Behind closed doors: peeling off the label

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It starts with a prickling on the back of my neck that progresses to hot and cold waves coming over my body and I feel physically sick. I’m breathing too fast and my heart races. My head feels fuzzy and there’s a numb pins and needles sensation in my hands and feet. That is followed by a weird wave of pain across the top of my mouth, between my back teeth, that is jaw clenching awful and a need to DO something, anything,everything. There’s a weird rising feeling in my chest and that’s when the hysteria starts…


In just seconds I have succumbed to a panic attack. The description above is just the latest version I’ve been suffering with but so far it is the most terrifying. Sometimes I am convinced I am about to die. One in three people will suffer with Anxiety, depression or both at some point in their lives. I’ve been living with both for just over ten years now. I’m only twenty five. That means I have been having panic attacks on and off since I was fourteen years old. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. When I was a teenager it took the form of fainting in high stress situations. Then it progressed to hyperventilation. The described attack above is what I go through now.


I’ve hidden this problem for so long and from so many people that I think it’s about time I told the truth about how my life has been for the last year. The last decade really. I don’t want sympathy or attention. I don’t want to be wrapped in cotton wool. I haven’t ever been wrapped in cotton wool in my entire life so there’s no point tip toeing around me now. What I would like is for people to read this, for the people I know and love to read this, and gain a little bit of insight. It won’t explain away every idiosyncrasy or every mood swing I have, but it might suggest to you why I behave oddly sometimes. It might suggest to you why a friend, colleague or other person in your life seems to have odd moments. It might guide you on adding those extra few words to the end of a sentence to stop it sounding threatening or rude or inconsiderate and instead help the people you suspect are anxious to understand your intentions better.

Anxiety and panic attacks can be utterly debilitating. Fighting anxiety is about fighting a daily battle against your every instinct telling you that something is wrong, you are in danger, you need to be safe and that battle is long and exhausting. Sometimes I just want it to be acknowledged, to receive a kind word and a reassurance that I’m not crazy, just ill. Sometimes I just want it to be noted that I’m feeling a bit off that particular day and if I don’t laugh at every stupid joke you tell, it’s not personal. I probably just can’t concentrate. And I also want the good stuff acknowledged. The baby steps to recovery that don’t look big to you are huge to me.


The last year for me has been the toughest so far. There were lots of short term triggers to my anxiety. We moved house last April, which turned out to be far more stressful than either of us thought, my working hours changed from part time to full time, I suffered a series of short lived illnesses in a quick succession alongside a health diagnosis that might change our future plans and there were a series of unfortunate conflict situations at work and in my personal life. I was stressed beyond measure and starting to feel depressed about it.


One June morning when I was due to go to work a panic attack started. I had been shouted at by a rude customer a few days previously and it triggered a delayed fight or flight reaction in me. I woke up lying face down and couldn’t catch my breath. The thought of going out of the house and facing the public in my job left me utterly terrified. What if someone shouted at me again? I quickly became hysterical and called my husband. He dropped all his work and came home to take me to our doctor(I’m lucky enough to see a wonderful GP who specialises in Mental Health treatment) The only problem was, I wouldn’t, couldn’t, leave the house. What if someone shouted at me in the street/the doctor’s surgery/chemist? What if the Doctor thought I was being ridiculous? What if that wasn’t a problem at all but in fact we crashed somewhere along the 1 ½ mile route to the doctor surgery and we both died? What if, what if, what if…


They gave me diazepam that day which knocked me out for six hours straight. My husband tucked me up in the armchair in our study whilst he continued working. Time passed in fits and bursts. I took the tablet at 10am. Next time I saw the clock it was 12.15pm. Then it was 1pm. Then it was 2.55pm. Then it was 3.02pm. Sometimes it felt like I had merely blinked, other times it felt like I’d been asleep for days. It didn’t stop the negative thoughts, it just calmed me enough to knock me out and stop the hysteria. I eventually woke up around 3.45pm and was finally coherent enough to apologise for making a nuisance of myself. I felt confident it was a one off, despite it being the worst panic attack I could ever remember having.


