It’s weird how just a few moments in time can completely alter your course, rattle your world and take so long to recover from. For me this moment happened about 9 months ago. I was driving along a familiar stretch of road when I started losing all feeling in my hands, arms and face. Hyperventilating and not having a readily available area to pull over in, it took all my strength to focus on making it to the closest side street. By this point I had no idea what was happening to me, nothing seemed to be functioning and I was terrified. Little did I know that I was having a regular old panic attack, something that happens to hundreds of people every day. It wasn’t until I had calmed down that I realised what had happened, and then the tears started – embarrassed and scared would be an understatement.
While I understand this might be a regular occurrence in some people’s lives, or might not seem like that big of a deal – I can assure you it was traumatic enough for me. Having never experienced the severe symptoms of a panic attack, I was completely unprepared for what happened. It’s also hard for me to say what triggered it – I had never been scared of driving, but work was in an extremely stressful period and I think this was weighing heavily on me at the time. Needless to say those few minutes in time completely shattered my confidence. Simple tasks like driving to the next suburb become an ordeal, as every time I went past the spot where my attack had begun I recalled it in vivid detail. I avoided highways for 8 months, thinking that if I had a similar occurrence then I wouldn’t be able to pull over so easily. I was so frustrated that I had lost my confidence in something I took for granted – simply getting from A to B had become a nightmare. When friends wanted to catch up, I would ask if we could meet in the city close to where I lived so that I could either walk or catch a train. These little sacrifices did nothing for my confidence, and I honestly couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It wasn’t until I had moved home to be closer to my family that I truly started the process of healing. In a supportive and loving environment, I was able to slowly get my confidence back. I had no choice but to drive every day, whether it was going between my Mum and Nana’s homes (20 minutes apart with some 80km/hour sections), or picking my sister up from school, I slowly became familiar with my car again through repetition and positivity. On a recent road trip to visit family, I volunteered to drive the first 4 hours on the highway. For the first hour I felt sick – I had avoided anything like this for so many months. When we made it I was so proud of my simple achievement, something that was so monumental in my own little world.
I can now honestly say that 9 months later, I have 95% of my confidence back and will happily get in my car without worry or thought of the panic attack that had ruled my life for so long. I took to daily meditation and breathing exercises to stay calm, while also giving me the tools to manage daily stressors. I also head to the beach most afternoons for a walk, an activity that gives me so much peace and happiness. Wandering along the shore with your toes in the water is very therapeutic, not to mention just listening to the ever flowing ocean currents. Not to sound like a complete loony but I find that floating also really helps! Whenever I get the chance to head to the pool or beach, I’ll float as many times as I can – there’s just something about closing your eyes and letting the waves gently hold you.
I have written this blog post in the hope that people understand what I’ve been going through, but also to be a voice for those too afraid to speak up. It’s really, really scary to go through mental health issues, and even scarier thinking you are alone. But at the end of the day we need to remember that EVERYONE is going through something, and talking about it with those you trust is an important part of the healing process.
Photo credits – folkscenery & rusticbones