This post has been sitting patiently in my drafts for some time, I'm not sure on how much I want to share with the big wide world - but more recently, the taboo of mental health is finally becoming more understood; and with that in mind I thought I would share my story.
The first time I had a panic attack I was on platform four at East Croydon station. I was struggling to breathe, my mind was racing and I had tears floating down my face. I had no idea what was happening to my body. A couple of days previous I had been to the doctors with with a chest injury (that unbeknown to me and the covering GP was actually result of of a bruised muscle wall from the gym), he then sent me to have an ECG in fear that I had undiagnosed heart attack. This is where the fear settled and my health anxiety begun. The intense worry seems so silly thinking back on it now, but it was on my daily commute where I was going over and over in my mind whether it could be true - I mean, why would you question your doctor? - so much so I gave myself a panic attack. Which in turn, I thought was 'another' heart attack. Naturally, my ECG results came back clear and I was told to lay off the heavy weights.
Many of you will know that this year and towards the end of last, I was struck down with a pesky virus called labyrinthitis that saw me signed off work with bedrest for months at a time. The virus affects your balance, resulting in feeling drunk, surreal and incredibly dizzy - coupled with the normal symptoms of virus or flu. My GP warned me that this virus went hand in hand with anxiety, soon this followed and I had an overwhelming fear of leaving the house. The second time the virus reared it's ugly head, it hit me harder and I was struck down with terrible exhaustion, loss of appetite and the crippling sinking feeling that I would never get better. At this time, I was taking beta blockers as I was so panicked that I was struggling to catch a breath (literally willing myself to breathe in and out), my jaw was jarring and gurning, my arms were restless and my mind was racing. I had never felt so scared or confused. My mum was so at a loss, we found ourselves sat in the kitchen with two (very handsome) paramedics in my kitchen explaining that I was having panic attacks continuously. With a shake up of my all meds, I finally started to get back on the mend - and within time, my virus left my system. The anxiety around my health did not.
Fast forward a month or so, I had just lost my grandfather after months of saying goodbye but not really knowing when he would pass, everything hit me again. Without even knowing - and tbh choosing to ignore it - I was unconsciously stressed. On the surface I was fine, at night however I was tired yet wired. My mind could not rest and I suddenly had insomnia. I was falling asleep at 5am after counting the hours go past, then waking at 7am to get ready for work, going through the motions on autopilot with my anxiety rearing it's head. I was so exhausted, yet desperately frustrated that I couldn't simply drift off. Sleeping pills did nada - my doctor even commented that not even a horse tranquilliser would put me under. This is where she put me in touch with a therapist that specialises in CBT, short for cognitive behavioural therapy.
The NHS describes CBT as a way to talk through your problems and help you deal with them in a more positive way.
'It is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. CBT aims to help you crack this cycle by breaking down overwhelming problems into smaller parts and showing you how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you feel.'
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been meeting with my therapist to break down my anxiety and determine that I am not ill anymore and the panic I feel is just short term. East Croydon still happens to my panic attack destination of choice, and sometimes I feel on edge without knowing why. I still feel dizzy and 'out of it', even though my virus has gone, my anxiety cannot determine whether I am ill, or I'm just panicking under the surface. Not only have I found it incredibly hard to do simple things like jumping on the tube without feeling like I'm trapped, my periods have been non-existent due to stress (which in turn sets off my anxiety), my skin turned greyish and my immune system took a massive battering. However, slowly but surely, I have come off the heavy duty pills I was prescribed and taking it day by day.
There is no shame in therapy. Even though I cringe a little when I tell family or colleagues that I have an appointment with my therapist and that yes, it is nerve-wracking that I'm opening my world to a complete stranger. But from that first moment I spoke to her and everything came out, bits and pieces that I did not want to share and burden my friends, family and work colleagues with - it was that recognition of 'you have had a tough time Sarah, and it's ok to be feeling like this' from this person, a stranger, that made my world align.
We spend so long pretending everything is perfect, but sometimes life is hard, and without realising, even though you think you've got what it takes to take whatever in your stride, it pulls the carpet from under your feet and leaves you exposed. And you know what? That's ok. Because you are only human and sometimes it takes time to step back and pop everything into prospective. Yes I may have a wobble here and there, but I am going to be ok.
And of course, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one simply remembers to turn on the light.