I was teaching at TAFE the first time I had a panic attack. Chest pain was intense and I excused myself from my class and went back to my office. It stopped and I went on with my day, thinking perhaps it was indigestion or something. The chest pains kept coming. Then I started to get this weird rash. I went to the doctor, explained what had been happening, had an ECG and got some cream for the rash on my arms and went back to work.
As a teacher I had 2 weeks off during the mid-semester break. The rash cleared up and the pain stopped. Monday came and as I went up the stairs I started to have the chest pain again. I went back down the stairs, rang the office and told them I would not be in as I was off to the doctor.
What my doctor told me shocked me. my body was reacting to stress and having panic attacks. NO WAY!! I was a strong woman. This could not possibly be true.
At work I was being pressured to do what was in my opinion not the right thing for the students. Management had become focused on funding and getting bums on seats and pass marks, regardless of students having the ability or the pre required skills needed for them to success. I was told to fall into line or I they would find me a door to leave by. This bullying sent me into a situation where I loved what I did, but could not work under the conditions required of me by my managers. I simply could not drop my standards to do what they wanted me to do. But I also had a family to feed and a roof that needed to be paid for. My mind was strong or so I thought, but my body betrayed me.
That is what I thought at the time. I was angry at myself for not being strong enough, for letting these panic attacks happen. I got so “GOOD” at having panic attacks that I could be having a conversation face to face with someone and be in the middle of an attack and the other personal would have no idea.
I forbid myself from showing weakness in front of anyone. And it wrecked me. it started to crack me from the inside. At this time I spend lots of time running. By running I didn’t have to think. All I thought of was breathing and moving. I now know this was the fight or flight reflex setting in. and the running is similar to mediation in that you focus on your breathing, and I would run so much that breathing was all I could focus on.
Why am I telling you this? Because it’s time we realised we are not alone. Anxiety is not a weakness, it’s a way that our body talks to us, to let us know what we can and can’t tolerate. It’s a sign that we need to focus on ourselves.
I started to do lots of things that would help to bring myself back into balance. The first think I realised was that the person in my head was not me. it was that angel and delve that you see on cartoons trying to get you do go with what they want to do. and I was just going with the flow of whatever that voice was saying. It was great at convincing me that what I was doing was right, or wrong, or sad, or pathetic, or weak or strong. It would find evidence to back up what it was saying to me. so the first think I started to do was question the voice in my head. Look at different angles and perspectives apart from what it was wanting me to see and believe.
The next thing I did was focus on sleep. I have always had issues getting a good night sleep, being able to turn off my brain at night has always been a problem. I stopped drinking coffee and started working on All the things I could do to get a good night’s sleep. This helped tremendously. It helped to make me feel like the fog in my mind had lifted and helped me see with clarity.
Then I started to prioritise what was truly important in my life and focus my energy on the relationships and people in my life that meant the most to me. I started to invest more time in nurturing those relationships and less time with people that were toxic. I started to study more and more about personal development. And I filled my life consciously with more positive endeavours.
I still to this day have panic attacks and sometimes over the weirdest things. They are now just a reminder to me that I need to take some time again for me. that something is not quite how I want it to be. I use it to analyse what’s happening in my life and why I’m feeling a particular way.