Saturday, 15 February 2014

Panic attacks

This is something very personal to me. I have been a sufferer of Panic Attacks since I was 15. I felt compelled to write this post after a particularly stressful time and hope that other people suffering from this will understand what I'm going through. To those who have never had an attack I hope this will help you understand what it's like and how to help those around you if an attack comes on.

Let me start by saying it is NOT a way to seek attention. A friend of mine back in school forever had a paper bag against her mouth given by the teacher to aid breathing. The popular girls would make fun of her and call her a drama queen. At the time admittedly I felt the same way, I couldn't understand why she was always like that but I didn't tease her for it. Now I understand it was an attack often brought on by the girls teasing her.. bullying her.

You see some people can handle stress. Stresses like 'I'm going to miss the train?!' or 'I have a deadline and I'm not going to meet it!' are the kind of things most people shrug off and then go home at the end of the day to chill out with a glass of wine and Eastenders. We all deal with stress on a daily basis. Anxiety is different for everyone, some are just more sensitive to it. When I was 15 I was naturally going through my GCSEs (youngest in my class, hence 15 not 16). This feeling kept creeping up on me like I had to leave, now! It was a panic attack I didn't know I was having. I had to get out of school to feel better - Fight or flight. When we have a panic attack our bodies releases adrenaline. Adrenaline is released in our bodies all the time but for a panic attack sufferer it's like an fire alarm going off just because you opened the oven door. We have sensitive systems and stress is a trigger. I spent a lot of days skipping school to avoid being stressed. I didn't know then why I was having trouble staying in school.

So what is a Anxiety/Panic Attack?

It's a sudden feeling of dread, the urge to flee to the nearest exit and to find comfort in the familiar. It's like everyone is staring at you and your naked. You start breathing rapidly and then gasp for air like someone has just cut off your oxygen. For some, like myself, there are chest pains, feeling dizzy and faint, nauseous, numbness (I get this in my hands and feet), sweating, needing to go to the toilet, extreme emotions and uncontrollable crying. What's worse is the feeling of derealisation (unreality). 

Panic Attacks come on really quickly and peak after 10 minutes apparently. This is never the case. Some people report attacks lasting for up to an hour, but they are likely to be experiencing one attack after another, or a high level of anxiety after the initial attack. This is what I suffer from. It will always spiral until I can remove myself from whatever situation is causing it. I've found my car to be a safe place.

I've had panic attacks in a variety of places, airports, cars, on lunch breaks, shop floors, in bed at 2am. Once I was doing the weekly shop at Sainsbury's and half way round I started to get the feeling of dread. It was the middle of the afternoon and I was by myself in the middle of a busy supermarket. I left my trolly and went and sat in the toilets while my body went through the motions. This has happened on several occasions now when I'm doing everyday common things like shopping, cleaning, driving. I've been called a control freak and doctors have misdiagnosed me with depression.  
A control freak doesn't break down, clutching her chest, unable to breath because something didn't go according to plan. A person with depression doesn't need to go to the toilet frequently while feeling faint and sweating. I can't and haven't ever been drunk for fear of losing control and being sick and don't like to be around those who are so actively avoid nights out which involves a high consumption of alcohol. I find those situations stressful.
Celebrities who suffer -
  • Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp may be one of the most popular actors in the world, but that hasn't stopped him from suffering from panic attacks for years. The actor doesn't speak about them very often, but his struggles with panic disorder are well known.
  • Adele
The most famous singer in the world in 2011 and 2012 appears to have suffered from not only panic attacks, but also social phobia and severe stage fright. Performing in front of crowds of thousands can give anyone stage fright, but there is a strong likelihood that her anxiety attacks were an issue long before she ever stepped on stage.

  • Kim Basinger
Some people get their first panic attacks when they're severely stressed. Others get their first one out of the blue, with no way to see it coming. The latter is what happened to famous actress and model Kim Basinger, who had her first panic attack in the middle of a grocery store. Her panic attacks were so terrible that she developed agoraphobia and depression as a result.
So what can you do when a loved one or even a stranger has a anxiety attack?

1. Remain calm. Let them know you are there for them.
2. Do not be forceful. Be patient, and accepting. Telling them you think they are being silly, there's nothing to worry about won't help.
3. Offer a glass of water and a paper bag if you have one. They may not want it so again don't be forceful. 
4. I once had a panic attack in a cinema near the end of a film. My boyfriend at the time was fuming that I wanted to leave. If this happens to you stay positive for them. If you are part way through something don't make a big deal of it. You can do it again another time.
5. Remember they didn't choose to be this way.
6. Things to say as a panic attack happens: Tell me what you need now, breathe deeply and slowly.
DON'T tell them to calm down, stop being ridiculous, you can't go, pull yourself together, what's wrong with you?

7. Distracting them won't help. Oh look at what the cat is doing is not helpful.
8. Be supportive. Once the attack has passed they can feel down right depressed and lonely. Just being held sometimes works for me.

I hope this goes some way to helping you understand what I have to go through. Funnily enough the one thing I've found the most therapeutic is makeup. When I'm creating a look I can be surrounded by a 100 flapping models and artists and it doesn't faze me. This is why my pursuit of being a self-employed makeup artist means the whole world to me. I've finally found something that doesn't bring on an attack.

If someone you know doesn't understand panic attacks show them this blog post. If they still don't understand then do you really need them in your life? Surround yourself by people who do know you and will love you no matter what. Remember you are not alone. 

oX Wendy Xo