash your face to get rid of the sweat. You sip water and breathe. You can sleep.
This is what happens to me when I have a night time panic attack. I can be completely fine during the day, pushing any worries about a social event, job interview, going to a party or somewhere crowded, having to give a talk – to the back of my mind. Yet when darkness falls and my head hits the pillow, I become overcome by fear and worry, which stops me from falling asleep. If I do fall asleep in this state, I often wake incredibly anxious too and unable to leave the house.
I have always had a level of anxiety but started experiencing social anxiety- the fear of other people’s judgement, shortly after I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder at the age of 16. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder where your moods can go high- manic and low- depressive. In my lesser manic episode at age 16, I was embarrassed at how hyper and disinhibited I was after. I was quite traumatised by that and after being hospitalised in 2004 for depression and psychosis, I developed social anxiety.
This fear is in the subconscious and I know it is rooted in the trauma I have been through with my mental health. Just 5 years ago, I had my most recent and serious hospital submission for a manic episode of my bipolar. This increased my anxiety levels and was hard to recover from- I spent 4 months in hospital and a further 4 months in an outpatient hospital unit. I am now on new medication for the bipolar- but the panic attacks and anxiety are still present when triggered.
I am still searching for my anxiety ‘holy grail’. I have had several courses of CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy) which aims to affect thought patterns through behaviour and challenging thoughts. For me, while this helped me process my thoughts, I haven’t yet found a therapy that can help me sit with the anxiety and wait for it to pass, as I become so panicked. For me what helps is exposure therapy with someone I love- so going out the house and doing small tasks slowly. This can be challenging when I just want to hide away. I have also found that six months of psychodynamic therapy, a form of talking therapy, to be helpful to me too.
However, I believe that despite trying things like breathing exercises and meditation, the therapy for my anxiety is still out there. I find art calming and listen to restful music but I hope one day soon to get the panic more under control. It’s really tough when my body is pumped with adrenaline and in fight or flight mode. I always want to achieve and do despite the anxiety- to hold down work, to go out more into the world and I am learning to understand that my panic attacks are connected to my self-esteem and all I have been through.
I hope that I can find a therapy that helps me process my subconscious fears and helps me to remain in control when having a panic attack. I am a work in progress, and don’t want anxiety to hold back my life. This Time to Talk Day, I know I am not alone. If you too are struggling with anxiety, please reach for help and don’t give up.
Eleanor Segall is a mental health blogger, writer and advocate, blogging at www.beurownlight.com
She can be found on Twitter @ EleanorSegall