by Halima Ahcene Djaballah
In 2013 there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK. In which 20% of adolescents experience mental health, there is no doubt that that figure is ever growing. Being 24, I can safely categorise myself as part of that percentage. Anxiety is not something that has a clear label attached, however it is something clearly affecting our populace more and more. But what is it exactly?
According to the NHS, anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, which can be mild or severe, (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/). It is an established fact that everyone crosses paths with anxiety in their lives, but it is how we manage these feelings that affect us.
As for me, I have been diagnosed with panic disorder, I have essentially failed to manage my anxiety in a ‘normal’ way. It all started when I was walking through an underpass all alone. As I got closer and closer, I noticed a gang of young hooded males were hanging out in the underpass. All of a sudden, one of the males was charging towards me with a sharp object in his hand. Alas, I thought that was going to be it, understandably experiencing feelings of being anxious; rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and dizziness. Somehow I managed to promptly walk passed him unharmed. Relieved that I was not physically wounded but little did I realise this had mentally wounded me.
From then on, I was experiencing increased feelings of fear. Walking unaccompanied gave me feelings of paranoia, shortness of breath and panic. The tiniest things would make me jump or cause me to briskly check behind for any potential threat. I was becoming hindered and restless. There even reached a point in my life when I was walking round the house with a kitchen knife in my hand, prepared for any danger. As this was escalating very quickly, I was convinced something about me was not quite right. Desperate searches on the internet about these feelings chucked lists at me of psychological dis-functioning I must have been developing.
A couple days later, I was to experience my first ever panic attack. I was occupied with something, when all of a sudden I experienced a shortness of breath which reminded me of my deluded psychological flaws, I felt my heart was closing up, that I was fading away, that I could not breath, that I was dying. I was immediately rushed to hospital and stayed there the night. After endless research, I found out I was suffering from a panic attack. I did not even know what a panic attack was. I had heard of other people having it but never would have put my name to it. That was my first but not the last panic attack I had gone through. I have to this day suffered over 20 panic attacks since then. However it did take me a few years to accept that there is nothing wrong with me physically or psychologically but something I have brought on myself.
I have come to accept that dealing with feelings of anxiety this way has become a part of my life, but something I will not let define me. I now forget what it is like to feel anxious for the sake of feeling scared and not scared that I am going to have another panic attack. Certain situations that generally scare me like heights, scary rides or crowds have now become a product of my panic disorder rather than my fears. I admittedly will avoid certain situations which I think will make me have a panic attack. I cannot shy away from the fact that panic attacks have changed my life and my way of thinking. The feeling that you think everyone will look at you if you have a panic attack. 5 years down the line, I feel I am managing it a lot better.
The oxymoron is, panic disorder has ruined my life but has taught me a lot about myself as well. It has taught me to become a stronger and more patient person. When I think I am going to have a panic attack, I now tell myself that I am going to have a panic attack rather than I am going to die. Strangely, this helps me a great deal. I have certain references I adhere to when I feel this way, for example I look at the floor which blocks out the outer world. As well as that, I put my hands near my mouth which manages my breathing, or I stop speaking and listen to my loved ones ramble on about life. Although these are very absurd ways to avoid panic attacks from starting, they personally work for me. I would say do not let panic attacks stop you from achieving your goals or enjoying yourself. I myself am a keen traveller and flying on planes is not something I am very comfortable with. However, I take necessary measures such as taking medication or plugging into music to help my mind feel at ease when flying. I do not let my panic attacks obstruct my hobbies and this did come after a lot of practise and patience. It is not something that will work straight away but something you have to put your time into.
So my advice to any young person suffering with panic disorder would be, manage it in the way that makes you comfortable. If you feel like you are having trouble breathing, do something that will help you monitor or manage your breathing. Anxiety is something very personal, thus will have personal ways to manage it. Do not shy away from medication that helps tackle panic attacks, in fact do not be shy at all. The best kind of medication is not one you ask for over the counter and that is talking. As cliché and overused this advice is, it definitely works. Talking and opening up about anxiety disorders undoubtedly helps reduce the risk of having frequent panic attacks. Talk to loved ones, friends, counsellors, doctors, teachers. Having anxiety disorders is somewhat taboo but you and I can change that if we real it out in the open.
My name is Halima Ahcene Djaballah and I suffer from panic attacks. I love travelling and hanging out with my family and friends and do not let panic attacks get in the way.