Opening up to friends and family about my anxiety attacks has been a vital step. However isolated you feel, you’re not alone

Since my teens, I have suffered daily with acute anxiety. This commonly presents itself in the form of social anxiety – an overwhelming sense of dread at the prospect of participating in some form of social activity. Most frequently, it is the thought of actually leaving the house for a social gathering when the anxiety becomes so great that it results in a panic attack. Usually these manifest themselves as pins and needles all over the body, hot flushes, sweating, and rapid, uncontrollable breathing, which in turn results in dizziness and blackouts. An anxiety attack is a deeply unpleasant thing to experience. I’m lucky enough to live with my partner of six years, who has witnessed the attacks and has become invaluable in helping me cope with them.

Occasionally, the anxiety won’t take hold until I’m already in a social situation, which is when the condition becomes a real problem. Even when with a group of friends, the associated symptoms can kick in. Intense nervousness and insecurity accompany an overpowering awareness of one’s self. This creates paranoia – a feeling that everyone present is looking at, and talking about me. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to excuse myself from a party or meeting as the fear of an impending attack becomes unmanageable.

I sought help from my GP after my anxiety had become so debilitating that I had to take time off work and found some relief following the prescription of a drug called Citalopram, which works to reduce anxiety and stress. This has significantly improved things as I’ve seen a notable decrease in the affect of anxiety on my daily existence, at the cost of some undesirable, albeit, less problematic side-effects (nausea, drowsiness, some short-term memory loss). I’m well aware however, that this isn’t a long-term solution. I’m a full-time student in Derby and my university has a fantastic health and well-being service that offers free counselling sessions to all students, with only a very short waiting list. During these sessions, my counsellor and I have discussed various coping methods and strategies that not only aim to help prevent attacks, but provide ways of dealing with them when prevention fails.

The most useful step I’ve taken in the battle against my anxiety is to share my experience with friends and family. For a long time, I was ashamed of my affliction and incredibly reluctant to share it. Things I’d read in the media and been told by my peers lead me to believe that mental illness was a weakness and not something readily admitted – particularly not by an adolescent male. However, following advice I’ve received in the last 18 months, I have discussed the problems I face with good friends and found it to be incredibly beneficial. Having people I can talk to about the illness and receive support from is a huge comfort. I wish I’d done it sooner.

Going forward, my goal is to use the strategies I’ve discussed in my counselling sessions to gradually reduce my Citalopram dosage until I can eventually stop taking the drug altogether. The problem with the majority of prescription medications is that taking them for any significant amount of time inevitably results in a level of dependence, and I know from days that I’ve forgotten to take it that I am very much reliant on it. In the meantime, I will continue to count on the support of my friends, my family and my partner to get me through the difficult days. I’d certainly urge anyone else suffering from social anxiety to consult their GP and discuss their experiences with those close to them. Recent studies found that a third of all Europeans suffer from some form of mental illness. However isolated you feel, in reality you’re far from alone.

This account was taken from an article by Peter Salter – The Guardian Newspaper; Thursday 15 March 2012. I particularly like the sentiment of sharing one’s experience with family and friends. Odhran.

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