“It looks like your son’s having a heart attack”. These were the words I heard from the paramedic as he spoke quietly to my parents while I lay across our sofa, frightened and afraid.
It’s hard to convey what it feels like to have a panic attack to someone who’s never experienced them before. It might sound completely illogical to think that you are about to die, when in fact you’re not in any real physical danger whatsoever. However, if you’re the person to whom it’s happening, it’s exactly what runs through your mind at that moment. It makes logical sense that something is about to go wrong, and you are on your way to meeting your fate.
I battled panic attacks for several months. No doubt, it was the most difficult time in my life thus far. That was five years ago, but I still carry the memories with me today; I’ll never forget them.
When the paramedic said the words to my parents, I heard my mum burst out in tears. The kitchen door was left slightly open. When you hear a man who’s likely witnessed countless fatalities through their career say a statement like this, in your mind you’re most certainly in trouble.
I’d later find out that the reason he thought that this was what was happening was that my ECG reading was uncontrollable. One second it was fine, the next it wasn’t. You could tell from the look on his face when he was taking the readings that he was convinced that something wrong was about to happen.
As I was lying there, dripping in sweat and my heart racing, I remember wailing the words, “I can’t move! I can’t move!” I wasn’t able to move my arms or legs. I had convinced myself at that moment that I had a heart attack and I was left paralyzed. When you’re having a panic attack and think you’re dying, all sense of logic slips away and delusion takes over.
Taken to the Hospital
I was put in a wheelchair and pushed out to the ambulance. I remember sitting inside it outside my house, while a female paramedic hooked me up to a machine, and tightened a strap around my arm. I had never been so scared in all my life.
I remember the look on her face as she watched the readings and turned to me. She saw the fear on my face and I can’t remember her exact words, but she had a look that signaled that she knew what was up and said that she didn’t think I was in any danger and that she thought that I was going to be OK.
At that moment, I felt a slight relief. Any reassurance at all that you’re going to be fine when you think you’re in some serious trouble brings some relief, even if it’s only for a second or two.
When we arrived in the hospital, I was taken and lifted into a bed.
I remember the time was almost midnight.
The night before I hadn’t slept, and had spent the night in the emergency room, waiting to be seen by a nurse who told me that there appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary; although she had agreed to refer me to be seen by a cardiologist and be placed on the waiting list. (I had made frequent visits before this and ECG results always came back normal.)
The Psychiatrist by My Bed-Side
I remember lying in the bed for several hours while the doctor drew blood and waited for the test results. I started feeling a strange sensation on my face, just like I had back at the house when I took an episode. My lip quivered and a pain shot up the side of my face.
I was still unable to move, and I shouted to the doctor, “It’s happening again, help me! Help me!”, as my mind thought I was having another heart attack.
The doctor came over from his chair and looked at me startled, trying to calm me down. He assured me that the results would be coming back from the lab shortly; within the next 30 minutes or thereabouts.
When the lab results had come back, he drew the curtain back, stepped in, and sat down beside my bed. I was sure that something bad was coming next. However, the doctor told me that the results came back fine.
“I think I know what’s been happening. I have a psychiatry background and it looks to me like anxiety. All of the symptoms you’ve been experiencing are very alike panic attacks”.
As soon as the words left his mouth, I could move again; my limbs that were paralyzed were only paralyzed by my expectations that they were. The stress diminished, not completely but very noticeably. I have never felt so much relief as far as I can remember in my life. It all made sense now that I could move; it was all in my mind.
Can I Have Panic Attacks for No Reason?
There are many reasons that I can attribute to my anxiety and panic attacks: I was overworking, studying, partying too much, and had been taking class-A drugs on occasion.
I started experiencing chest pain and palpitations a few months before a week-long trip to Ibiza, and then when I returned the panic attacks started happening. However, I now understand that all this was the icing on the cake, and the main cause for all my problems stemmed from one particular belief that I had about myself: I was a quitter.
I had quit my Chemistry degree after only one year on the course.
I had started a Psychology degree and had taken a gap year to work and save more money while taking Personal Training night classes since I had realized that I didn’t want a career related to the second degree I was working on.
And then the time had come that I realized that I didn’t want to be a Personal Trainer; that I was listening to what people thought I should do and was not following my desires.
The problem was that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and what career I wanted. If I didn’t know at 25, was I ever going to know? Was I going to just keep jumping from course to course, and keep on quitting them?
The Start of My Recovery
I knew right away I had to take time off work. I was sick, and I needed to do the work on myself to recover. It wouldn’t have been possible to make proper headway while continuing to work in the stressful environment that a call center brings; it comes with the territory. I had never taken any time off work until then, and there I had found myself with no other choice but to.
I made an appointment with my doctor, and we chatted about what I was going through. She offered me anti-depression medication, which I declined since I knew that they can become addicted and nasty side-effects are often experienced when you have to come off them. I agreed to a prescription for beta-blockers to help calm manage my panic symptoms, such as my racing heart, which did help a lot.
Having developed insomnia, I did take a few courses of sleeping pills out of desperation for a full night of rest. Both times, I got terrible headaches for the next few days after coming off them, which wasn’t something I wanted to make a habit of.
I met with the assessor for the mental health department within the National Health Service to see if I would be offered free therapy sessions which I wanted badly. Based on my answers to a questionnaire, I was told that I couldn’t be offered the therapy, but instead, he handed me a leaflet of a 6-week course that was being held in my local area that would take a classroom style approach to help people who were suffering from anxiety.
I left the assessment feeling somewhat helpless, and felt like I was fobbed off because I answered “no” to being suicidal; (although I can’t be sure that was the reason, it’s the conclusion I had come to after.) Why didn’t they want to help me? To me, I needed it.
Although I felt like the course wouldn’t be able to cut to the depths of my problems and help me work through them, I decided to go along anyway since I had nothing to lose. I must admit, it was a massive help for me managing my stress levels. We learned about breathing techniques, meditation, exercise (something I already loved), and the importance of maintaining healthy relationships for positive mental health.
Setting Tough Goals and Meeting Every One of Them
Over the next few months, I got to work. I’ve always been someone who relies on science; if there’s proof that something works, then it’s worth giving it a shot. It made sense to me that meditation would be difficult in the beginning. But after researching how it changes brain structures and statistics of how powerful it is for helping to manage stress, I was ready to give it the respect that I felt it deserved.
I can honestly say now that meditation changed my life. I realized who my true authentic self was through engaging in this practice; it led to the self-discovery that I had it in me to never quit again. Exercise, breathing, my relationships, amongst other things had helped manage my symptoms, but meditation was the force that shaped and changed my mind forever. Now, there’s no going back to the old me; I can say with confidence that I am no longer a quitter.
It’s difficult to explain, but meditation made me bold; it gave me a self-belief that I could do anything. Through positive affirmations and guided meditations, I learned to start setting big goals and seeing them through.
My success in the gym before the panic attacks was pretty decent, but every time I tried to eat healthy for more than a week or two at a time, I failed and quit. So I decided it was time to change that and off I went on my 6-week plan, where I ate only whole foods and finally reached my body fat goal that I had always wanted to achieve of under 14% (I came in at 12.5% in the end.)
I was never one to be independent but somehow found myself becoming deeply interested in travel and embarking on my first two solo trips the next summer. Although I had asked friends to go, deep down I wanted them to say no and remove the safety blanket that would hold me back from becoming someone that I wanted to be: a stronger, more confident version of myself.
Thankfully, none of them could make it. I didn’t quit this one either, I went off by myself and had the best two weekends imaginable: I made new friends from all over the world, ate delicious food and got myself from point A to B, and saw all the attractions I set out to.
I quit smoking after trying several times before but failed. I had kept on quitting at quitting smoking, but not this time. This newfound confidence I had in myself just kept on growing as I set up my goals and knocked them down. It became like an addiction, and I craved that feeling of accomplishment that I had been lacking throughout my life. I kept looking for the next challenge.
I then booked to travel the following summer again, all by myself, but this time for over two months. I spent a month traveling through Slovenia, a country that is filled with beauty: lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and endless greenery. I hiked the Alps and had my experiences with white water rafting, kayaking, and diving. My inter-rail pass kicked in as I made my way through Croatia and up through central Europe to finish in Berlin. Many more friends were made and experiences were had as I saw some of the best cities I had ever been to. From Prague to Budapest, to Kraków; I was having a great time.
One of the main reasons for my big trip was to grow my confidence somewhat more; since recovering from my panic attacks, I had fallen in love with health and nutrition and wanted to become a nutrition coach and blogger. What happened after? I became a nutrition coach and I started blogging.
Becoming a coach when you’ve never naturally been a leader isn’t an easy thing to do, but it’s what I set my heart on and I wasn’t quitting; I believed it was my calling. I started helping others make healthy choices. Because when we are healthy, we can enjoy a better quality of life. That became my mission statement and fulfilling it has brought me joy.
I truly believe that we have the power to do whatever we set our minds to. If that means changing who we are to let our true authentic self shine through, then what’s I believe that we can do. In my experience, that’s exactly how it’s worked for me.
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