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The tale of an eleven year old - when my panic attacks became reality

This page added 1 August 2011

By Rhiannon Anderson-Reed (11 years old)

It wasn’t until I was ten that I realised something wasn’t right. It started little by little, and at first I didn’t think much of it. It all began when I started choking on a small amount of tomato. As I was trying to breathe after the tomato skin was out of my throat, my Mum said to me, “Next time don’t panic sweetie, or it could have been much worse”. I didn’t bother to ask what Mum meant, as I was so scared I never wanted it to happen again. It was from here that more small things started to happen that made me unsure if I was normal. We would go swimming and when I was under the water, I would begin to wonder if I would be able to make it to the top of the water again. Then, when I could barely breathe, I would scream in my head “NO! NO! NO! I’VE GOT TO MAKE IT UP TO THE TOP!!!!”. My sleeping was becoming irregular; I was becoming afraid that if I fell asleep, I would never wake up. I would eventually cry myself to sleep. From here on, it got worse every night. I would fear that I was going to die if I fell asleep.

One day a friend at school told me that the Black Hole was coming to earth. At first I just shrugged this off, however later when I was alone, thoughts of this would start to take over my mind. Even though my Mum discussed all my fears with me, assuring me that these things were untrue, it still did not stop me from fearing the worst to the point I was starting to see it in the sky. Well I thought I did. It was a cloud shaped as the Black Hole. It was when I was having a simple hair cut that I began to realize something was really not right. My Mum was cutting my fringe when my eyesight went blurry, my heart began to pound in my chest, I couldn’t breathe. My hearing was fading and I couldn’t think properly. Mum took me to bed and gave me a healthy muesli bar. Mum thought my sugar levels were low. They were perfectly fine, but I wasn’t. I was having a panic attack.

This stayed in my mind and I never really grasped my situation. After this, things started to take a downhill spiral until I couldn’t pull myself out of bed in the mornings. My mum was so worried she would lie in bed with me, holding me as we cried together, not knowing what had happened to her usually happy, care-free daughter. I overheard Mum crying to Dad, saying she was watching her daughter deteriorate right in front of her and that she didn’t know what to do. I was having extreme pain in my ankles and could barely walk. Mum took me to many doctors and I had numerous tests. I finally started to get some answers;  I was told I had Fibromyalgia. It was caused by stress, and all that stress was building up in my ankles. I had placed so many worries on top of myself that my body was just not coping any more.

Mum and Dad supported me as much as they could, but hearing people say “stop worrying, you are eleven, you shouldn’t have worries”, only made it harder. For my birthday, I was given a guided meditation book, and Mum would walk me through it, placing all my worries on a worry tree. This was helping knowing that I could leave all this with the tree, so that I did not have to carry them around. However, after a while I stopped using it, and all my worries started piling up again. I started to let little things get to me. I was starting to become concerned about death again. I was having small panic attacks, and life was becoming harder. School was becoming difficult as I was letting everything get to me. Mum tried to help the school to  understand what I was experiencing. I even wrote a story explaining my feelings, but they just didn’t understand.

I started seeing a psychologist and she was helpful. We worked together to develop a program at school to help other students who may be suffering similar problems. I called it the SAFE program: “Safe And Friendly Environment”, a place where you could say anything without judgment, providing a space just to be you. Sadly the school did not take this seriously and would keep cancelling the sessions. All the children that were involved with the group loved it and felt at ease whilst in this space. My   psychologist also felt this and decided to leave the school as they were unsupportive. My parents also decided I needed to move to a school to where my needs would be met. I was sad that the school did not think that this issue was serious enough. I was starting to feel better and was proud of myself for encouraging other kids to talk about their problems, and to realize they were not alone and that we could all work together on feeling better.

My panic attacks are becoming more regular again. Just the other day, Mum was straightening my hair and I felt an all-too-familiar wave run through my body. My eyes started to blur, my heart was pounding, my breaths were shallow, my hearing was going, and I couldn’t think properly. When the straightener was out of my hair, I walked out of the room. Mum asked “What’s wrong?”
I replied loudly, “My eyes are blurry….”
I was speaking loudly so I could hear myself. Mum said, “Not again. Stop panicking.”
I was confused as I had no idea what I was panicking about, but this is what happens. You don’t know what you’re panicking about, your body just takes over and you lose control. Mum hugged me, gave me water, and told me to relax and breathe. When the attack finished, I went to my room and laid down to rest, as I always end up with a thumping headache afterwards. This is starting to occur more often, and I am struggling in small spaces, even in the shower now I have to jump out to get air.

Mum said that the only person that can fix this is myself. She and Dad are always there to support me and get me what I need. Mum believes just by talking about this, I am moving forward in finding solutions. Mum is arranging a new therapist, so I have someone to talk to about my fears. I also know that I need to find my Worry Tree again, as meditating helps ease some of the stress. Mum has been helping me by telling me about other peoples stories that are just like mine. It is nice to know that there is light at the end of my tunnel. Like I have always said, “Life is a maze. I may be stuck now, but I know I can find my way out”.  

By Rhiannon Anderson-Reed – March 2011

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