I WANT to tell you a story today, but it’s a bit different from our usual chat.
I think it’s a story that needs to be told, because I don’t want people to feel alone anymore.
My first panic attack occurred a few months after I finished high school.
I was driving at night, lost complete confidence in my ability to be behind the wheel, my vision blurred, my heart was threatening to rip through my chest, I burst into tears and I had the most awful, gut-wrenching feeling of utter fear.
I was on the side of the road, afraid of my car, thinking I was going to die.
Thus began my downward spiral.
I was Alice in freaking Horrorland.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am quite extroverted.
In the days after the incident, I became so introverted that I barely recognised myself.
I became my anxiety.
Initially, I was okay.
I had scared myself, but carried on as normal.
But something just wasn’t quite right.
I became highly irritable and I twitched a lot, at every loud noise or sudden movement.
I was hypersensitive and numb to things, at the same time.
All I wanted to do was curl up in bed or on the couch all day, where I couldn’t feel disassociated or dazed.
I refused to get into a car.
I lost 5kg in a matter of days.
I couldn’t eat, I didn’t want to go out; I could barely function.
I quit my job because I became so anxious around too many people and noise and weird lighting.
My doctor said I was showing symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder.
I trembled the entire drive to and from the doctor’s office.
I endlessly researched my symptoms and discovered all the possible treatments.
I refused to believe I had a form of mental illness, because mental illness could not be cured with a week of antibiotics and bed rest.
But nothing could cure it overnight.
Trust me, with the endless hours I spent online, I would have found a cure by now.
I considered medication, hypnotherapy, a psychologist, brain surgery, and whether I had a physical illness that just produced similar symptoms.
I wanted an instant cure because I was so scared of an illness that was not yet fully understood and cured by science.
The worst part was seeing people turn away in fear as I shook and hyperventilated, trying to breathe with no air.
It took me more than a year to comprehend that the cause of my anxiety was undisclosed.
The sole purpose of me telling you my story is that I want you to be brave.
I want you to ask for help when you need it.
Because it is okay to not be okay.
What isn’t okay is to let it consume you.
I was consumed by my anxiety for months.
Some people are consumed by it for years.
I still get the odd feeling of disassociation in a shopping centre, and get twitchy when I am super tired.
I only started to become myself again once I had acknowledged my anxiety, and decided I wanted to figure out how to cope with it.
No matter how far you think you have fallen down the rabbit hole, there is always a ladder waiting to help you up.
Be that ladder a person, medical assistance, self-help or a combination of a few things, you have a ladder.
You just need to let yourself start to climb it.
As I always say, step by step.
My first step?
My name is Ash and I suffer from anxiety.