I was recently invited onto Claire Byrne Live on RTE to discuss my issues with anxiety and panic attacks. I was on a panel with DJ Blainaid Treacy from 2FM who suffered from panic attacks and Dr. Harry Barry who is an author and doctor. Dr Barry has a particular interest in the area of mental health and has extensive experience in his practice of dealing with issues such as depression, addiction and anxiety.
Back in late 2016 depression hit me out of the blue. We’d recently moved house, my youngest had moved out of home and I kind of felt a bit lost. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I felt sad, miserable and really didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t have the energy to do anything either.
I would break down in tears for no reason at all. I’d gone from being a happy, positive person to a sad, negative one. So eventually I plucked up the courage to go to my GP. I was put on medication and told to go out walking. I was a walker anyway as I have two dogs. Over time the medication was changed and I still didn’t feel much better.
I had insomnia and absolutely no energy. When I did sleep I was having awful nightmares, it was like being in a horror film. Then the anxiety started. I was frightened to go out, if I did have to go into town I would have my hood up and couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. I was terrified on a daily basis.
I lived in this kind of brain fog, my memory was shot, I walk into a shop but couldn’t remember what I was in there for. I felt numb, I had no interest in anything, I remember it coming up to my birthday and I really didn’t care. I think if I’d have won the lottery it wouldn’t have meant anything to me.
On top of all that the panic attacks started. I would have a pain in my chest that felt like my heart was ready to burst out of it, I couldn’t breathe, I’d be sobbing. It was like everything got louder and brighter and I felt like I was trapped. At the beginning I thought I was dying but thanks to a kind nurse I realised it was a panic attack. It’s so frightening to experience something like this, I felt like I was suffocating and that the room was closing in on me. I had numerous panic attacks, I even had one in a mindfulness class!
The point of me sharing my story is to give people hope. I never thought I’d be back to the person I once was.
So what did I do?
Firstly I talked, a lot, to anyone who would listen. I heard what worked for some people, I tried as many things as I could to try to get myself better. I’m extremely lucky to have such a supportive family who really looked after me.
I got rest whenever I could. If I was tired during the day I went to bed and I was lucky to be in a position to do so.
I went for counselling. It took me three difference counsellors to find the right person for me. When I got to the stage where I had nothing left to say I knew I was getting better.
The Havin’aLaugh charity were very helpful, they offer vouchers for life changing experiences for people in mental health counselling. I went for a seaweed bath and it inspired me to take my camera out of the bag it had sat in for so long and take photos again. I wanted to give something back to Havin’aLaugh so two years ago I started a monthly coffee morning in The Blind Tiger. It’s still running on the first Monday of the month unless it’s a bank holiday when it’s on the second Monday. It’s on from 10am – 12 noon and everyone is welcome, it’s just a social coffee morning with no pressure.
I wrote, all the time – on my blog and in a notebook. It helped me to get the thoughts out of my head. I also started being kind to myself, my mind was my worst enemy and I would beat myself up about the smallest little thing.
I read as much as I could to learn more about panic attacks, anxiety and depression. My blog readers were brilliant in suggesting books and reading matter.
I learned how to say no. I used to put everyone ahead of myself but you can’t pour from an empty cup and self care is not selfish, it’s a necessity.
I found art! I started painting and drawing, now I’ll never be brilliant at it but I find when I have a paintbrush in my hand I go into a world of my own.
Probably the biggest thing for me was my friend, who is a nutritionist therapist, suggested that I might be deficient in B12. There’s a strong connection between depression and anxiety and lacking in B12. My GP did a blood test and it turned out I had a B12 deficiency so I was given 5 injections of it over two week. Now I have an injection once every 3 months and I feel it’s made all the difference to my life. Gradually I cut down on the medication I was on and now I’m just on B12.
Now I’m no expert and it’s certainly not a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to mental health. What has worked for me might not work for everyone. I’ve always been fairly vocal about my experience with depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I’ve written about it extensively on my blog. I felt so lost and alone when I was going through it and I hope my writing my help people out there who might be suffering. People say I’m brave, I’m not I’m just honest. If I had a broken leg I’d talk about it so for me, mental health issues are just the same. I hope that one day the stigma will end and I think that talking about it will help.