Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
‘Off anywhere nice on your holidays?’ is a simple question that loads of people ask me in the summertime. Each time I try to formulate an answer that is easy for the person to digest. How do you tell your chirpy hairdresser that you haven’t been further than 20 minutes from home in 15 years? It is hardly the sort of light-hearted chat they had been hoping to engage me on. But this has been my reality for a very long time.
In July 2005 two weeks after the London bombings, I got on a train to travel to London. All was fine for the journey but as the train slowed to pull into Euston station, I started to feel incredibly warm, dizzy and a feeling of absolute terror began to course through my veins. ‘What is going on?’ I thought. ‘I think I am about to go mad’ ‘I am losing it and they are going to section me’ ‘I am in incredible danger’ ‘I am going to have a heart attack’, ‘I am going to die’! Followed by, ‘I need to get to safety, I need to escape and get back home to Scotland RIGHT NOW’. And so, began a panic disorder that would hold me in its grip for a very long time.
I had a flourishing career; however, a slow decline began where I would only travel in Scotland, (easy enough to hide). Then the panic attacks would get me while away, so I stopped travelling overnight. The panic attacks continued to chase me on day trips to Edinburgh or the seaside, so I stayed in and around Glasgow. The panic attacks started to happen on the journey to work and that is when the problem became a major issue.
In 2010 mental health was not as accepted as it is now, and my employer took steps to end my employment along with making me sign an NDA. I found myself out of work, on benefits and continuing to tumble further and further into a dark hole of terror, not knowing when the next panic attack would strike. Eventually reasoning that if I stayed in my home then I would be safe and that is where I stayed for 6 months.
Eventually reasoning that if I stayed in my home then I would be safe and that is where I stayed for 6 months.
I saw doctors, psychiatrists, mental health nurses, psychologists, counsellors, hypnotists, herbalists. The Speakmans from ITV’s This Morning came to my house with a camera crew, promising to help, put me on national tv (amazing what you do when you are desperate) but even they went away unable to change anything. I took a cocktail of drugs all promising to take away the feelings of terror and nothing did.
Life carried on without me. Friends got married, promoted, had babies and went out having fun while I sat inside. I managed to push out a little and would travel around my town, but my god it was painful – I would check for traffic jams or snow that might impede me from scuttling home quickly. Slowly things improved to a point where I could manage about 20 minutes from home. I carved out a weirdly successful life for myself where I held down a job (locally), met my husband (online) and had my daughter (that is a whole other story!!)
I scoured the internet for help and found the answer in a book called the DARE response. I set to work putting my learning into practice and I now push myself to go out of my comfort zone as often as I can find the time to do it.
I set goals for myself, one being that I wanted to run the Great Scottish Run 10k with my sister. She would run it every year, each time tearily video calling me to tell me how sad she was to not have me with her. The thought of travelling into the centre of a city, running a race over a large road bridge, filled me with absolute terror!
Let me clarify, I am not a runner, I am a squidgy bodied, 41-year-old that performs what I call the ‘mum, run’. When I decided to enter the race, I had no training and had to get my fitness up quickly.
Twice a week I would go out in my running gear and pant my way along the same route. At times it felt like pushing a snowball up a very hot hill! Gradually my fitness increased, and I was managing 7k with a few weeks until the race. It was at this point that my sister suggested I should raise money. The thought of asking people to sponsor me to run felt very difficult. If people pledged money then this meant I really, REALLY had to go into the city, over the bridge and run this race! It meant facing so many fears of panic attacks, intrusive thoughts (yeah, I like to torture myself thinking I might lose control and simply jump off that mega-bridge) because I had made it public and people had invested in me.
I took the plunge and set up a JustGiving page and wrote my story. At first, I shared it with family then I took the plunge and shared it with my work colleagues and something incredible happened. My colleagues didn’t know that I live with panic disorder, so it was terrifying to be open with them. They could not have been more supportive, and it started some of the most vulnerable conversations that I have ever know in a workplace where others began to share their struggles. It was a defining moment in my recovery where I shed 16 years of shame that I felt. In the end, I raised over £800 for Mental Health UK!
My colleagues didn’t know that I live with panic disorder, so it was terrifying to be open with them. They could not have been more supportive, and it started some of the most vulnerable conversations that I have ever know in a workplace where others began to share their struggles. It was a defining moment in my recovery where I shed 16 years of shame that I felt.
The day of the race arrived. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, my stomach churned, and I was incredibly tearful. I was also determined, I was running this race for everyone who has ever struggled. For those who are terrified every waking moment of the day, for those who have thought that they can’t take another day of pain. I was running to save a life.
I pounded the pavements, navigated the bridge bawling with joy, marvelling that I had zero anxiety along with the incredible view. The team from Mental Health UK were at key milestones of the race cheering the runners on and that felt wonderful! I crossed the finish line and broke down in tears of happiness, it was the most unbelievable moment.
For me, anxiety is not an illness it is an emotion. Just like laughter, sadness, happiness; anxiety is in there as well. For me, no drugs, therapist, hypnosis or any other potion, supplement or diet could take it away because it is part of me, it is part of you, it is part of all of us. I have learned that extreme anxiety can be controlled, you can have a new relationship with how you experience anxious sensations. Accepting that you feel anxious, not trying to fight that emotion is the first step.
I continue to work at how I experience anxiety and I document all my practice and progress on my Instagram account ‘@Mrsagoraphobia’. I am as vulnerable as I think I have ever been, sharing the highs and lows of beating panic disorder. It is a raw account of me facing panic attacks and anxiety head-on and sharing them, so others can learn how to do it too. Already I have had several wonderful followers push out of their comfort zone and face their fears. It is so exciting to create something so positive, it is a community coming together, finding our way out of the darkness. I have already signed up for next years race and continue to ‘mum run’, come join me it is tremendous!
If you’d like to take part in an event for Mental Health UK, we have places in events such as Great Scottish Run and Rough Runner which you can sign up for on our website. We’d love to have you on #TeamMHUK!
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