I took part in a twitter chat last week that got on to the topic of being open and personal, and it got me thinking more about how much I’d like to do that. I look up to those who do and feel like I can trust them, so why don’t I do the same here and now? Well, that’s exactly what I’m going to do today and it’s extra special because it’s part of a campaign started by Lauren, to spread awareness of the importance of mental health.
I’d like to share with you the first time I had a panic attack, and found out what was actually happening to me. It’s going to be pretty detailed because if I were reading this and thought I may be experiencing panic attacks or general anxiety, I’d want to know the details and relate them to myself. So, you might want to grab a snack.
I was at Leeds festival in 2015 and noticed myself throughout the day worrying more than usual, what I now know as anxiety but passed off as ‘that feeling I have sometimes’ back then. I was worrying about things you’d expect, like the fact my portable charger had been stolen, but night time came around and it seemed to have passed. I felt fine, enjoying the experience and listening to The Libertines. I was sat on the grass and started noticing my eyes flickering around but didn’t think much of it until it started to make me dizzy. I didn’t really process what was going on because when you’ve never experienced something before, and don’t know whether anythings actually happening or if your eyes are just getting distracted, what can you make of it really? After this happened for what felt like around 5 minutes, it became increasingly hard for me to breathe and i actually thought it would just get harder until I stopped breathing all together and died.
I remember sitting there for hours on the grass just trying to breathe and drink water. Drinking helped me, I’m not entirely sure why but after drinking I’d be able to breathe a bit better for all of about 3 seconds. Needless to say, I had to pee a lot that night. Anyway, the stewards got round to helping me in one of the tents, but as it was late and I think he just wanted to go to bed, he asked if I was on drugs (for the record, I’ve never taken drugs) and then sent me on my way. Not everyone gets it, note taken.
Another day, another panic attack. This time I was watching Alt-J from a distance as I didn’t want to relive the previous night. Well, that didn’t work. I ended up rushing to the medical tent so desperately I left my phone behind in a field of strangers. I know I didn’t need them to diagnose what was happening, but I felt safe in there. I was spoken to by a guy who I think was called Chris. He was around my age and just had a chat with me. When he was speaking to me, I could breathe, and when he wasn’t I couldn’t. He then told me that staying in conversation helps to distract the sufferer, as does reading and focusing on small details of things. It made sense now.
He had to do all the usual checks such as my pulse. He checked my pulse with his thumb and you’d think I wouldn’t trust him after that, but in reality it made me feel less intimidated about sitting in a white tent full of medics and laughing about it helped settle the panic. At that point, I realised I was able to recover from the effects of these panic attacks by being aware that I was safe. Chris sent me on my way with breathing exercises and an order to eat sugar to balance out my levels, specifically churros. He told me some other helpful points, but I will summarise them at the end so we can move on.
After having the initial panic attack I started to notice that I was having more and more, because having a panic attack became the thing I was panicking about. It can happen in a lot of situations that when a name is put to a condition or experience, it become more prevalent in your life. However, I’m not saying I would have been better off if nobody ever told me I was having panic attacks. I’m glad I know so I can take steps to prevent or ease them, and it stops the panic escalating because I know that if I’m struggling to breathe, it’s nothing more serious and panic attacks cannot kill you.
Since being aware of them, my panic attacks have not stopped but have become more controlled. That’s not to say I’m fully there yet, I once ran out of a lecture crying and also had a week where I couldn’t breathe properly (I went to A&E and it turned out my throat was inflamed, probably from breathing in through my mouth so much during an initial panic attack. I thought I was panicking for a week straight because I was associating the struggle to breathe with that, but my brain was actually just causing more trouble for me than necessary). Sometimes I notice that I’ve started to chew the inside of my cheek, and that’s a sign for me to take a moment to breathe.
If you are experiencing panic attacks or anxiety, you will figure out how to prefer to cope with them. I’ve been suggested multiple breathing exercises, but I prefer the 7-11 technique of breathing in for 7 seconds and out for 11. Some techniques suggest you hold your breath between breathing in and out, but personally I found this just worsened my situation as holding my breath freaked me out.
Things to remember:
- A panic attack can not kill you.
- Putting a name to them can make them come on more frequently, but you will learn how to handle them in time.
- Not everyone understand panic attacks, don’t be afraid to explain.
- You body can use up a lot of sugar during a panic attack, so if you feel shaky try eating something sugary.
- They can’t last forever.
- Don’t worry if your fingertips or hands start to tingle. They aren’t going to drop off, it just means your balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide has been thrown off due to frantic breathing. Breathing exercises will help restore this balance.
Thank you for taking the time to read this long and personal post. And if you’re looking for some answers as to why you’re feeling the way you are, I hope you’re a step closer to finding them.