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Well as you may well know most of my reviews recently have been about the great time I had in Canada. There is probably a few more of these to come, but I thought this time I would go for something a little different. So instead of a happy joyful review of some of my favourite places and experiences, I’m going to the opposite end of the spectrum. This is as bad as it ever gets for me, a hard subject but one that has had a big impact on my life!I was browsing through the reviews yesterday when I came across this subject. This is something that immediately struck a cord with me. I suffered from panic attacks and severe anxiety as a child through into my teens. It's not something I like to talk about as it brings all those unpleasant memories back to the surface. However when I read a review the other day from a fellow member who still really struggles with these problems, I thought maybe it would be good to share my experiences, and in doing so maybe even help people who still struggle with the same problems on a daily basis. So that's what I'm going to do. It won't be fun talking about it, but if I can make one person's life more bearable, it will be well worth the effort. So I am going to explain the history of my problems, what caused them, what effect they had on me, and probably most importantly how I overcame them.
Up until the age of ten, I lived a very normal happy childhood. I was part of a loving family, had lots of friends, did well at school and was generally a content little boy. Then everything changed. My first experience of a panic attack was when I was visiting a secondary school on an open evening. I had gone with my parents to have a look round the school as a potential next stop after primary school. I remember not feeling myself that night. I kept having hot flushes, and felt a little faint. Being a ten year old boy I had no idea what was wrong. Then about an hour into the evening, when we had gone down several long corridors into the centre of the school, something in my head snapped! I suddenly panicked. I felt I was trapped with no way to escape. I started to pass out, and then started screaming 'I have to get out'. My poor parents had no idea what was wrong but quickly got me out of the building and home.Over the next few days I was kept off school. My parents were very concerned, not really knowing what was wrong with me or what to do about it. At the same time I was confused, the incident at the school had been truly terrifying, but the most scary part of all was that it was an unknown fear, what had happened to me? That weekend they took me round to visit my friend, a place I was familiar with and often visited. The plan was to leave me there while they went off to do some shopping. As my parents were leaving the sudden sense of being trapped somewhere once again returned. I panicked, screaming that I didn't want my parents to leave. They didn't and we returned home together. From here on life changed.
Suddenly I had lost it. This was a full-scale mental breakdown. I could barely leave the house without panicking. I stopped going to school, stopped seeing my friends and was almost constantly confined to the house. Even worse I came to depend upon my mother. So if she was too leave the house I would start to panic, thinking that something might happen to her. This was awful for her as she obviously had things to do, her job, her social life and many other things started to suffer. My life suddenly became a series of 'Whatifs'. It sounds silly but I would think, 'what if I'm in a car crash', 'what if the car doors lock and I can't escape', 'what if my mum gets kidnapped whilst she's out'. All very irrational thoughts, but they would constantly spin round my head. When it was evident that things were getting worse and there was no end in sight my parents decided it was time to take action and get some professional help.
Mrs Woodhouse tried various methods of introducing me back in normal life, the most successful seemed to be doing things very slowly and giving me rewards for my progress. Given time I managed to get out the house again, but it was another few months before I could return to school. And when I did I would only go for ten minutes at a time, with my mum sat there in class with me. As you can imagine this didn't help me get on with my friends. They did not understand me and didn't really want much to do with me. However with the help of Mrs Woodhouse, little by little I gradually returned to school, gradually started living a more normal life. But still I would struggle with many everyday things.
Other things like going to new places I could not cope with. Going into busy towns, standing in a queue of people or generally anywhere that was a confined space I was not able to deal with. It was amazing how many situations I just would have to affoid, things that we all take for granted I would sometimes just not be able to deal with. However even with this being the case I was living a relatively normal life.
Over the next few years I managed to cope with things pretty well. I got through my school life, did well in my exams and had my entire life ahead of me. At this point when I was about sixteen I remember looking back on my life. I had missed well over a year of school, had missed countless opportunities to experience things and to go places, and had basically missed out on much of my childhood. Some major things I missed out on were things like a further education, I was tipped to go on to bigger and better things after getting some good exam results, but the thought of going to a busy college scared me to death. I decided I would rather have a nice simple job working outdoors away from people and confined spaces.I was still very limited in everyday things that I could cope with. For example flying on a plane was out the question, going in a lift a no no, at the meetings I attend you have the opportunity to put up your hand and give a comment, I would never be able to accomplish that! But I decided I would plod on with my life, make sure I held it together, and avoid any relapses that would result in another breakdown. Life might not be everything I had dreamed as a young child, but as long as I lived within my limitations I would get by just fine.
When I was seeing my psychiatrist there was a lot of talk about triggers. The fundamental cause of ones problems. We never discovered exactly what my triggers were. There were a few little things, such as my friends had moved away, the change of schools soon talking place, and a few other small events, but nothing major. I am sure in many cases a series trigger, the death of a loved one, some illness, marital breakdown etc.. are the actual cause. But as in my case sometimes there is no rational explanation for the way our mind works. It just happens, and instead of looking for the problem, it's far better to work on the solution.
