Panic Attacks at Christmas
by See Change Ambassador, Becky Meenaghan
A few Christmases ago I found myself physically, mentally and emotionally unwell. I had little to no energy and anything that I took part in seemed like an uphill struggle. I didn’t know at the time that what I was experiencing was anxiety, panic attacks and OCD and they were at a crisis point. Although I was not myself and I was aware something was wrong I kept telling myself that I was ok and pretending that nothing was happening to me. I spent most of this Christmas tearful, frightened and fearful. I wanted my children to have the Christmas that they deserved and I wanted to please everyone but the truth is, I was drained. I was tired of pretending and exhausted from trying to keep up a false appearance. It seemed so much easier to smile to the outside world and to those around me. I would smile then afterwards go to my room or the bathroom and cry. I spent most nights in bed sobbing whilst hiding what was happening to me. I didn’t want to let anyone in to see what I was dealing with.
I felt like I was letting everyone down I was fighting a battle within myself daily and I was beating myself up for not being the person that I believed that I needed to be. What I didn’t know at the time, which I do know now, is that I was experiencing high levels of stress which were affecting my mental health. I was dealing with family estrangement, stress from the death of my brother a few years previous and stress from past traumas which I associate with this time of the year.
My panic attacks started to affect my driving;
I would get them whilst in the supermarket and whilst at the petrol station and I couldn’t see things ever becoming better. At the height of my obsessive compulsive disorder, I was just about to drive my car. Every speed bump or pot hole that I went over had me convinced that I had knocked someone down and I spent so much time questioning myself. Checking, looking back in my rear view mirror and watching for signs from other road users that I had knocked someone down. This was complete and absolute torture. I felt like I was losing control and looking back, before I told my GP a few months later what was happening to me, I was stigmatising myself. I was too afraid to reach out and too embarrassed by what was happening to me. I felt like people would laugh and judge me therefore I dealt with this for months before I sought help.
It was a hard Christmas that year and one that will always stay with me. It is also one that has shown me my own strength and determination and it has seen me come through so much. I went on to receive counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy and I learnt that I am not alone in my mental health difficulties. They are a small part of me but underneath I am so much more. I am a Mum, Ambassador for Mental health, community volunteer and a playschool teacher. I am someone who loves to laugh and celebrate life around her.
If I could pass on one bit of advice to anyone struggling it is to reach out and also reach in to yourself. Listen to what you need and tell yourself that tomorrow is a new day. One to try again if today isn’t a good one. Be compassionate towards yourself, do what you can and don’t place too many expectations on yourself this Christmas. Have boundaries in place, don’t spend time with those who are not good for your mental health, don’t compare yourself to others and have support systems in place. This could be friends to talk with, your doctor, a support line to ring if you are struggling.
I still find Christmas a hard time of year especially with so much loss in my life. Through having supports and self-care practices put in place I support my mental health and come through the festive season healthy and strong. You can do too. Hope is vital and I will hold it for you.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following