No More Panic > Blog > Michelle’s Story

Michelle’s Story

Part 1 – The prelude
After the bombings of 7/7 in London I hated getting the tube. Every time I was on the tube I would think about being blown up. I carried on getting the tube until one day I got stuck in the tunnel. My thoughts raced, had a bomb gone off? How long will I be here for? Not knowing what was happening at the time I felt hot, flustered, I couldn’t breath and I felt faint. As soon as I got to the next stop I got off and took a bus instead. To avoid getting the tube to work I bought a bike. I became dependant on my bike and even road it in the snow, ice and storms. I knew it was dangerous but I told myself I was doing it to keep fit, I was in denial that it was because I was afraid of the tube or rather having a repeat of the experience I had, had on the tube. Over winter I began to wake up and feel really miserable seeing how awful the weather was and how I had no choice in my mind but to ride through it. Everyday became a drag.

The next 6 months continued and I was fine other than my tube problems. I went on holiday with my boyfriend, had a brilliant time and when I got back I thought to myself, I must sought out this issue with the tube. Little did I know what this would entail?

However now I can see why I developed an anxiety disorder…

The grandma, the rock in my life had immigrated to Australia a couple of years back.

My mother has always been emotionally vulnerable and physically unwell for most of my life. Over the past year after a relationship breakdown, she began to self harm, overdosed on tables and was so anxious she took valium to get through the day everyday. One day I had a call from the police telling me she had rung an ambulance as she had overdosed on valium and they had found her on the floor of her flat. For about 15 minutes whilst trying to contact the hospital I didn’t know if she was dead or alive. I was her sole support and this was very draining.

I’d also just tried to find my dad who I have never met, without success.

I worked in Mental Health and quite frankly think I was slightly traumatised by some of the things I had to deal with. I had unsuccessfully been looking for a job which would offer a career change for 5 months.

The big panic

A few days after I got back from the holiday I went to a party. The next day I was very tired, I went to the local co-op to buy some food and this is when it happened.

I was standing in the queue to pay, I noticed the repetitive sound of a toy a child was playing with, the sound got louder, I began to sweat and felt like I couldn’t breathe. I told myself to stay and finish buying the food, I had missed out an ingredient I needed and so began to worry about whether I should stay in the queue or get it. I remember this was all I could think about. As soon as I got out of the shop I called my boyfriend and asked him to meet me as I thought I was going to faint. Back at our flat I stood on the balcony gasping for air. After about 20 mins he managed to calm me down and I fell asleep. At that point I still didn’t know what had happened.

The downward spiral

The next day I called in sick at work. I didn’t want to be alone so called my mum who came over. From then on the panic attacks happened almost every time I went out. My bike got a flat tyre so I needed to get the overland train home – I had an attack. I got the bus to work – I had an attack. I got the bus to my friends – I had an attack. I went to the shops – I had an attack. Basically my life stopped. Walking to the post box became difficult.

Eventually I gave up my job (which at the time was temping in a hostel for heroin addicts and involved late shifts).

I became more and more depressed and began to think more irrationally. I thought I would lose all my friends and my boyfriend. I thought I was going mad. I thought I would never be able to work again and I would become homeless. I thought I would need to be hospitalised. I thought I couldn’t cope and these thoughts were all I would think all day every day.

Every morning I would wake up with that feeling of dread and I would spend the morning crying. My boyfriend would come home from work and I would burst into tears. I also lost my appetite.

I went to my doctors and was prescribed Citalopram which for a month made everything worse. I was referred me to a counsellor which I had to wait 6 weeks to see. The counsellor told me that once I got another job I would be fine, that was it. She arranged for me to see her again in 5 weeks time. I paid for a private counsellor who told me he knew CBT however all he wanted to speak about was my dad. I couldn’t think about my dad because all I could think about was how the hell I was going to do the 20 minute journey home.

The turning point

One Saturday at end of August I was feeling a bit better, I felt able to have lunch with my boyfriend at the local pub. It felt great. I decided to risk it that night and go out with some friends. I got drunk and felt more relaxed. Then I began to feel a bit panicky so I got a cab home. At home I was alone, it was late and I was drunk. I can’t really say what happened other than I think I panicked because all I wanted to do was jump off my balcony. I didn’t care that I could kill myself I just wanted to stop the discomfort I was feeling. The urge to jump was so strong. I called my friends who I had been out with and asked them to come round, I left the door open, took some valium and passed out.

The next morning I was a mess. I couldn’t go anywhere alone, I have never been so terrified in my life. I was scared of what I could do to myself and I was scared that I had felt so out of control. I couldn’t go into the kitchen as I worried I might lose control and stab myself, I couldn’t go outside as I was worried I might jump in front of a car. The thing is I didn’t want to die but I felt I couldn’t trust myself.

