Striking when you least expect!

Gail Braznell

Almost everybody worries about what will happen in the future. The prospect of not knowing if something good or bad will happen to you in the near future can produce a lot of fear and anxiety.
I have a history of panic attacks and I’ve also been diagnosed with a panic disorder, you wouldn’t know it though. I’m a successful photographer as well as a writer, I have a loving family with a three year old son who makes me very proud, I don’t have any social anxiety what so ever and I have lots of friends. On the whole life is pretty awesome!

I know first hand how panic attacks are very real, very awful, and emotionally debilitating. Panic attacks are intensely frightening and can hit you at any moment and when you least expect. Some people who have panic attack’s have feelings of anxiety or dread, light-headedness or fainting, rapid breathing, sweating, or an increased heart rate.

The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by your body going into “fight or flight” mode.
As your body tries to take in more oxygen, your breathing quickens. Your body also releases hormones, such as adrenaline, causing your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up.

My experience

On a warm Sunday evening, I’d drifted into one of those deep sleeps really quickly. Out of the blue a fear of fright woke me suddenly. I approached my bedroom window and pulled back the blinds, but there was nothing there. My heart started pounding as I trembled. My breathing was hard and fast and I had a tingling sensation right across my chest which made me think I was having a heart attack. A sudden fear of death seemed to come from nowhere and I felt alone, on edge and anxious. I had no idea why I felt this way, it was all so very confusing. It happened so fast, “lets get you to hospital quickly”, Eve my partner shrieked, who was clueless as to what was a matter with me.

We arrived at the hospital and they hooked me up to all the necessary machines and carried out lots of tests. I had wires and pipes everywhere and an oxygen mask on my face. All the time Eve was right beside me waiting anxiously. As I looked across at her, she was as white as a ghost. She couldn’t handle seeing me in this way, a couple of seconds later her legs buckled and she’d passed out at the thought that I was going to die.

Convinced we had taken something, hospital staff continued to interrogate us but once they realised we hadn’t they were able to treat me for a panic attack and Eve for shock. (We still laugh about that night now, how I ended up waiting for Eve to recover from her shock.)

The Panic attack’s continued night after night, week after week for months, then years.

I would go to bed in a normal state of mind, nothing at all bothering me, then boom! I’d suddenly wake in the middle of the night scared and confused. I’d always approach my bedroom window with my fists clenched tightly, all the time my heart was pounding, my chest was tight, I comforted myself by rocking from side to side and backwards and forwards. I felt foolish, as if I was losing my mind. There was nowhere to go to escape this terrifying ordeal. My whole body had pins and needles, I had a burning sensation in my head and every small pain or ache in my body made me think something serious or life-threatening was occurring.

During the day I became moody and snappy, I couldn’t sleep and my memory and concentration was so poor. Every aspect of my life was deeply affected. At my low point, I was overwhelmed from morning to night by waves of panic and anxiety. I just didn’t know what was wrong with me and I couldn’t seem to shake it off.

We had many trips to the hospital due to my fear of dying. Each time I was reassured that it was a panic attack and I wasn’t dying. I was prescribed an antidepressant that helped to increase the level of serotonin in my brain and I was offered therapy, which at that particular time I refused.

Years passed and my panic became less frequent. I Could go several months without one, but then I could get three in one night.

My Recovery

I’m often asked how I got over my panic attacks? To be honest I never have, I’ve just got better at handling each situation as it occurs.

I’m only qualified to talk about my own experiences and we are all different, with different symptoms and distinctive triggers. Panic attack’s rob me of my ability to think, remember, and concentrate, so I’ve become mindful, my imagination can often run wild and cause me to think differently than I generally should.

I taught myself to see and feel things more clearly and give myself time to think things through rationally by firstly seeking some hypnotherapy treatment. A very softly spoken, non judgemental lady talked to me in her calming voice analysing the route cause of my problems by communicating with my sub-conscious mind.

I also keep a panic diary noting all the important aspects of a panic attack. I wait until the waves of panic are over and then I write in scruffy handwriting and misspelt words to the best of my knowledge the events as they terrifyingly unfolded.

For the most part, I feel that I’ve conquered my anxiety, although some nights I still find myself jumping up at the window. Mostly, I’m able to do things with confidence again and without a fear of anxiety or death.
Below is a poem that I wrote immediately after a panic attack. By my own admission it’s not my greatest work but more a demonstration of how I battle through this frightful condition. If I can just reach out to one person then I’d be very pleased I decided to share my story.

Panic

Wake up out the blue in the middle of the night
Not sure what’s woke me, but it’s given me a fright

I rapidly approach the window with much confusion
My mind is playing tricks it must be an illusion

My heart is pounding and my chest is tight
Too scared to even reach out for the light

I clench my fists tightly and rock side to side
I’m scared and I’m nervous but where can I hide

Pins and needles are burning and tingling in my head
It feels like a few hours and I’m gonna be dead

I’m so scared, is it a heart attack or it could be a tumour
Living with panic means I frighten much sooner

Sweating, palpitations, pounding heart, trembling and shaking
Nightmares, dizziness, shortness of breath and my chest is aching

This condition is eating me alive, it’s me it wants to devour
The monster of sensation seems to hold all the power

Symptoms of a panic attack

A sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)
Racing heart
Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
Sense of terror or impending doom or death
Feeling sweaty or having chills
Chest pains
Breathing difficulties
Feeling a loss of control
A need to go to the toilet
Dry mouth
Hyperventilation

For help and advise visit: www.nhs.uk 
Or if you wish to share your own experiences with me drop me an email at;
 gailbraznell@reflectedimages.co.uk