I was incredibly wrong and over the next few weeks the situation got worse. I was having panic attacks every other day, I couldn’t cope at work and I was exhausted. I had a week of holiday booked in July and I was able to enjoy that time with a little bit of help from my husband and friends. It was enough to relax me into plucking up the courage to organise some counselling therapy through my work. Despite that, it got a lot worse before it got better. My panic attacks have interrupted my whole life over the last twelve months.


I had a panic attack at my mother in law’s 50th birthday party. My odd behaviour has to this day gone unexplained to our family and friends. My husband thinks no one noticed, I think people thought I was being weird, stand offish and too quiet.


I went to an outdoor cinema evening with girlfriends and ended up having the worst panic attack you could possibly imagine. I couldn’t cope with not knowing what time I would be going home, dislike of being in a huge crowd of people and worrying I wasn’t able to get out if I needed to. Not only did I end up missing the whole film, but my lovely friend, who took excellent care of me, missed the first half as well. Yet as soon as my husband came to get me from the outdoor cinema, I was fine. As if the panic attack had never happened. I went home and kicked myself for ruining a night out.


We booked an exotic holiday that we never went on because I reached breaking point four days before hand and was sent home from work hysterical and unable to cope. I was exhausted;irrational and unstable. Four days of crying, hyperventilating and barely sleeping left us both exhausted and me in desperate need of urgent care. In a last ditch attempt to gain some peace we made it to the airport check in before turning around and coming home again because I couldn’t cope with the thought of being on a plane for six hours. What ifs floated around inside my head and I was overtaken by the need to be away from the airport. We wasted £2000 and ended up spending a week at my mum’s house instead, trying to work out if I needed to be hospitalised.


We adopted a beautiful little cat and I spent the first two weeks of her stay at our house panicking constantly, willing her to run away so that I didn’t have to share my safe space with another creature and worry that I wasn’t doing the best for her. I thought we were making a massive mistake in taking on a cat, despite the fact I had been asking for a cat for nearly a year. I just overwhelmingly felt we were doing the wrong thing and that the little cat was going to be in some way worse off for living with us. My husband went so far as organising another home for her to move into in case my panic attack didn’t stop. It was a week before I could cope with her sitting on my knee.


I ruined my own birthday party by panicking about being in close proximity to twenty of my nearest and dearest friends. I didn’t like the idea of having people in my house and not being able to get away from them if I needed to. The party was cancelled and my two closest friends watched Doctor Who with me instead.


I spent the first half of a Royal Shakespeare play sitting at the back of the theatre near the door, whilst my friends sat in the front row, in case I had a panic attack and couldn’t get out. Another time we saw a comedian live on stage but had to ask to be moved from our seats in the middle of the auditorium to the front, near the doors, so that I could get out if I needed to.


I walked out of work at least once a week, sometimes two or three times. I often turned up to work shaking and crying, unable to catch my breath. I couldn’t cope with people being anything other than straight laced polite to me. I struggled to tell people about our various policies, struggled to do my sales pitch, struggled all the time with the knowledge that at any moment the man who shouted at me could walk through the door again.


I became paranoid about going down the stairs in my own house in case our neighbour knocked on the door to talk about the bad parking arrangements. I couldn’t eat and lost over a stone in weight because I was terrified that if I ate anything at all I wouldbe sick. I couldn’t sleep unless I had triple checked every door and window was shut and locked and watched my husband do the same again. I developed a compulsive scratching habit when feeling particularly stressed and scratched my right hand raw with worry. When I was stopped from scratching I would count to three over and over again to keep myself ‘safe’. I couldn’t drive any long distance in case there was an accident and I certainly couldn’t and wouldn’t walk anywhere by myself because it wasn’t safe. My husband had to be with me all the time when we went out and the only way I could get to work was with the knowledge that my manager or colleagues would be at the other end waiting for me.


