I suffered my first panic attack in 1991 at the age of 20. I don't even think I knew it was a panic attack – all I knew was that I felt really sick and I had to get out of the club I was in. I hadn't been drinking, but I was performing as a singer in a band and I was due to go on stage…something that I'd done hundreds of times before with only 'normal' stage fright
I was so ill I couldn't get on stage. The following night, at the next gig, the same thing happened. A month later I was watching another band at a gig and I was sick and had to leave. Then it happened in a restaurant, in a
bar, in a cinema…I couldn't understand it, I was just vomiting everywhere I went. I told myself I was just run down and I ended up leaving the band and just trying to concentrate on my degree. Unfortunately by the time I
came to sit my final exams (8 months later) the panic attacks had really set in. I find myself wishing so much that I had gone to the doctors straight away. I can't imagine how much damage I did to myself in those first few
months whilst I was 'learning' that I would panic in certain situations.
When I started sitting my exams I found I was up all night the night before each exam – I was sick seven or eight times throughout the night. My last exam was the worst – I had to leave the hall twice to be sick, and in the
end couldn't go back in. I'd finally had enough, and went to the doctors that afternoon.
The doctor told me to take a holiday. I spent three weeks in Cornwall, feeling like I was going to die 24 hours a day. I was frightened of the dark, I was frightened of leaving our campsite, I was frightened of being inside the tent, I was frightened of getting on a bus, I was just experiencing pure terror from the second I woke up to the second I went to sleep.
I went to the doctors again when I got home, and she tried to get me to take anti-depressants, which I refused, so she gave me Beta Blockers instead, which didn't do anything for me. I went to see a psychologist which made
enough difference so that I could get a part time job and began to put my life back in order. I still didn't go to the cinema, clubs, gigs, on long train journeys, car journeys, restaurants etc, but the terror was less
continuous. I kept getting called up for Jury Service; the first 2 times I got a doctor's note to excuse me, the third time I forced myself to do it, armed with Propanonol (which I still don't think made any difference – not
for me anyway). I had to leave the court room at one point to have a panic attack, but somehow managed to go back in, as embarrassed as I felt for halting procedures. It didn't really matter – everyone just thought I'd
From time to time over the next few years I had times when the panics got really bad, and times when they subsided. They never really went away, though, I just learnt to live with them. I tried hypnotherapy, bach flower
remedies, kava kava, st john's wort – you name it! It wasn't until 2 years ago, having suffered for ten years, that I decided I wanted to go abroad, and booked a holiday to Turkey, determined that I could do it. Then the
panics started in full force. Travelling around London became a nightmare – how was I going to get on a plane??? No-one understood – I wasn't frightened of the plane crashing, I was just frightened I wouldn't be able
to get off mid flight!
I went to see my new doctor, who was absolutely brilliant and somehow convinced me to give anti depressants a try. I had refused these for ten years, despite every doctor recommending them, but finally gave in, I was at
my wits end! I was absolutely amazed – within 2 weeks I felt better than I had felt since I was 19 years old. People who didn't know I was taking the tablets commented on how brave I'd suddenly become – my family told me I was like my old self again. I hadn't really realised just how much I'd adjusted to live with the anxiety, and my new found freedom was incredible.
Unfortunately I now have a bit of a battle going on because each time I stop taking the Sertraline my panic attacks come back. I'm determined above all, though, that this will not spoil the rest of my life – pills or no pills, I
will do everything on my 'list of things to do before I'm 40'.
If anyone is reading this and has just started having anxiety attacks, my advice is GO TO THE DOCTOR NOW – don't wait until it's really bad, or until it really affects your life. I honestly feel that if I'd had treatment
immediately then I wouldn't still be suffering today. Secondly – don't feel guilty, don't feel a failure, and don't be frightened that you're mad if you get sent to a psychiatrist (who is just a specialist doctor) or a
psychologist (who is just a counsellor). Take help when you can get it – this is something that you might not be able to do on your own, no matter how determined you are. Thirdly – don't give up hope. I nearly did…but
that's another story…
Right, that's the abridged version (12 years of anxiety can hardly be summed up on one letter, but hopefully it's succinct enough!!!)
Anne Mari Davies