Living with anxiety and experiencing panic attacks - Becki's story
Becki is 26 years old and works with us here at Rethink Mental Illness. In this blog, she talks through her experience of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), what she does to manage her condition and the importance of talking openly about mental health.
I was first diagnosed with GAD when I was 18. I suspected I had some problems with my mental health as I used to get stressed very easily at school and would feel physically sick on exam days. I am also sensitive to loud noises and struggle to be in crowded spaces for long periods of time.
When I was diagnosed, I was in my first year of university, which proved to be a very challenging time for me. I was learning to adjust to adult life, which was harder than I expected especially being 100 miles away from home. I was also trying to keep on top of my university assignments and complete 30+ applications I was filling out, to obtain a work placement as part of my degree. Later in therapy, a psychiatrist challenged me on my desire to be the perfect student and the detrimental effect that was having on my mental health.
Around Christmas 2014, I experienced what I now consider to be a minor breakdown. Thankfully, my parents witnessed the incident and encouraged me to speak to a doctor about the stress I was under. I am so grateful that my parents have been a core part of my support network of friends and family. It’s been educational for them too as I was the first person in my family to receive an official anxiety diagnosis.
At one stage, I had on average one or two panic attacks a week, sometimes on my own in public places, as well as bouts of insomnia that lasted weeks at a time. I remember emailing my lecturer to excuse myself from a lecture that was happening one day because I had had a panic attack that morning. Their response indicated that they didn’t regard a panic attack as a good enough reason for absence – I imagine they didn’t understand how physically tiring and emotionally draining a panic attack can be. Thankfully I reported the incident and received an apology on behalf of the university.
They didn’t regard a panic attack as a good enough reason for absence – I imagine they didn’t understand how physically tiring and emotionally draining a panic attack can be
A year later, I was encouraged by my GP to try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), provided by the NHS. This was incredibly helpful as I learnt how to recognise when my negative thoughts were unjustified and was taught how to react differently when they arose. I still use these techniques from time to time whenever I feel anxious and I believe this helped me to have fewer panic attacks over time. I have also felt comforted by breathing exercises and prayer, which made me feel calm and helped me to put things into perspective.
Eventually, upon my doctor’s advice and gentle encouragement from my housemate (now husband!), I agreed to start taking an anti-depressant which helped with my serotonin levels. I now understand that my brain naturally wasn’t producing enough serotonin (a mood enhancing chemical produced in the brain) so the anti-depressant was helping to provide me with the right amount I needed on a daily basis. At first, it took a while for my mood to improve but this is a common side effect of this medication and I have benefited from it ever since.
Nowadays, I try to openly talk about anxiety, in the hope of being able to help others who have had similar symptoms to me and in effect reduce stigma around mental illness. I have seen first-hand how our society in general has become more understanding and compassionate; though much progress is still yet to be made for people living with mental illness/mental health problems to feel truly accepted. But that’s why I’m proud to work for Rethink Mental Illness because we advocate on behalf of people living with severe mental illness and provide them with the help and support they need on an ongoing basis.
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