Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are certainly not uncommon, I think it is something like 1 in 10 people will have one at some point in their lives. Some people have one and that’s it, they never return. Others have periods of them and periods of not having them throughout their life. While on the extreme end people have them regularly, sometimes connected to a certain event/feeling/time but sometimes just completely randomly, I know of somebody who once had one while shopping in a supermarket.

I think the hardest thing about this blog post is trying to explain what a panic attack is like because unless you’ve had one then you won’t fully understand, however equally I may have had a very different experience to somebody else who has had a panic attack. The easiest way for me to explain is to go through what happens for me.

Those of you who have seen me having a panic attack have normally managed to remain quite calm which is mildly impressive (but I don’t like to hand out compliments to often!). The most important thing when helping somebody through a panic attack is to stay calm yourself, because panicking is counter productive and leads to two of you in a state instead of one! It is also quite beneficial to be kind to the person having a panic attack, I once had a security guard tell me to calm down and stop making a scene. Not only did this not help calm me down, it actually made things a lot worse as I was then panicking about embarrassing myself too! My two simple tips are to get the person anything they need and don’t crowd them! However both of these are just personal preferences and if you know somebody who suffers from panic attacks it is probably worth asking (at a time when they are NOT having a panic attack) what the best thing to do is when they are having one.

Right so you’ve heard the facts, heard my advice, now onto the harder part of explaining what a panic attack is actually like. For me, I can tell one is coming on when my heart starts racing and my arm starts shaking and I can’t get it to stop. This will gradually get worse over a few minutes and I also get a ringing in my ears, a throbbing headache and find it hard to breathe (in fact…I’ve had panic attacks mistaken for asthma attacks before, by other people and myself!) A panic attack normally builds up and reaches a peak before it gets better. The worst I’ve ever had I actually saw myself having a panic attack in my mind which was actually quite scary and distressing – so apologies to those who have to had to watch me having panic attacks. Once the symptoms have died down and I’m a bit calmer I often feel quite disorientated, it’s actually quite similar to being a bit tipsy!

I said above that panic attacks can be linked to a certain activity or feeling. For me the main link I have found is large crowds, rowdy groups (basically drunk people) and being somewhere that I can’t get out of (like an exam hall!) This has obviously proved a bit annoying when you’re a student! It’s actually taken me a little while to accept that clubbing and getting drunk probably isn’t for me anymore but I would MUCH rather sit at home and read a book and be calm than sit outside a club feeling like I’m having a heart attack and I’m going to die (yes, it can feel like that!)

This may all sound a little bit crazy to you if you’ve never had any experience with panic attacks but it’s always good to be aware because you never know who might have one!

PS. I wouldn’t wish one upon my worst enemy (they’re horrible!) so I really hope none of you reading this ever has one!

A thought…

Today’s post is nice and short, mainly because I’m stressing about exams at the moment! I’ve obviously put up a fair few posts about mental health so this one has a slightly happier tone to it! (Well it did in the original draft!)

A friend of mine said to me the other day that there was no shame in giving something up, but there may be regrets if you do. A very simple thought but very very true! I always used to think I’d be ashamed if I’d given up on university this year or given up on Chemical Engineering entirely; however shame is a feeling you have based on what others think of you and that really doesn’t matter! Regret on the other hand is something that you feel when there is no going back on an action that you’ve done, it’s entirely based on your opinion of yourself. It’s no better than shame but it is something you can control, unlike what other people think.

The other point I wanted to make is that giving up on something, all feelings aside, isn’t always the best or easiest option. There can be times when you feel like there is no other choice and I know this can be worsened by illnesses like depression, anxiety and many more. However there is always a way through, just finding it often takes some digging, guidance or maybe a kick in the right direction!

Basically what I’m saying is don’t live to regret anything, don’t be ashamed of a choice you make and most importantly never ever give up on something you want!

The Mind

Imagine you are an athlete. Pick a sport, any sport you like. You use your legs every day, your arms every day and any other part of your body that your sport involves. Now imagine that you break your leg. Not only are you unable to play your sport but you’re also unlikely to be able to get around without the aid of crutches, you need doors held open for you and stairs, well they are just a nightmare!

Now imagine you are sitting in an exam. The only things you need are your hand to write with and your mind. So imagine that your mind isn’t working, imagine it has a disease so that it is incapable of working at full capacity. It’s not just this exam that is a bother, its simple things like getting your body to relax to go to sleep or having the motivation to leave your bed or your seat to go and do something.

Anybody who questions how a Mental Health Problem is the same as a physical problem, just look above again. They’re as bad as each other. They can both alter your life, they can both stop you doing things that you want to do and they can both kill you. The only difference is that physical problems have an end and if they don’t have an end then there is ways to adapt, for most. Mental Health Problems, when you’ve got them, there is often no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel if you will.

So next time you think, for even one second, that Mental Health Problems aren’t ‘real illnesses’, just imagine your broken leg, imagine your mind not working and be grateful that you can run to that exam you’re late for because you’ve overslept.

Pressure

In order to achieve a goal you need to have a motivation, right? Whether that is money, a job, the next stage of your life or personal satisfaction; it’s different for everybody. Depending on how much you care about the motivation, you’ll put pressure on yourself to achieve. This pressure is often just what you need to kick start you into achieving your goal, however, sometimes, when it gets too much, it’s fatal.

