The first time this surfaced was when, aged 9 or 10, I was in a collision with a bicycle and sustained wounds to the head. As my mother attempted to tend to the wounds I started to panic and lost consciousness. This was the start of many, many years of what I would now describe as mental health problems. My mother took me to the doctors who advised her that I would ‘grow out of it’. The phobia persisted. Sometimes I could struggle through the wave of anxiety but on other occasions, and there were many, I would pass out. It happened at school, at home, in the cinema, at the dentists and in the street. The initial issue began to develop into others and I became more and more withdrawn and anxious about being in public places, the risk of having an attack and going through the embarrassment which inevitably followed. I began to experience intrusive thoughts about the very things that were likely to trigger an attack. I would get off the bus half way through the journey, bolt for the exit of the supermarket and freeze at the entrance to a social event. I felt like a freak, like I was the only person ever to experience this. I had never heard the term ‘panic attack’ and had no understanding of what I was going through or what might help.
Interestingly, as a youngster I loved horror movies and in particular, vampire movies. Looking back now, it seems to me that my subconscious mind may have been attempting to desensitise me from my fear of blood.
As I approached adulthood, I discovered alcohol. Here, or so I thought, was the answer to my prayers. If I ‘medicated’ with alcohol I found I could face situations that would not have been possible. I could go to gigs, to the football, to the pub and best of all, I could talk to girls! And that is how I lived for much of the next 15 years; struggling with the same issues, never really addressing them, masking the problem with drink and hoping it would someday stop.
In the year 2000 I started as a volunteer with, and was later employed by Coventry & Warwickshire Mind. It was clear to me that my new employer valued my experiences and could see that I could use them to understand and empathise with service users. Having been able to chat to the coordinator of our SHARE anxiety management course, and to other colleagues, I was able to gain further insight into my experiences in a safe and non-judgemental environment and gradually I felt more and more able to control my anxiety.
I realise now that I am naturally an anxious person. I don’t find it easy to relax, I don’t sleep easily and I still experience feelings of panic under certain circumstances. However, as the years have passed I have calmed. I’ve learned what works for me and my anxiety no longer rules my life. It has not gone away but is vastly reduced and I feel I am the master of it.