It was three years ago I had my first panic attack. “I don’t know what’s wrong but I feel really funny, I can’t breathe properly and I feel like something bad is going to happen,” I said to my partner at the time. Eventually he took me to the hospital but we left before I was seen because I started to feel better.
Over the next few weeks I had a few more episodes. I didn’t tell my ex because it was too hard to articulate what was going on. I didn’t want to sound crazy!
Fast forward a few months and they stopped. I often felt anxious, but the attacks appeared to be behind me. I started to isolate myself. I didn’t want to go anywhere in case it happened again so I became good at making excuses to stay home. My lack of enthusiasm must have become noticeable because one day my ex tried to ask casually if ‘maybe I was a bit depressed’. I told him I was just tired, it had become one of my popular excuses.
After falling down the rabbit hole that is the internet one day I ended up reading about the symptoms of a panic attack. Now I knew what those weird episodes were, but I decided it didn’t matter because all of that was behind me. I had no trouble telling myself I was staying home to save money, not because I was slowly becoming depressed. It was easy to pretend nothing was wrong, to not allow myself to even think it.
It stopped being easy when my boyfriend broke up with me out of nowhere.
I was living alone all of a sudden in a suburb far from my family and friends. I couldn’t sleep for more than a couple of hours a night. I panicked constantly. I went from someone who rarely cried to feeling like I would never be able to stop. I was suffering from much more than a broken heart, I just didn’t know it at the time.
My dad came to stay with me. He was worried, which worried me. Some nights I was so anxious I couldn’t sit still more than a few minutes. I tried to go to work. When he picked me up from the train station I would burst into tears. The worst part was not being able to explain what I was feeling, I could find no words to convey what it was like to exist within a fog that never lifts.
After a couple of weeks I told Dad I’d made an appointment with my doctor. I told my sister, who is a mental health worker, and she agreed it was the right step.
When the doctor asked me what was wrong I didn’t say a word, I just let the tears roll down my face. Eventually we got chatting. I didn’t explain myself well. She did a mental health assessment and referred me for some free sessions with a psychologist.
Just a few days later and I was back again. The anxiety was so bad I could barely function.
My doctor had said medication was not the first option and I agreed. It was not a path I wanted to do down, but I needed something so she prescribed Valium. I was to take it at the onset of a panic attack. I only used it twice. Valium was not for me. I felt drunk and couldn’t function. I gave them to my dad because they scared me.
I spoke with my sister at length about how I was feeling. I was stuck in a cycle of being depressed because anxiety wouldn’t let me function, then becoming more anxious about how bad it would get. Would I stop being able to function at all? Would I be like this forever? Would I be able to live like this? Would I want to? It was a cruel paradox.
She told me she thought it was time I spoke to my doctor about taking antidepressants. This turned out to be one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. I started taking them and continued seeing a psychologist. Within a couple of weeks I felt the cloud lift. I could function. Life stopped being about getting through the next few hours, but rather the next few days.
The next hurdle was telling people. I told a few friends. Not many. Two years later there are only a handful who know any significant part of this story. Some of that is because not everyone needs to know, it’s not a great conversation starter, but mostly that I avoid talking about it.
When someone tells me about their mental health struggles, or mentions taking antidepressants, I never share my story. I avoid speaking to my friends about it. Some of it is because I just don’t always have the energy to explain myself. The rest is because I’m not sure many people know how to have those conversations.
I don’t want to be like that anymore. I feel fake and hypocritical. I consider myself an advocate for sharing stories about mental illness and think we should discuss our mental health more.
So here we are. I’ve dropped the veil. It’s done. It’s time I shared my story too.
Do you have a story you need to share? Do you ever feel like you can’t talk to those you love?