At my worst I wanted to take an overdose to escape the constant, exhausting fear.


And it hasn’t just affected me. It has been tough on my husband, whom I think is a bit traumatised by everything that has happened. He no longer wants to book holidays in case it makes me ill. He wants to put off having kids until he knows I won’tbecome ill because of it. My recovery is moving painfully slowly for him. My mum and parents in law have got used to frantic phone calls from him, asking for help to calm me at my worst moments, trying to let out his own worry and anxiety, trying to just be normal for ten minutes. His manager has been more than understanding, allowing him to drop work at a moment’s notice to be with me. His friends have allowed me to eat into their socialising so that I’ve never been alone for one moment if I didn’t want to be. Our parents constantly worry that I’m struggling, always ask how I’m coping with any change in case I slip in to a panic attack. My colleagues and friends are always aware that tears and panic could start at a moment’snotice. My best friends constantly want to know how I am doing that day. Even the cat seems to worry about me, never leaving my side on a tough day.


It’s been a hell of a year. In fact it’s been a year of hell. Living every day in a climate of anxiety and terror, when there is no real reason to feel that way, is exhausting. There are very real and very far reaching triggers to my anxiety, deep rooted in my childhood, but the anxiety and the related depression and obsessive compulsive disorder is something I live with now, every day.


Despite all of that, I am finally making some progress. It’s been nearly a year now since my original break down. I still have really tough days, but I am making baby steps, one at a time. Sometimes its two steps forward, one step back. I’m on a cocktail of anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication these days and I have counselling once a week to try and help me work through my issues. I’m even having a treatment I’d never heard of before called EMDR, something that is supposed to help me reprocess difficult memories to lessen the triggers for my anxiety. I think its working.


I haven’t had a real panic attack since my birthday five months ago. Despite the panic I felt at the time, I made it through the Shakespeare play, and through the live comedy show. I made it through Christmas without panicking, even though the thought of facing so many people terrified me. I’ve finally made it through a working month without having to walk out of the office to cry in a corner. I go for short walks alone. I even managed to drive myself to and from my Grandmother’s house an hour and a half away, with an overnight stay in between. I am finally able to socialise with my friends again without my husband being present and I am blessed to share my house with a funny and beautiful little cat, who I want to live with me forever.


In my last counselling session we talked about this blog post at length, about how I label myself with MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM or ABNORMAL or CRAZY to protect myself and explain myself to people. Well now i’m starting to peel off those labels by writing this post, sharing the difficult situations I’ve lived and fought through in the last twelve months. If even just one person reads this and gains a bit of insight into anxiety I’llbe happy. If that person pays it forward, with a kind word to another anxiety sufferer or someone trying to support an anxiety sufferer, all the better. It’s about the baby steps to recovery, to win the battle.  I’m not crazy. I’m not a mental health problem. I’m a normal person, some tough stuff happened to me in the past and now I’m dealing with it.


I’m trying two challenges at the moment. The first was passed to me by a friend, and that was to get a cat and emulate their behaviour. I don’t lick my arms on a daily basis but I do potter around when the cat is, rest when the cat does and make sure I do something for me every day. This leads to the second bit. I’m trying the #100happydays challenge at the moment. It is making me think more positively; find time for myself, making new positive habits to fight the old negative ones. I’m using the challenges to aid my recovery, to remind me that life isn’t all about being that little ball of anxiety, bouncing around the room. Sometimes life is beautiful too and anxiety doesn’t have to rule me anymore. I’m getting there and I’m doing it and, you know what, I’m bloody proud of myself.

