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Amelia's story

This page uploaded 31 July 2009
By Amelia

It was January this year (1999) when someone very dear to me almost lost her life. Filled with turbulent emotions, I sat aimlessly in the hospital room by her bedside, when suddenly I had the most dreadful feeling overcome me - I suffered a major panic attack.  
 
I had suffered panic attacks since around the age of 22. When it all began, I couldn't understand what was happening with my body. What was happening to my mind? Was I going mad? Would people accept me because of my behaviour? I found that with my panic attacks I also suffered from agoraphobia. I didn't know where to go, who to turn to.  
 
My attacks have occurred randomly throughout the past six years. There were times where I almost forgot I suffered from them, yet there were times where my life was based around the fear and anxiety of when and where I may experience another unannounced attack. With panic, I suffered weak legs, tingling throughout my entire body, choking sensations, sweaty palms, shaking and derealisation of my surrounding - I felt I was going to faint and sometimes I thought I might die.  
 
This year was the real crunch for me. No longer could I go through the emotional upheaval. I was feeling extremely vulnerable as a person, at times so depressed and worthless. I was so scared that I tended to protect myself with this invisible barrier, not wanting to let anyone into my world, in fear of the embarrassment and humiliation of people knowing I suffered from panic attacks. I decided to seek advice and found someone who could help me and make me understand why my body and mind reacted the way they did to certain situations and places.  
 
Last June I found support. Never before had I discussed with anyone the issues, experiences, happiness, sadness, lows and highs of my life. I found that these experiences had contributed to my fears and had increased my anxiety, which had resulted in panic attacks. Throughout the therapy sessions I would laugh at silly behavioural patterns I had adopted. The likes of carrying a bottle of water, wherever I went in fear of panicking and believing water to be my saviour!! When going to the cinema, I would request to be seated on the outside of the aisle, preparing myself to race out the doors in fear of a panic attack.  
 
The most important lesson I learnt with fear and panic is to face your fears. Never to avoid situations that scare you, but to instead put yourself in the feared situation itself. The human mind is an incredible tool. My memory would remind me of places and times when I had experienced an attack. I never thought it would leave, but it does fade in time. One of the most valuable explanations of learning how not to panic was to learn how to breath properly. I was taught a fabulous technique called the 'body flop'. This would relax not only my body but also my mind. To this very day, I still practice the technique and also concentrate on my breathing by taking long, slow, deep breaths.  
 
One thing you must learn to do, is trust people and places. You are safe no matter where you go or what you do. The simple task of getting in the car with a friend and driving to the shops was an ordeal for me. I would build myself up into such a stew, that I felt I couldn't even trust the person for less than a kilometre drive. In turn I would panic and this would bring on an attack. It is so important to keep exposing yourself to situations that you would usually avoid - keep facing your fears.  
 
To this very day, I may sometimes suffer a slight tingle in my hands or a slight feeling of derealisation - but I know that all I have to do is breathe and relax. When I first learnt about 'welcoming in the fear' I would drive along in the car saying out aloud 'well fear, if you are going to get me, come and get me.' At first, I thought to myself, what a load of hogwash, but it works and the more you do it, the stronger and better you feel.  
 
You can read many books, attend seminars, read clippings from the newspapers or magazines, drink certain teas, take certain herbal remedies, but my advice is to talk to someone. You must get to the very core of your problems to be able to address them and to move on in your life.  
 
For 28 years I never felt very special. In fact, I felt like a reject. Now, I know for sure, that I am a very special person, warts and all!! People will love me for who and what I am. I know that having overcome my fears and anxieties makes me a much more confident and offering person today. My outlook on life is so much more directional, and so is my attitude. My world has totally turned around since conquering my panic attacks. I owe all my thanks to Sallee McLaren, Psychologist.  
 

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