Adventures in Psychiatry : My first panic attack


So. You've been struggling with depression and anxiety for way too long and you finally end up sat opposite your GP. This may be because you experienced your first panic attack and thought there was something very wrong with you, or a friend or family member encouraged you to finally seek some help. Either way, this will be hard. Saying "please, help me" or words to that effect doesn't come easily to a lot of us. But this appointment doesn't have to be the nightmare you've probably built it up to be and I hope this series will help you get the most out of your doctors and the time you have together.

*** TRIGGER WARNING *** 
This is my story and it may be pretty intense for some; so please make sure you're 100% safe.

At the age of 18, I experienced my very first panic attack while leaving my house to start my second week at my new job, which I was elated to have gotten and loved. It was everything I could have hoped for after my 2 years of very hard work in retail. Aside from having financial duties dropped on me, everything was going great. I believe that the stress and fear that came from the mathematical side of my job was the final straw. I am so terrible at maths and I was so scared of getting it wrong and looking stupid, after impressing my seniors so much during the interviews.

So on that Monday morning, at about 7am as I got to the bottom of the stairs to unlock the front door and catch the train to Brighton; the most incredible, overwhelming, suffocating feeling of absolute terror hit me. That initial surge of adrenaline had gotten into my bloodstream. I couldn't breathe. I could hear and feel my heart racing. My muscles were shaking uncontrollably. I was suddenly dripping with sweat and couldn't stand up. The shaking got worse. I thought I was either having a seizure or a heart attack and going to die within minutes. I entered fully fledged, out of control, panic and hyperventilated so severely I fainted.

I cannot describe the level of fear I felt during that attack. I was a slave to my body and had absolutely no idea what was happening to me or why, and it was those thoughts that made the attack that much more intense. Once I came around, I instantly started crying hysterically and pulled myself back upstairs and went back to bed... "What the hell just happened to me?" was all it took and I had another attack.

That first day, I had a grand total of 11 panic attacks which basically hit me whenever I woke up after enduring 2 or 3 in a row.

For that week, I didn't leave my room - which, by the way, was only 6ft by 7ft. I didn't open the curtains. I didn't answer the phone to my boss. I couldn't talk. Aside from the post-panic 'naps', I wasn't sleeping. I wasn't eating. I was self-harming. I stopped functioning.

That initial panic attack changed everything about me. I became the exact opposite. But I had no idea what a panic attack was or anything about mental health except from a little bit about depression from seeing both my parents struggle with it.

It really was that fast.

I had a good relationship with my GP surgery and remembered them being very nice to me when I was recovering from a whiplash injury and struggling with the pain. I genuinely thought there was something wrong with my heart so I forced myself to pick up the phone the following Tuesday and got an appointment for that afternoon.

Looking back, I dread to think how ill I looked. I did manage to finally do basic hygiene tasks but it really was the bare minimum. I had no idea where to start or what to say, so I think I opened with "I think there's something really wrong with my heart.." and he guided me through what my symptoms were, checking along the way that I wasn't in drug or alcohol withdrawal. I trembled and stammered my way through our appointment. He didn't rush me and I felt like he actually cared. He checked my blood pressure, got out his stethoscope and had a good listen, checked the cuts and bruises on my arms...

His conclusion? Panic attacks. I got a prescription for diazepam and instructions to see him next Monday "as a matter of urgency..." and he was making a referral to the mental health team. Those words really stuck in my head.

'Urgency? Mental health? Maybe I am going crazy after all....'

I don't really remember much else in any sort of detail. My mum tells me that I became a zombie. I am very sensitive to any sort of medication and the diazepam hit me hard. Another reason I don't remember anything is because my mental health continued to decline at a rapid pace, and the introduction of the anti-depressant 'escitalopram' - plus my abusive boyfriend proposing to me - sent me over the edge.

I overdosed.

Not knowing anything about medicine, I fully expected it to put me to sleep and I'd just slip away. Nope. A few years later I would learn from another doctor that it takes 'a pretty good effort' to successfully complete suicide using SSRIs and diazepam alone.

I was taken to hospital by ambulance and given activated charcoal to drink once I'd woken up. Apparently I found having a black tongue hilarious... I was seen by the on-duty psychiatric nurse and given an appointment to see him back at the hospital in 2 days time once I'd had a day to sleep the rest of the drugs off and settle down a bit.

I have a feeling those 2 days were filled with arguments.... but anyway!

I turned up for my appointment, very reluctantly. My mum and boyfriend came with me. She cried as I was led into what looked like the biggest room in the entire hospital. There were 5 other people there waiting for me. A psychiatrist, a social worker, 2 psychiatric nurses and a student. I completely freaked out and they got a pretty good example of what my panic attacks are like.

All I can remember is them being so nice to me, and the nurse asking what would help me calm down. Of course I had no idea so he suggested some of the staff members leaving, which worked well. I do remember apologising profusely!!

My referral to the mental health team was torpedoed up the list and I was to be seen immediately. This was first over a series of appointments at the hospital with the nurse I was now somewhat familiar with. I wish I had kept the copies, because I honestly cannot remember what happened. It was a long time ago now....

In fact. I believe my first attack was around about April-May of 2006.

Wow.

So that's the story of my first panic attack and how I ended up in mental health services.

If you have any questions, please ask. You won't offend me. Promise!!
Samantha Nicholls. Powered by Blogger.

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