In 2005 I was experiencing panic attacks on a daily basis, sometimes 3 or 4 times on a particular bad day. When I look back and reflect on that time what alarms me the most is that I used to just carry on my day as normal. So for example, I would get up have a panic attack in the shower, I would be on my way to work and I would have another. I would have to pull over or park up somewhere until it passed. Perhaps I would have another mid morning or afternoon and then maybe one in the car on the way home. I was exhausted by the time I would get home. Yet each day I would just get myself up and go to work and relive the same day over and over again. At the time I was not particularly happy at home and in life, I just felt so unsettled all the time. I felt like I was existing but not living, I felt completely disconnected. I wasn’t particularly happy in my work either. I felt stagnant but I didn’t know the answers no body seemed to know either. I would take action to move forwards but nothing seemed to want to move forwards. I had counselling, I had CBT but nothing seemed to shift at the time.
Eventually I went to see a psychotherapist and during one session she asked me if I had thought about travelling-I said no, I can’t do that surely, I have a home, a pet, a job but in all honesty I knew I could and deep down I knew I wanted to. I needed space, I needed life and I needed inspiration. Once I decided that this was what I was going to do things seemed to fall into place pretty quickly, my house and car were sold within the space of a week. That confirmed it, I was meant to go. My panic attacks subsided, they didn’t go completely but a lot less than usual, but in September 2006 when I left the house they completely disappeared. I moved back home with my parents with my little cat Millie until I started to travel in January 2007. I spent time in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, South America and Miami. It had made me realise how narrow focused I was about myself and my own life, what I could be and what was possible. I needed more outdoor time in my life and creativity. I needed work that inspired me and kept my agile, fast thinking brain in check otherwise it would just spiral out of control into negative thinking.
On returning to work later on in 2007 I started my Diploma in Tropical Nursing in London at the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine there which was just an amazing course. I also returned to work and things were fine for a while until I picked up my MSc in Public Health Dissertation. The panic attacks returned with a vengeance. I was so upset and disappointed. It was at that time I started to go to yoga, I had to do something. The last thing I wanted was to relive those pre travelling years. My first session was horrible, I was in a state of panic the whole way through but eventually by the end it passed. That session is imprinted in my mind because although I struggled the whole way through I had a light bulb moment that if i just focused on my breath and practice yoga I can get past the anxiety and panic.
In 2009 we sadly lost 3 family members, I realised at the end of that year life was too short to sit at a table and write dissertations, I stopped doing it and started to embrace my creative side. Any remnants of anxiety I had just seemed to disappear completely. I started to get out into nature more. The penny finally dropped why did it take me so long?
When you are in a heightened states of stress and anxiety you cannot always see and end point, you think it’s going to be with you for the rest of your life. What I have learned is that stress and anxiety appear when I am not honouring myself, when I am not engaging in the things I love, I have to get myself outside, I have to be creative, I have to grow things from seed, I have to cook from scratch, I have to write, I have to exercise and practice yoga and I have to have a job that has lots of different elements to it rather than one focus. It’s all part of loving myself and being who I am. You don’t have to do anything drastic like sell your house or go travelling sometimes it’s just a small change that can make a difference.
I cannot remember last time I had a panic attack, although I did have a period of burnout in 2014. I promised myself I would never let myself be like that again and I’ve so far kept to my word. Sure I have had times of incredible stress since then but you know I am so much better at coping with it. I have my stress toolkit that contains all of the above. For me it’s about loving myself enough to honour all that I am and loving the beautiful life, talent and skill I have been given.
All my love