Categories: Behind Closed Doors, Health
11 interesting thoughts on this


  1. ChirstyMac
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    I am bloody BLOODY proud of you too anon. I know just how hard this is, and can appreciate exactly how far you’ve come. Great chunks of what you have written could have been written by me, especially the first paragraph. That’s it exactly.
    (my own personal anti-bucket list of stuff I’ve had to skip out on at the last minute is a litany of unused tickets – tropical holidays, festivals, the Moulin Rouge… basically almost any trip or excursion to any organised event anywhere ever).
    I could waffle on forever on this but I won’t; it’s your post. But more than happy if you ever want to get in touch; I’m sure the lovely A’s will pass on my email.
    But just to say: I know how lonely it can feel; by Christ it can feel lonely. But you aren’t ever alone. Even in the worst bits. We are here with you. Massive hugs. X

  2. Katielase
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I’ve commented on a lot of AOW posts and I’ve often used the word brave. I want you to know that you are one of the bravest people who has written here. Bravery isn’t a lack of fear, but the fact that you face your fear every day. It’s like living a life where you’re constantly on the run from a tiger, fight or flight gone extreme. You’re so brave, you’re so strong.

    I’ve had panic attacks ever since I can remember, from at least age 6, so I know a little of how you’ve felt, but not all. I’m in awe of you, honestly. You’ve kept going so well, even if you don’t feel like that’s always been true. You’re amazing.

    Well done for writing this, it’s an important thing to do, to try and help other people understand. Hugest hugs.

    KL x

  3. deltafoxtrotcharlie
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    massive massive hugs

  4. Amy
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Anon – this is a really eloquent piece of writing which just goes to demonstrate how well you’re doing – I very much doubt you could have written it a year ago (I know I couldn’t have expressed myself that well before I’d begun to figure out my problems!) The one thing that really helped me personally was my therapist explaining how the various different conditions (for me, like you, PTSD, GAD & OCD) feed off each other and create a cycle and then mapping out my different thought patterns against it – identifying this has really helped me to intervene and stop my thoughts spiralling out of control. Sadly you can’t just delete your triggers from the world but there are ways of stopping them controlling you (the EMDR sounds fascinating – I’d be really interested to read more about this).
    Like Christy, I’m happy for you to email if you want to discuss anything. You’ve got all the AOWers behind you!

    • Anon
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Hiya, thank you for your lovely comment. EMDR is a process in therapy that is designed to start reprogramming difficult memories to lessen the triggers of PTSD and anxiety. It has really started to I was a bit dubious at first but basically my counsellor asks me to think of a distressing memory and she moves her hand in a controlled way so that I follow it with my eyes. I let my mind run free and it is amazing some.of the connections I have made in just a few sessions. If you are interested you can google it and lots of information will come up.


  5. Posted May 7, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this and for allowing us to have a glimpse into the world of anxiety. I really hope that your baby steps turn into leaps and bounds.

  6. Fee
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    To echo KL, this is so so brave. I think you are amazing for confronting things head on rather than letting them ruin your life. Wishing you so much luck with your continued recovery xxx

  7. Caroline
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to repeat what everyone else has said – this is an incredibly brave, eloquent and thought provoking post, I have enormous respect for you and for your husband and family. Also, just to say – if your aims were to help people understnad anxiety, panic attacks and associated issues more, yuo have definitely achieved those – I really do feel like I have a much better understanding of what you and others go through, so thank you xx

  8. Another Sarah
    Posted May 8, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    A very brave post. Thank you for sharing your story.

  9. Anon
    Posted May 8, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Thank you for all the lovely comments. I certainly don’t feel very brave, but thank you for saying it. It was very cathartic writing this post and I am very glad it has shown a small number of people what anxiety can be like. I have been very ill again recently and seeing this posted also serves to remind me of what I have achieved in the last year, even if at times it feels like I am back at square one.

    Next week, the 12-18th of may, is mental health awareness week and the focus for this year is anxiety. If you can think of anyone who might benefit from seeing this post, please share it. Depression is an important issue but anxiety often gets left behind, and for those of us who are really suffering it helps if people understand

    Thank you again. I’m proud to know of this place and thankful it has provided me a safe space to talk about this.


  10. Posted May 8, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink


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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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