My life with anxiety – Carl’s story
We’re going a little off topic today to share something really personal to both of us. My hope is that by sharing an insight into my life with anxiety, I’m opening up the conversation and raising some awareness within our small community.
This is the story of how I developed anxiety, and where I am in my mental health journey today.
The First Attack – May 2014
It started on a normal day. I was walking home from the bus stop when, quite suddenly, I became convinced a sniper was going to shoot me.
I’d never had a thought like it before and can admit it scared me to death. I ran home, looking at every window as I went, and became overrun with the feeling of impending doom. Once home I calmed down, had a shower and settled for my dinner. Whilst eating I started feeling a bit strange again, I had the sudden urge to be sick and felt incredibly light headed.
I tried to ignore it, thinking I’d eaten too quickly, but the feeling got so strong I had to run to the toilet to be sick although nothing came up. At this point, I still thought I’d just eaten too fast and when a family friend arrived, we had a quick chat and I tried to explain what happened.
The lightheadedness and nausea started again and eventually got so bad I could barely walk. I dragged myself to bed, laid down, turned a DVD on and convinced myself that I’d eaten too quickly and it would all pass.
As I laid there my breathing became heavy, like I’d been for a long run. I struggled through it all for a couple of hours before deciding to have an early night. I was horizontal for a while trying to sleep but kept getting thoughts about dying thinking: ‘what if I died right now?’ ‘what if my heart just explodes’ ‘what if my brain decides to just stop and I drop dead right here?’. I’ve always been a bit of a worrier and often overreacted to little things, but I’d never experienced thoughts like that before.
Not long after I heard my parents go to bed. I still felt sick and light headed and my breathing was erratic, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
Over the next six hours, I had the worst experience of my life. The lightheadedness refused to go, the nausea was constant, my breathing got to the point where I was always moving positions, yet each one only calmed my breathing for a few minutes before it came back worse than before. I started to get really warm too so there was sweat dripping off me, all these crazy thoughts were going around in my head and no matter what I couldn’t sort my breathing out.
After a while, I became really scared and started to cry. I was dying, this was it, my life was going to end in a terrible state and I couldn’t do anything about it.
I held a picture of my late nephew Reece and said ‘Reece, uncle Carl is coming to see you and you won’t be alone anymore’.
I thought about waking my parents but I was convinced I was done and they’d been through so much I didn’t want to let them see me die. Around this point I fell asleep for about 90 minutes. When I woke up I was incredibly worn out, mentally and physically, felt absolutely awful and at the same time incredibly stupid. I had a fight on my hands.
The spark to fight
Over the next 18 months, I really struggled. I had various visits to A&E, including three in early January 2015. I’d just started dating Charlotte. Charlotte and I weren’t quite dating at this point, but I did bump into her mid-attack at work and the compassion she showed me was unbelievable.
The first few weeks we were together she had to take me to A&E a number of times. Without going into details, Charlotte and her family were going through some real issues at the time, but despite that, she sat with me and held my hand while I waited hours and hours to be told there was nothing physically wrong with me.
I can’t explain how much that meant to me. It’s something I feel ashamed of and that I can never ever pay her back for. The amazing thing about Charlotte is that she just did it, she took care of me despite everything she was going through herself, which is why I say she’s the most unselfish person I’ve ever met. It felt incredible to have her there for me and it lit a fire within me to start fighting my anxiety. For the first time, I felt I could win.
Eventually I was put through CBT therapy which helped me identify and fight my issues face on. I learnt techniques to stop an attack as well as how to induce one. This was a unique experience and something I could never do outside of the presence of a medical profession, just for sheer fear of causing something bad to happen.
I learnt how to slowly breathe through any moments of panic. It sounds so simple but on occasion, it really is that straightforward. Slow controlled breathing helped me pin point the area that was worrying me. For example, if I was having chest pains my mind would immediately assume I was having a heart attack. I learnt that I could slowly breathe through the pain and if it went away, I knew I was ok. Not exactly a scientific fact, but it helped me. It could be a slow laborious process but eventually, I gained control. I started managing my anxiety.
