Welcome to my inner monologue four weeks ago lying on a hotel bed in New York City. On what was meant to be my big adventure holiday exploring North America it hit me worse than I think I’ve ever felt it:
Heart pounding like crazy, pain searing down my arms and legs and constant thoughts hammering through my head telling me “you’re going to die halfway across the world away from your loved ones and there’s nothing you can do about it”.
It was just under two years ago that I first felt these sensations. It had been one of the busiest, most stressful periods I’d ever had in my work and personal lives. For weeks there’d been this rising tension across my whole body until one day sitting at my work desk the tightness in my chest became too much to bear. I walked into my boss’ office with surprising calm and told her “I’m going to take myself to hospital.”
At the hospital they scanned me, prodded me, tested me and told me there was nothing much wrong. My blood pressure was a little high and I was slightly dehydrated. I was placed on a drip for a couple of hours and sent home. A couple of trips to the GP for more testing that week also showed no major problems. I took the episode as a sign that I was long overdue for a holiday, took a break and thankfully the tension and the pains went away.
I still had no answers. Why the hell did my body do this to me when I most needed it to be operational?
It wasn’t until six months later that a good friend was having a rough time and told me about her experiences with panic attacks and anxiety. Through hearing her experience it occurred to me – did I have a panic attack?
The next day I booked an appointment with my GP and asked the question – Do I have anxiety?
Beyondblue describes anxiety as “…more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where a person feels under pressure, it usually passes once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed.
Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t subside. Anxiety is when they are ongoing and exist without any particular reason or cause. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard for a person to cope with daily life. We all feel anxious from time to time, but for a person experiencing anxiety, these feelings cannot be easily controlled.”
My GP referred me to my local headspace centre where I started seeing a psychologist and I’ve been getting support for the last year. In retrospect I can now see that I’ve probably always had anxiety. Whilst these physical symptoms were new to me I can see how anxiety has influenced me throughout my entire life. Since being diagnosed I’ve also realised just how many people anxiety impacts. I never knew that many of my closest colleagues, friends and family have also lived with anxiety and how diverse a condition it can be. No two people experience anxiety in the same way.
This brings me back to my hotel room in New York City four weeks ago. Whilst travelling with a close friend who also lives with anxiety we both found out that travel was one of our worst triggers. However this time I came prepared. Prior to the trip I spoke to my GP about managing my symptoms and came prepared with some basic medication and tools to manage my anxiety. Anxiety was not going to ruin my holiday. The advantage of travelling with a close friend also living with anxiety was that we could be open, honest and supportive of each other. We may have anxiety, but with patience, support and compassion for each other we still managed to have an awesome holiday.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned out of this recent experience it’s that you are definitely not alone and you don’t need to suffer alone. Since opening up about my experience on anxiety I’ve discovered that some of my most respected, admired and treasured colleagues, friends and family have also lived through these experiences. If you think there’s something wrong please speak up – talk to your GP or one of the many support services available. Anxiety is just one of many mental health issues we need to discuss as a community. I hope by sharing my experience others will share theirs too and our community, our social spheres and our workplaces can become more supportive and understanding places.
If you need support you can contact the following services:
SANE Australia helpline
1800 18 SANE (7263) or www.sane.org
Lifeline Service Finder
Talk to your local GP or health professional
beyondblue: the national depression initiative
1300 22 4636 (1300 bb info) or www.beyondblue.org.au
Black Dog Institute