From hardships we’ll never be freed, but undoubtedly after every hardship there will be ease.
I was 13 when I had my first panic attack. I didn’t understand what was going on, all I knew was that this rising feeling of fear was filling inside me — all at once, and it wouldn’t stop. I knew this wasn’t normal, but I couldn’t explain it, I didn’t know what it was, so, I said nothing. My first mistake. Saying nothing.
The panic attacks didn’t stop after the first, they hit me at such unexpected of times. One specific night, I remember laying in bed- just thinking. And then all of a sudden the thoughts got bigger and bigger. As the thoughts in my head took over, I felt myself losing control physically.
After every panic attack I sat and would think the exact same thought: that’s the worst one I’ve had so far. Yet, they always got worse. Every single time. I reached a point where I felt like I was losing all hope. Time passed and yet I still felt the same. The day would pass, and I’d act fine. Some days I truly was but mostly it was an act. At that time, it was at night that it would hit me. I'd put so much effort into hiding how I felt that as soon as night hit and I was alone- it would all come out.
One thing kept me going, and although not the strongest at the time, my belief in God. Once every panic attack subsided, after every dark and disturbing thought had left me numb I remembered my Lord and with that very remembrance my heart found some speck of peace.
Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest. (Qur’an 13: 28)
After years had passed, I had still chosen to keep this suffering to myself. To keep suffering in silence. There were waves where things would be okay, and waves where all just came crashing down. As academic pressure and stress increased and exams were upon me, I found that my anxiety multiplied. However, this gave me some kind of explanation, some reason as to why I felt so terrible. And so, it became my excuse.
I would cry and I would panic because I had exams and I was nervous. I gave myself a socially acceptable label for my pain. I did not have to associate myself with the stigmatised image of mental health. The thought process of my 15-year-old self. As my thoughts became more intense and I felt my panic attacks worsening, I blamed it all upon growing exam stress. This doubt always existed, however, in the back of my head I knew this was not just school stress.
When the holidays began and exam stress began to subside that feeling still remained, the panic attacks continued. I was forced to accept that something was wrong. When I returned to school for my last year, I did something I never thought that I’d be able to. I stood before a large audience of my peers, and I spoke. In a presentation where we all had to choose something to discuss I spoke about my panic attacks. I publicly acknowledged that there was a problem. This was a major step and was rewarding and for a little while I felt a bit more hopeful. But still a problem remained, I didn't t seek help. Publicly I had spoken about this, but I did little to consult the people that could help me and so privately I still suffered.
Time passed and I still remained the same. I continued to let my panic and anxiety overwhelm me, passively accepting that this was who I was. Then I met somebody, who showed me that this was a part of me, but I didn’t have to let it become me. In the build-up to finally opening up, I went through a rough time; reaching a point where I felt that I had to just make it stop, letting a little voice within me persuading me that I could make everything stop.
Instead of going this way, I was forced to open up. I shared every detail of the tiresome journey and I was finally not alone. I opened up to my best friend, one of my biggest supporters and protectors in reaching the end of a negative time. I also opened up to my mum and my other family members and I was overwhelmed at their level of understanding. They showed me that I was ‘normal’, and we could deal with this trouble together. After speaking to them I got in contact with my GP and I attended some group therapy sessions, after being told I had been battling with anxiety. These sessions showed me that I truly wasn’t alone, and I learnt a multitude of strategies to cope.
Though I had thought I‘d dealt with this issue, it resurfaced once again mostly during my time of being out of university. Again I tried therapy- this time 1:1 therapy. This gave me further strategies to cope on a day to day basis. And because this time I chose to actively use these, I started to feel a lot better.
But these mechanisms only took me so far, on days where I could barely think straight and my anxiety became so consuming, I couldn’t cope at all- let alone try and use the strategies I had learnt. Some days my mind would completely take over and I would be forced into a cycle of overwhelming thoughts - panic attack - thoughts- panic attack. There would be days my mind would convince me that I was truly crazy and that there would be no way for me to ever escape this. And there would be nothing I could do to stop it. In those moments, even trying to rationalise in my own mind what was going on would be impossible, so asking for help was even harder.
After realising that I could not continue like this, I went back to the doctors and she prescribed me sertraline: a form of antidepressants which also tackles, anxiety, panic attacks and OCD. This I take on a daily basis to stop those episodes where I struggle to function at all. It shouldn't be stigmatised so I’m not embarrassed to be open about it. Sometimes we need a little extra help and we should do what we can to get that.
I do still deal with my panic attacks and they are a part of me, but they will no longer consume me. My growing closeness to God has taught me patience through His trials and tribulations, the support from my loved ones has taught me to never give up; that I am strong enough to cope and the therapy sessions and medication have given me the mechanisms to cope.
We can find a way through the struggles that we face, we just have to open our hearts to having faith and open ourselves up to the help that stands before us.
Before writing this article I sat and I asked myself, why am I doing this? I realised this is greater than me just writing down what I have been through. I want to help people. So if people learn from my journey, people see that they are not alone if they are suffering, and go and seek help sooner then the apprehension about sharing all of this is worth it.
There are always ways for you to seek help, taking that first step is so important and so valuable- it makes you so strong to do so. If you feel like you're struggling with your mental health in anyway, there are lots of first steps that you can take:
- Go and speak to your GP, they'll be able to provide you with lots of resources, or even take other steps further.
- There are online helplines to call or even text when you need someone to talk to. Just simply put into google 'mental health support line' and you will find so many.
- Have a look at online resources to make small changes in your life that will improve your mental health.
- Confide in someone, no matter who that is, because you deserve support. I am here for anyone that might need someone different to talk to. Message, DM, snapchat me.
- Everyone has a reason that makes their life worthwhile, mine is my religion and my loved ones. Find yours- sometimes it takes time to search for it.
Regardless of the darkness, in the darkness find the light, Because you’re never gonna give up, not without a fight. Although some days you feel numb, and some days a little blue. Hang on to the shred of hope, in time, you will find courage and love to carry you through.
Version also posted on inspirited minds