I still had daily symptoms though, in truth, some of them have never gone away. I just stopped panicking about them and once the techniques started to click it all got easier so any panic could be swiftly dealt with. Sometimes it took minutes, sometimes it took hours but I usually always got there. I managed to go over two years without a visit to A&E. Don’t get me wrong, some days I felt like absolute crap but I could rationalise that it was my mind tricking me. I learnt to live with it and not let it affect my daily life.
The problem is, once I learnt to deal with it, I felt like my anxiety should just be gone. In my mind, it shouldn’t have been affecting me to the point where I panicked anymore. Dealing with this has brought me to anger, frustration and confusion as to why I can’t completely rid myself of this disease.
Wednesday 13th June 2018
Nearly thee years since my last hospital visit I had to go to A&E with chest pains. So what happened?
Well over the past month or so I’d felt on edge. There wasn’t really any obvious reason for this but the four main symptoms that affect my daily life are:
- A hollow feeling on the upper left side of my chest. It’s a weird feeling to describe but I guess the best way to say it is that it kind of feels empty which of course, it isn’t.
- I generally fall asleep quite fast but I tend to wake up a fair few times during the night when feeling anxious. This leaves me tired and leads to me needing naps.
- I get a feeling that I’m just going to drop dead. As crazy as it sounds, I get these thoughts – rarely nowadays but they were a daily occurrence – and they totally suck but I can normally ignore them.
- I also still get chest pains which I personally think this is the worst symptom. There are a lot of connotations with the words ‘chest pains’ especially for me. My head immediately thinks ‘heart attack’. Even though I now have 95% control over my anxiety, my initial thought is always a heart attack although I usually quickly realise that isn’t the case and calm down.
Separately I can control all these symptoms so my anxiety is minimal, but if they start working together they create an evil cocktail of doubt, fear and horrendous thoughts.
I can normally get it under control but this time was different as it built up over a three week period. Talking always helps but I’m a stubborn sod and get frustrated with myself, telling myself I should be able to manage it. This frustration and anger sometimes stops me talking to Charlotte which is stupid and counterproductive but unfortunately is how it is. I know talking would have helped but I kept quiet anyway.
On the day in question, I had a very sharp and very quick jolt of pain just under my left pec. It took my breath away and I immediately started to panic. I lost control of my right hand so it started to twitch and my breathing went heavy because it was filled with dread. I immediately told work I had to go to the hospital and although I managed to drive myself there, I know I shouldn’t have done it.
I wasn’t thinking straight and had tunnel vision on getting to the hospital. I didn’t even have my wallet so I couldn’t pay for the car park. Luckily a very kind lady was just leaving, she had a parking ticket for four hours and gave me it so I didn’t have to pay. This little act of kindness felt massive at the time and took away a bit of the stress I was feeling due to not having the means to pay. I literally have no idea what I would have done without her and wish I knew who she was so I could thank her.
At this point I rang Charlotte to tell her. She was incredible as she always is. She knew it was anxiety but she knows what I’m like in that situation so was worried about me being there alone. She didn’t show it though, she was so calm on the phone to which also helped lower my stress levels.
I went to A&E and six hours later – after a lot of tests – I was given the all-clear. The doctors, nurses and all the staff were amazing as always, the NHS gets a bad rep but I’ve never had anything but praise for them.
I left feeling absolutely fine but a little embarrassed. They always tell me not to be, and that I should always go get checked if I need to, but it is shameful to me.
Charlotte and I had an honest and open conversation about how we can take steps to avoid this in the future when I got home. One thing I’ve learned is that no matter what there is always a chance that this will happen to me, but you know what? That is absolutely fine. There’s no shame in it, it’s just something that might occur occasionally. This time I feel I have fully accepted it for the first time. Getting frustrated or angry makes it worse and that is something I’m going to work on.
One of the things Charlotte was upset about was how unprepared I was. I didn’t have my wallet, I’d left my lunch at work so had no food or drink and I drove to the hospital in a state so shouldn’t have been driving. All things I can control, learn from and change. And I will. I will never stop fighting my anxiety.
I felt it was important to write this, even though it’s not theme park related, and I hope you all understand why.
All that’s left to say is thanks.