Support Groups Find Therapist Events Calendar Online Store

ADAVICSocial SupportInformationResourcesProfessional HelpOnline StoreTherapist Login
 

Anxiety attacks ruled my life

This page created September 2003.
By Tammy

In her late twenties, Tammy's life suddenly got extremely stressful. But what followed was worse: panic attacks that nearly destroyed her. Here's how she beat them.

"Three and a half years ago I was under an enormous amount of stress - my marriage was breaking down, and my targets as a salesperson for a large corporation seemed to be very unachievable. Since my parents had divorced when I was little, I know how traumatic it is for kids when their mum and dad separate. So when my marriage started to turn bad after only 12 months, I decided to cut my ties and leave my husband - before there were any children involved.

I've always been a perfectionist, very conscious of what people think of me, and a bit of a people pleaser. As a result, I had very high expectations of my marriage and my performance at work, and neither was going the way I'd planned. One Friday evening, after going out for a few drinks with friends from work, I went home and spent the whole night throwing up. I thought it was just something I'd eaten because I was shivering uncontrollably. I also had severe heart palpitations and pins and needles in my arms and legs, but I had no idea what was wrong with me - I hadn't had that much to drink.

The attacks happened regularly after that, and included weekly bouts of diarrhoea. Each of them lasted four hours or more, and went on until I was so sick and exhausted that I fell asleep. Once I asked my husband to take me to the hospital because I believed I was having a heart attack.

I went to see three different doctors and none of them knew what was wrong with me. They just prescribed sleeping and anti-nausea pills, and one doctor even suggested that I change jobs. After that I discovered a book called Living With It: A Survivor's Guide to Panic Attacks by Bev Aisbett (angusrobertson.com.au). I'd never heard of panic attacks before, but all the symptoms listed on the first page sounded so familiar. I knew that was my problem.

Because it's difficult to get one's appetite back after a major panic attack, I lost about five kilos during the three or four months after my first attack; I was looking thin and sickly as a result. The problem was exacerbated when I separated from my husband. I spiralled into a depression that would last for days at a time. Then I'd feel great for awhile and I'd think, 'Oh, I'm really doing well,' but then I'd have another attack and it would destroy my self-esteem again. I was having them a few times a week - I'd throw up all night and then have to go to work the next morning. I thought 'I'm never going to get out of this cycle,' and it became really quite debilitating. I even contemplated suicide a few times because I couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel.

If I went out, or had people over for dinner, I'd have a panic attack. I'd literally spend half the night in the toilet throwing up while I was trying to cook! I developed a fear of social situations and tried to avoid restaurants and parties. If I did have to go to a restaurant, I'd sit close to the toilets in case I had an attack. I was becoming agoraphobic and never wanted to leave the house.

When my husband and I had been separated for nine months, I decided to buy the house we had shared and move back in there - which was very difficult for me emotionally. I also started to see a counsellor about the divorce, I felt like such a failure.

The attacks were getting the better of me and were starting to impact on my work. I couldn't even go in some mornings because I was so exhausted, and it got to the point where I passed out before a presentation, and someone else had to take over. I ended up leaving my job - it was giving me too much stress and I needed a break.

Meanwhile, I met a new guy who was incredibly supportive. During my lowest of lows he would make sure I ate, which was wonderful. He even offered to support me financially - but I knew I'd never work again if I agreed to that. And although some of the books I read said to eat well, rest and exercise, others were quite confronting; suggesting I might be having the attacks because they, 'work for me' in some way. I had to ask myself why? Was I getting more attention? Was it an excuse? I could see that, yes, I wanted to just give up; and yes, I just wanted someone to look after me. So, I decided to see a psychologist to try to understand why this was happening.

I realised that my high expectations, and a need to seek approval from everyone affected me. People who get panic attacks are often trying to please others. I needed to learn to take pressure off myself - to not spend the entire weekend cooking and cleaning because friends were coming over, but to realise people were coming to see me rather than check how clean my house was! I had to change my attitude and say, 'It's not that important.' It was very hard in the beginning, but I slowly started turning my reactions around.

I wanted to get better without drugs, so I tried yoga, Bowen therapy, relaxation techniques and massage. Understanding where it all came from mentally, plus all the natural therapies I used, helped to get the attacks down to a manageable level. Exercise, sleep, a good diet, and no alcohol or caffeine, also helped. Very slowly, I started to get a bit better, and the attacks occurred less and less frequently.

Eventually I applied for a new job and got it, but the first morning before work I was curled up on my floor bawling to my boyfriend, 'I can't go, I'm not going to turn up.' I really didn't want to let myself down, so I dragged myself in, even though my face and eyes were red from crying. For the first two months, I would have panic attacks every Sunday night. I was concerned because I felt the need to be perfect again, to know everything that my colleagues knew. So I went back to see my psychologist and he helped me to rationalise my thoughts.

I still get the attacks, but it's only once every few months, and it's because I start to fall into my old habits. I had one recently when I had to travel interstate for work - I was up all night vomiting. I had to be up at five in the morning and I knew I'd be exhausted, but although I thought it would be easier to ring and say I'm not coming, I realised that I would have had to go through the whole thing again the next day! So I just told myself, 'It doesn't matter if I'm tired the next day, I'll sleep on the plane. I can handle it now.'" As told to Emily Lawrence Gazal



(Reprinted with permission - Cosmopolitan Magazine, July, 2003)


ADAVIC is a NON-PROFIT
self-funded organisation
. We welcome your contributions
donations, and memberships.

If you would like to sponsor ADAVIC
or help with fundraising, please
contact the ADAVIC office.


Sign up for our eNews letter:
Name:
Email: