I am often asked what it is like to live with anxiety and panic attacks. Those who know me well know that I am self-aware, I know how to look after myself and I do the right things to take care of me. As much as I have learned to live with the fact that sometimes my anxiety will hit me no matter what is happening in my life, I do also believe that it is down to my brain chemistry at that particular time.
I spent the whole of February this year in a funk. It was the first time in a very long time I had felt both severely anxious and depressed. I remember one Thursday I could not get out of bed and, at the time, I do not know how I did. Looking back, I realise it was through extreme sheer will that I managed to get out of bed, get dressed and out of the door.
That is the major downside of running your own business; there is no-one to pick up the slack if you are unwell. I remember wanting it all to go away. I remember thinking “if I lie here and shut my eyes then nobody will find me or look for me”. I had pretty dark thoughts and felt lost.
I couldn’t shake off the feelings of numbness combined with panic, like ants crawling all over me. Many people during this time would not have understood what was happening to me for I was still posting messages on social media for work. The well-trained eye of my close friend, Claire, prompted her to message me to say “something feels off, you aren’t OK are you?” Claire also lives with anxiety and can spot the early warning signs in me a mile off.
I would have found this period hard had it not been for both of my sisters. For two weeks they checked in with me on most days – not in an “are you OK?” kind of way, but to let me know they were there for me. I know I must have been in a bad way because on the day of my RADA course, my Mum messaged to ask if I was in a good head space. The power of a network is an integral part of the recovery process and I am fortunate to have a supportive family who understand anxiety and depression. I appreciate not everyone does.
For those of us living with anxiety, often one of the ways we deal with it is by cancelling our plans. We cannot cope with social situations. In February I cancelled a weekend date with a new love interest – it wasn’t going to happen given how I was feeling! I also cancelled a business dinner with my accountant and catch-ups with two friends. The list goes on. Even now, I still use the excuse that I am too busy or work is too stressful. I haven’t yet found a way yet to be comfortable telling everyone that it is because of my mental health. I am working on but it shows the stigma is still attached to mental health, even for someone who, like me, is very open.
My old friend the panic attack returned for the first time in February this year. On the day it happened I was having major cognitive distortions such as obsessive thoughts about leaving the tap running and flooding the house. Ironically, the panic attack happened as I was on my way to Hyde Park take part in a Mental Health Mates walk – of all the things!
Anxiety is common and is often left undiagnosed. In 2013 there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK. Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, with 7.8% of people meeting the criteria for diagnosis. Statistics show women experience anxiety more than men do and often this is because women can appear to be more comfortable talking through their issues and seeking support.
Anxiety has affected my life and I have managed it at work for two decades. It is time for me to help and educate other people. I have only just begun to understand my experiences and have started to seek professional help in the last three years. Reflecting on the statistics, it is important to educate organisations how best they can support their employees living with anxiety. I also want to offer a “lightbulb moment” to anyone who has been living their life through avoidance and utilising unhelpful coping strategies. I want people to understand they do not have to feel this way on a daily basis and that professional help and support is out there for them to access.
No Panic is a national anxiety charity that has been running for 25 years. We have partnered with No Panic to create a one-hour session for people to learn and understand more about anxiety and panic attacks. Anxiety and anxiety disorders are often seen by many as being at the ‘acceptable’ end of the spectrum of mental ill health conditions. Those of us living with these mental health conditions know they can be debilitating and life-changing.
“We see this as a great opportunity [to] bring greater awareness to organisations. To help them spot the signs of anxiety within their teams. To know where they can go for help and resources. We are looking forward to facilitating the discussion on anxiety within the workplace”. Michelle D’Ambrosio, No Panic.
The one-hour session is for all employees. When you book the session 20% of the revenue will go to No Panic as a charitable donation to support and sustain the charity and the amazing work they do helping the public. This includes a crisis helpline for both adults and young people.
Are you ready to create further awareness and promote education about a common mental health condition? One which many of your employees will need support for?
Download the outline of the session here and to book your workshop please email email@example.com.