How I Overcame Anxiety


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?



  • John James

    Great post Hayley,

    The more people share these stories, the better…

    I’ve managed to shake off my anxiety over the past 18 months or so… I’ve done so by learning to identify my anxiety triggers (and avoiding them) and though a deliberate focus on the positive things in my life… I’ve never felt better…

    I’m fortunate that my anxiety was never extreme or debilitating and I’ve been able to control it without the need for medication, but not everyone can do that – that’s why it’s good that you’ve shared your story, because some people do need professional help with mental illness (just like any other illness) and medication needs to be seen as a valid choice…

    Thanks for being so open and honest about your experience… :)

    • Hayley Ashman

      Thanks JJ. I hope I can encourage at least one person to feel comfortable telling their story.

  • Tamsin Howse

    I’m really proud of you for sharing this. As so many people often say, we wouldn’t tell a diabetes sufferer that they shouldn’t be taking insulin, and we shouldn’t tell someone who suffers from mental illness that their medication is wrong to take. Every person who experiences mental illness suffers differently and requires different treatment. It’s so important to get help, and I’m so glad you did. Love you xxx

    • Hayley Ashman

      Thank you! It was hard to share but worth it xx

  • Ben Rantall

    Hey Hayles, thanks for sharing.
    You may not have known when we worked together a little ways back now, but at the time I suffered from anxiety severely.
    A couple years prior it began, nervousness when confronted by new experiences. Then it escalated to nervousness to anything unknown. It devolved to a point where I would be sick at the ring of a phone or knock at the door.
    Just leaving the house to go to uni was an ordeal.
    I saw doctors and spoke to therapists but in the end it came down to one thing… I didn’t like how my life was tracking and it’s up to me to do something about it.
    I forced myself to be more social and picked up a job in retail to emphasise this. It wasn’t easy, interacting with others and trying to keep together. Once I could handle that i applied for and was accepted into a call centre job (i still feared phone calls). My daily routine would be to wake up, attempt to keep breakfast down (and fail) then head off to work. Once there I’d drink some liquid lunch, if the day was bad that would come up also.
    Head home for dinner which was the only meal I consumed without a fuss (unless eating out).
    I know it’s a trial bit it gets easier. I’m at the point where I feel ‘normal’ now which is a huge achievement but I’m still trying to improve. I guess looking back, I’ve now grown into a somewhat confident person, moreso than the average Joe, so there’s the silver lining I guess.
    Thanks again Hayles. :-)

    • Hayley Ashman

      Ben, I’m so glad you’ve shared this and that you are feeling better. Having people like you share their story is why I write :) Thank you.

  • Sophia Russell

    Hi Hayley, Thanks for sharing your story. I too suffer from anxiety and could relate to a lot of what you said, especially finding it hard to share with people, like a dirty little secret. I managed to get help, counselling and medication (that was the real turnaround for me, realising there is no shame in medicating when needed) without telling a soul except my husband. It was then hard to tell others, so the few friends I did tell I ended up blurting it out in the most awkward way. I think I mostly feel self conscious, and also partly don’t want the attention or follow up questions, although in hindsight the few friends who know have been very sensitive about the whole thing.

    All the best with your recovery.

    • Hayley Ashman

      Thank you Sophia! It can be very isolating, can’t it? I find it helps me a lot to know that others have faced similar struggles.

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