Trigger warning – this post covers my personal experience of anxiety and panic attacks. This is one of the most challenging posts I have ever had to write and publish. However, if it helps even just one person, then I’ve done what I set out to do.
Right, here goes…I am absolutely terrified of death and the end of time. I struggle to wrap my head around the fact that you can be here one moment, then suddenly you’re gone. Do you know that you’ve died? Where do you go? Is there a heaven and hell? Do we get reincarnated? If so, how many times? Is there an end to time? If not, how long does time go on for? What happens at the end of time? Do we know that it has happened?
Now, I understand that no one wants to die, and probably everyone is a bit scared of death. However, this fear has consumed me and completely taken over my life. Thankfully I’m in a much better place right now that I can talk and write about it.
But even so, I can still feel my heart rate increasing and my stomach starting to turn.
Where it all started
Let me take you back to when it all started. It was 1999; I was 10, just about to turn 11. I can’t really remember exactly how I found out or when but I know that I found out by accident that my Nan was ill. She had breast cancer.
I have tried asking my mum about this recently, but unfortunately, her memory is just as good as mine. We can’t remember if anyone talked to me about the fact she was ill after I found out about my nan.
I’m sure that they would have done, but I know that no one explained to me that there was a chance that my Nan would die. Obviously, they were hoping that she would get better.
I made so many get well soon cards and expected her to come out of the hospital all better because that’s what happened when you went to the hospital. You go in ill or hurt, and the doctors work their magic, and you come out, all cured. All better.
But the magic didn’t work on my beautiful Nan, and she died.
I can remember drawing a picture of my Nan as an angel and looking at the stars at night, picking out the brightest one and deciding that she was that one.
Shortly after that, I started to question the afterlife and heaven and hell. I would be lying in my bed, just drifting off, and suddenly, I was gripped by this awful fear. What happens when we die? If we do go to heaven, how long for? Forever? My heart was racing, I had sweaty palms, and I remember just jumping out of bed and walking quickly, just anywhere, trying to distract myself from that terrible thought. Looking back, I wonder if I had just experienced my first panic attack?
I would experience these thoughts in cycles. I’d have a few months where I didn’t think about it; then, there would be a few nights where the fear would take over me. Then a few months of nothing again.
How my anxiety progressed
This carried on for a few years, and I learned to live with it. I didn’t like it, but it only happened for a few days every couple of months.
However, shortly after being diagnosed with depression, it really kicked up. Whereas before, I would have a few months of peace, I was having these thoughts every night. And it wasn’t just when I went to bed; it could come on at any time – watching TV with Daz, having a bath or shower, reading a book, washing up, driving, cooking dinner. Anywhere where my mind had a chance to wander, it would.
So, I started drinking every night to block it out. Not getting drunk, but just tipsy enough to chill me out. And it worked for a while, but I found that I needed to drink more to have the same effect, and the thoughts were attacking me earlier in the evening.
When I would feel these thoughts coming on, I would start talking loudly, singing, dancing, moving quickly from one room to the other, just anything to distract me from the panic attack.
I would cry on the way home from work, dreading going home because that’s where these thoughts would take over. I would wake up in the morning and hope that I would have a depression day rather than an anxiety day because I just couldn’t handle another night of constantly fighting against my own mind.
Living life like this was exhausting.
Eventually, drinking was no longer working, and obviously, Daz had noticed that something was wrong. It was difficult to articulate what was going on in my head, especially as I’d spent so long trying to block it out. I had never told anyone about my fear before, but I finally opened up to my husband.
Facing up to my problem
Daz encouraged me to go to the doctors, and I was given different antidepressants that work well for anxiety. I was also prescribed diazepam and handed a leaflet for iTalk, a free service for people with depression, anxiety and stress. I was glad that I was finally getting this sorted, but I also felt angry and sad. Nobody wants to have a mental illness. I wanted just to be happy and carefree.
I wanted to be ‘normal’.
Unfortunately, the waiting time for iTalk at this time was several weeks, and I couldn’t wait that long, so I went on the hunt for a private therapist.
Now, my sense of direction is terrible, so the night before I was due my first therapy session, me and Daz went out to find the therapist’s office. I remember that once we found it, I had a breakdown. I burst into uncontrollable tears. Why was this happening to me? I must be so weak. Some people go through some terrible things in life, and here I am, struggling with thoughts of death. I felt pathetic, weak, worn out, helpless, and hopeless at that moment. I honestly thought I would have to live like this for the rest of my life.
I knew that I had to make changes in my life if I wanted to get better. Me and Daz were going to Slimming World and started to lose weight. I completely stopped drinking alcohol and started having earlier nights. I was having weekly therapy sessions and would do yoga and meditation daily. Even now, I find that if I have a lot of late nights or a few nights of drinking, my anxiety will start to play up again.
My recovery was slow but steady. You have to work at it constantly. I would update Daz daily with how I was feeling. If I started to feel anxious or depressed, I would tell him so that we could do something about it.
I remember when my therapist said that I would only need a couple more sessions. I didn’t feel ready for them to end! But looking back at how far I had come and where I was now compared to when I had started with her, I was ready.
I did feel a bit lost once the sessions were over, but I tried to make sure that I carried on doing all my ‘recovery’ things.
Comming of my antidepressants
About eight months after I finished my therapy, I felt ready to wean myself off my tablets. I went to the doctors and explained that that’s what I wanted to do, and they told me how to do it correctly. Once I came off of them, I kept expecting to feel waves of emotions or for all of the bad feelings and anxiety to come back. But nothing like that happened. I did notice that I did start to cry at sad films again, but that was it, really.
I obviously did still have off days, but as I said before, I never worried that I was going backwards. This was all part of the recovery process and having some off days really made me appreciate the good days and how hard I had worked for them.
It’s only from writing all this and re-living it that I really realise what I went through. Life with depression and anxiety is fucking hard! I was just so lucky that I had my amazing husband, my mum, dad and sister to help me through it.
For anyone currently suffering from a mental health issue
I just want to finish this one off by saying if anyone is going through anything at the moment that they are struggling with, please feel free to send me a message. My door is always open. I don’t care if we haven’t spoken since school or if we had a conversation last week and you said that everything is hunky-dory. If you don’t feel like you can, then please just speak to someone. Even if they don’t have the answers, just getting it off your chest really helps. No one deserves to suffer in silence. If you want to, you can self refer to iTalk.
I also want to include this for my Nan – Please check your breasts. It only takes a few minutes. The NHS obviously has the most up to date advice on how to check your breasts. There is also an excellent page on Instagram called Coppafeelpeople, which encourages you to check your breasts regularly. They are definitely worth a follow.