My mum came and picked me up, I couldn’t even get in a cab, so my friend had to drive us back to my mums. I was a wreck, I truly believed that I wouldn’t survive another day and when I said good bye to my boyfriend I thought that was the last time I was going to see him.

The light at the end of tunnel

Mum stayed by my side the whole time. I found a CBT therapist and began seeing him every couple of days at first and spoke to him on the phone almost everyday. At first me and mum got a cab to CBT, I then progressed so that we could get a train to CBT, and a month ago I actually begun doing the journey on my own.

Each day I wrote myself a schedule I could focus on, CBT homework, lunch, light exercise in flat, bath, watch a film, paint nails, face mask, stand outside for 30 seconds, paint, cook, read a few pages of my book about panic, nothing too challenging.

I took everything in small steps, the hardest part was knowing how much to challenge myself without pushing myself so much it would set me back.

After 2 weeks I was able to move back to my flat, I still needed someone with me all the time. Slowly I began to feel more relaxed in my flat. Then I managed to spend an hour alone, then an evening alone.

Shortly after moving home I received a call from a firm I really wanted to work for asking me to come in for an interview. How could I possibly go to an interview I thought? Well, it was tough, my friend came with me, we got a cab and the whole time I was in the interview I felt panicked but I got through it.

When I found out I had got the job my next worry was how I was going to go to it and not panic for a whole day? The first few days mum came with me. She sat outside my office in a nearby café the whole day. I tried to get through the day in 30 minute slots. Some days I needed to stand outside to get some air, usually when I felt depersonalised. For the first 2 weeks as soon as I got home I would collapse and fall asleep. The first weekend I slept for 15 hours. I would call mum every time I walked to work and I would text people constantly for reassurance. I have a very supportive cousin who had been through the same thing and who was by the phone ready to respond to my texts with words of encouragement. The anxiety slowly began to decrease.

Now

I have been working for 2 ½ months and I enjoy my job. It gives me something to focus on. My comfort zone has extended to work. I am able to get the underground for about 30 minutes though I still feel anxious when I do. I am able to walk to work. I have been down to Kent and up to Manchester with family. I have, again with difficulty gone into central London. I can sit in the cinema and watch a film. I go to the gym. I have begun to really enjoy yoga and Pilates.

My life feels very limited still and it is frustrating though most of the very scary intrusive thoughts only poke their head once in a while. I am still taking anti depressants and there are days when I still get very despondent. However I have come a long way in 3 months, I have made new friends at work, a couple are aware of my anxiety which helps and I am feeling better.

I am not writing this to boast but because I hope it inspires people and because it helps me see how far I have come.

I have called this part 1 as I hope to continue to get better and be able to write part 2.

Part 2

A year ago I wrote part 1 of my story. I would love to write and say I am back to normal, everything is ago and I feel great. But is has been and still is up and down. I am not who I used to be and things have been tough. HOWEVER in the past year I have achieved a lot and I feel I need to write about these achievements to emphasis them for myself because they can sometimes slip away and all too often I focus on the negative. I remember the first time I went to the cinema after I developed anxiety. My therapist suggested I go, I did and felt great because I had achieved it though I was exhausted from the stress of it all.

I still find it difficult to believe this is anxiety. Today I was sitting at work, 8 colleagues were sitting around me and I feel there is a barrier between them and me, I feel hazy. But last year I didn’t understand this was dissociation and it totally scared me.

A year ago I had just begun working in a new job. I have been in the job for a whole year now and am getting a promotion in September. I also going part time so that I can study for my second degree and whether I get round to studying or not I must remember I have got onto the course, that in itself is an achievement.

Last year I felt like I would never be able to go away again. From feeling like I couldn’t leave the house for fear of collapsing, doing something dangerous or going mad I have been away to France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Spain and Australia! Australia was my biggest achievements in one way as it was the one I feared the most but another huge achievement was Holland because I flew on my own. I travelled in the UK to a work meeting, trips that are familiar or local to me are often worse than ones that aren’t. I have also stopped my medication though am considering taking a small amount again. I am beginning to realise that fears are all produced by my thoughts.

I think recently I have been jumping ahead of myself, I went to Holland on my own and stopped taking the meds and said to myself ‘that is it, the anxiety is over’. From then on I expected it to be over and got frustrated with myself every time I felt it again. Whereas at Christmas when I went shopping I was so proud of myself!

One thing I find hard to deal with is the tiredness, the second is questioning whether things would be too much for me. I don’t feel as much for life anymore as did so I worry that I am depressed and am scared I will never feel that lust for life again. I guess I am frustrated more than anything and need to have patience.

Some days though I have felt good, the sun has been shinning, I have been engaged with work and the world. The thing I say to myself is it is just anxiety, I have experienced it before and nothing bad has happened. Everything is actually ok I think I just need to realise it and trust that realisation.

I am definitely doing better than I was last year and one thing that is important to remember is that all I feared hasn’t happened and in terms of going places I have exceeded my expectations.