Lizi spent years fighting debilitating panic attacks – now she wants answers.
The first time it happened was a Sunday after a lovely weekend spent with my family. There was no warning and no reason why it struck me then. But it did.
The only way I can describe it was a feeling that I needed to run and get away from where I was. My heart was racing, I was sweating and felt faint. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening.
The feeling eventually passed and I went to the doctor the next day. She told me that my physical health was fine and it was more likely to be a panic attack.
As soon as I got home, I googled panic attack and became increasingly anxious with every click. I learnt about how debilitating panic attacks could be and read stories about how they’d dominated people’s lives.
Although I tried to forget, the fear of having another one was firmly embedded in my mind. Over the next few months, I was having a panic attack at least once a day.
I went from going out almost every night to staying in and wanting to be at home rather than at my university halls.
Over summer, it got to the stage where I refused to leave the house, I was terrified of having a panic attack in public and what people might think.
I was later diagnosed with panic disorder and health anxiety: a headache could lead me to stress that I had a brain tumour, a cough that I could be dying. I was visiting the doctor at least once a week, convinced I had a serious illness.
To combat these problems, my GP prescribed me antidepressants and a course of CBT. I was sceptical, convinced that this was something I’d have for the rest of my life and there was little that treatment could do.
But actually, the antidepressants did take the edge off the panic attacks and made me feel like I had more control. I managed to graduate with a 2:1 degree but I was still struggling with my mental health.
I wanted to become a teacher and got a place on a PGCE course. Unfortunately, the stress and pressure caused my panic attacks to become worse. I went home crying every night, panicking about the next day.
Over the next three years, the panic attacks continued, taking over my whole life.
I remember one night, I woke up at 3am, my whole body was numb and my legs were shaking. I could not stop myself from shaking. I genuinely thought I was going to die, I rang the ambulance and they took me to A&E, only to be told that I was having a panic attack and sent home.
It was time to seek more help. The first time I had CBT I didn’t engage with it properly, but this time I was determined to get better. It made all the difference and I’m now doing much better. But I had to wait months to get treatment, we need to make sure people can access services when they need them – not have to endure months of distress on their own!
I’d like to know what caused my panic attacks – I was perfectly happy, so what happened to bring on this debilitating anxiety?
If we had more research, we could find out what puts someone at risk of mental illness and then maybe we could protect people like me.
I want to be part of studies so that we have a better understanding about anxiety and panic disorder. Knowing that people are doing research brings me hope.
Last updated: 13 April 2018