So how have I achieved all this? Well there are several things that help me. To be honest none of it really came from my psychiatrist. OK if your having problems with agoraphobia I recommend watch a film called 'What about Bob?'. This may sound like a very strange thing to suggest but it's all about a man named Bob (Bill Murray) who struggles with all sorts of problems. He is told to take 'baby steps'. This really helped me. So for example your crossing a river, there are some very wobbly wet stones in front of you. Don't look at the far side, don't focus on the final goal, its to far, you will give way to panic. Instead take one small step at a time. Don't worry about what's to come, don't think about the future, just concentrate on the one problem that is confronting you at that particular time. Deal with problems one at a time taking 'baby steps' to deal with the issue! This sounds so simple when you hear it, but for someone with serious anxiety it's a very difficult thing to do! Don’t concentrate on winning the war, think about each little battles, you may have to win hundred before the war is yours, but slow steady progress will get you there.Another trick is don't think about what you can't do. Think about what you can do, and what you have achieved. As I mentioned I play guitar, and after a few months of learning I was frustrated at my slow progress, I felt I was getting nowhere. Someone suggested I switch hands and try and play left handed, when I did, they told me that's how I used to play right handed when I first started learning. This showed me what I had achieved. So each time you do something, be proud of yourself, tell yourself how well you are doing. Coping with anxiety is all about confidence, when your confidence is low this is when you are venerable. So each time you accomplish something, no matter how small, let your confidence grow and things will get easier.
Don't be afraid of backing off. Know your limitations. Sometimes even now I will try and do something and realise I can't quite make it. Don't let that dishearten you. If you come across a large precipice you might have to back away to get a run up at it. Do the same with your problems, if you feel you're not ready to deal with something, don't! It's better to leave it for a while than to attempt it and fail! Taking on to much and then failing is not something that is easy to deal with as it often leads to a step in the wrong direction, your confidence drops and things once again become a struggle. So always wait until you are ready.
Always look to be moving forward. If you achieve something for the first time, tell your self that's it. I've done it. If you climbed a mountain, why would you go all the way back down and start again? You wouldn't! So when you overcome a problem tell yourself 'I can deal with this now'. For instance, I remember the first time I completed my first full day back at school I was so proud of myself, I told myself that I had proved it could be done and never looked back. So don't get worked up about the same problem again, you do it once you can do it again!
As I mentioned earlier confidence is a huge tool you can make use of. When I first got up to do a talk (or presentation) at a meeting I was terrified. But the way I dealt with it (and still do) is by telling myself I'm the greatest speaker there is! Everyone wants to hear what I have to say. I'm better than all these people, I'm the best there is! It may sound like over confidence and you don't want to be like that in life all the time, but as a tool for over coming things it really does work!You know yourself better than anyone else. When I was dealing with all these problems, countless people were telling me what I could and couldn’t do. Some of them were professionals, some were friends and some were family. Everything they said in this regard was wasted breathe. Only you know what you can and can’t do. Only you can understand how you are feeling and sometimes only you can work out how to overcome the problem. As I said earlier, I believe my psychiatrist did very little to help my problems, most of the ideas on how to deal with things came from me. I knew what worked for me and what didn’t and putting that into practice is what really got me through.
Even though I do feel good about my future, there is always that lurking doubt beneath the surface. I find it hard talking about these things as it does bring back many painful memories that do still disturb me from time to time. Generally I try my very best not to dwell on these matters but to cram them down where they can't affect me. As I mentioned thinking about what I can do, what I have accomplished, keeps these fears at bay, and when they occasionally do break free and I do feel somewhat panicky, I know how to deal with the feelings and how to live a happy successful life free from anxiety and panic attacks. But I still keep in mind my limitations, sometimes I do have to back off from something before I tackle it, occasionally I leave something well alone if I’m concerned. I know that taking on to much could end up leading to another relapse, but at the same time I do try to stay positive and tell myself that whatever life throws at me I an deal with it!
As I said I’m now 28 and while I still have the scars from my childhood anxieties, I live a very happy and fulfilling life. I have achieved so much and am really proud of where I am today. Most people I know do not know about my past and probably never will, they just see a confident young man who lives his life with a smile on his face. But I thought it would be good to share my experience with others who may still be having the same struggles I once had. Hopefully something in this review will have struck a cord with you and it can help you in some way. I am sure not everything I have suggested will work for everyone, and maybe none of it will, but even if I can make someone feeling helpless smile, then that will be enough.So thanks for reading my rather long and possibly boring write up here. And if anxiety is something that affects you remember, never give up in your fight, never think 'there are things I will never achieve', with a strong will and some determination, the world truly can be yours!
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