I have fixed this idea into my head that everybody expects me to achieve everything I set out to do.  This is rubbish. Firstly, most people don’t actually care. Secondly, those that do are going to love you the same whether you do or do not achieve what you set out to do. Personally, I wish I had learnt this years ago, not so that I could have slacked off and not cared about my goals, but so I could have realised that my goals were just that; MY goals. It doesn’t matter what my friends thinks, what my parents think or what anybody else thinks. I’ve found that they’d rather see me happy than like I have been for the past 6 months and achieving everything I wanted to.

All along the pressure that I thought was coming from everybody around me was actually coming from me and my need for everything to be perfect. Unless I knew every detail of a course and had done all past papers, I wouldn’t consider myself ready for an exam.  If I hadn’t practiced every waking hour or couldn’t play a piece perfectly then I didn’t consider myself ready for a concert. If everything wasn’t in a place in my room then it wasn’t tidy. Little did I realise that knowing everything didn’t stop an exam containing a question I couldn’t answer, the imperfections in a live performance was what made it so special and most importantly…my room was never going to be classed as tidy!

There is nothing wrong with striving for everything to be as good as it can possibly be but nothing in life is perfect and it never will be. There isn’t enough time in the world for everything to be made perfect and there certainly isn’t a reason for you to put pressure on yourself to try. That is a fact.

So in my second year of Chemical Engineering I’ve learnt that by applying pressure you can transform work energy into any other type of energy you like, that you can often blame a rounding error for a slightly wrong answer and that you can assume everything is ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ but it never quite is.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week is 13th-19th May 2013. It’s not just about those who have been diagnosed with Mental Health Problems, it’s about everybody. There is no line between having a Mental Health Problem and not having one, there is a scale and everybody is on it. You won’t remain in the same place all through your life or even all the way through the year. For those of you who are coming up to exams, your mental health is probably not in perfect form due to stress, but then again when is it ever. I’m not trying to say that everybody has a Mental Health Problem, far far from it, in fact the term I should probably use is Mental Wellbeing. This is what Mental Health Awareness Week is all about, everybody and their Wellbeing.

Each year has a theme, and this year’s theme is basically exercise! I could go into all of the biology behind chemicals and the brain and why exercise is good for you but quite frankly I can’t stand biology so I’ll leave that to somebody else. I’ll just tell you about my experience instead. I spent a lot of February in bed because I’d wake up in the morning (if I’d slept) and not see the point in getting up or not have the motivation or the energy too. I put myself in a bit of a rut really. I started worrying about missing university and how I was going to catch up, yet was still missing lectures! Then I came home for a week and started walking my dog (see picture below because I’m a little obsessed with my dog) and even just doing this made everything seem a little bit better. I felt like I’d achieved something that day and I seemed to have far more energy than I did before! When I went back to Manchester I was back in lectures, not all of them but some of them, and realised that actually just going outside or basically not sitting around doing nothing all day was really beneficial.

I’m not saying that everybody needs to go and do serious amounts of exercise because I don’t even do that. I also hate it when you read the leaflets that say if you’re stressed go for a walk etc HOWEVER they’re not wrong. You may feel stupid going and walking round the block but I’d rather feel stupid for 5 minutes than I would spend the day feeling sorry for myself in bed.

All of this is obviously personal opinion and a lot of people will say it seems silly, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

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Statistics

In 2011:

22% of people thought that ‘There is something about people with mental illness that makes it easy to tell them from normal people’

77% of people thought that ‘Mental illness is an illness like any other’

21% of people thought that ‘As soon as a person shows signs of mental disturbance, he should be hospitalized’

4.7% of the population has an anxiety disorder of some sort

17-25% of the population will develop some sort of depression in some point in their lives

29% of people with a mental health problem will develop sleeping problems which are a problem in themselves

0.5% of the population suffers from Schizophrenia

(All based on UK statistics)

Anxiety

I was recently diagnosed with Anxiety after a string of panic attacks. Now I didn’t know a lot about what it was when the doctor first told me what was wrong with me, but now that I do know, I realise that the issues were there long before that day in the doctors.

I’m the first to admit that I didn’t have a clue about Mental Health Problems before I came to university and met people who were open and honest about them. However the thing that struck me was that some of them were worried to tell people that they had them at the time or even mention them now that they were over the worst of it. This isn’t their fault and it’s not their mind’s fault. It is society’s fault. Mental Health Problems have become such a taboo topic that the majority of people don’t have a clue what having Depression or Anxiety means.

I don’t want the sympathy of anybody, that’s not what this blog is about. It’s here to raise awareness of Mental Health so that people aren’t scared to tell people about their problems. Many people that know me will have gone through the past 6 months not knowing I was ill at all and reading this would shock them. Some people would question my use of the word ill in the last sentence, so yes it is an illness. In fact it is one that 1 in 6 people will suffer from at some point in their lifetime.

I can’t change the way a nation thinks about something but if just one person has a slightly different attitude to Mental Health Problems after reading this then it was worthwhile.

xx