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Shutterstock/Maksim Kabakou

Panic attacks 'The walls seemed to close in and I didn't know what was happening'

I was petrified on a daily basis. I didn’t want to go into town or go to a shop, writes Val Robus.

2017 TOOK ME on a journey I never expected to go on. I never thought I had a problem with getting older but suddenly my youngest had flown the nest and I found myself wondering what was next for me.

We’d recently moved house and everything was upside down. I couldn’t see a time when things would be back to normal – whatever normal is.

The walls seemed to close in

I found myself enjoying a meal with friends one minute and feeling like I was going to die the next. The walls seemed to close in and everything got magnified. Faces seemed to loom over me and the sounds were deafening.

I didn’t know what was happening to me and I was very frightened. Thankfully I managed to leave and felt somewhat safe once I got back to my car.

What I now know as panic attacks would creep up unawares. I was petrified on a daily basis, I didn’t want to go into town or go to a shop. I’d have a constant pain in my chest and tense shoulders. My heart would start pounding, I start sweating and shaking before I knew it I was a sobbing wreck. I even had a panic attack in a mindfulness class.

Asking for help

It took courage to go to the doctor and ask for help. Even though I had the support of my wonderful family I felt very alone. I was put on a medication, the panic subsided but something else kicked in – depression.

I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression since the beginning of 2017. The anxiety was always there but kept well hidden. The depression, well that was something that arrived out of the blue.

I’m happy to say, yes I am happy, that I feel like I’m coming back to myself. I will never be the person I was again because I’m much more understanding of mental health issues. I realise that most people have their own battles to fight and their own demons to face. It’s a tough place to be in but I hope now to be more compassionate and if I can offer help, even if it’s only virtual help I’m happy to do what I can.

Talk therapy

Talking to different people has given me the most help. Everyone who has experienced this has their own words of wisdom. This week someone said to me: “It’s not the situation that matters it’s how you deal with it.” That’s so true.

Another person said that a lot of us are trying to conform to living the life that is expected of us – and wow does that make a lot of sense.

I was having a bad day when a man walked by and said: “There are no heroes in this movie.” It was said just at the right time and gave me the courage to continue on even though my heart was pounding so much I felt like it was going to jump out of my chest and run out of the door.

Isn’t it funny how life works out like that? New people come along and you just click with them. You hear parts of their life and you could almost have said the same thing yourself.

A long way to go

I know I still have a long way to go. This was fairly obvious to me the other night when I was waiting for people to arrive and I started to get quite anxious. I hovered in a corridor and almost left.

My counsellor had told me to try to relax if I felt like that and wait five more minutes. I did and I managed to calm down. That’s huge progress for me.

I’ve managed to say no a couple of times when people have asked me to do things that I don’t want to do. I’ve also managed to say yes to things that I really wanted to do and I’ve thrown myself into them wholeheartedly.

There are still a few things I’d like to change about myself. I talk way too much, I really should come with a health warning. I need to learn to close my mouth and just listen. I also need to learn to trust people, not everyone obviously, but I know I have built a wall in front of me and it’s very difficult for people to get in. Some people might think I’m stuck up, I’m not I’m just minding myself. Hopefully this will change in time.

A rollercoaster

It’s been a hell of a rollercoaster ride and there were times when I just wanted it to stop but it’s very much a learning curve. During my life I’ve realised it’s the experiences that you live through that make you the person you are today.

None of us know what is ahead of us so we can just think about what is happening now and try to deal with it as best as we can.

Depression isn’t prejudiced, it can attack anyone at any time, if you do speak out, you’ll find that there are so many people out there in the same situation but were just too frightened to say it. The mental health stigma will never end if people don’t talk about it.

Just this week I read an article about depression, every person had their head in their hands, that’s just wrong. Most of the time we hide behind a mask and wear a smile, it hides the pain that’s going on inside us.

Val Robus is a Sligo based photographer and blogger

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