Warning: the following article contains mention of physical ailment, GAD, and panic attacks.
Everymind are really fortunate to find ourselves in a community of humans who are brave enough to share their experiences of mental ill health, and their incredible journeys towards improved wellbeing.
In this blog, Caroline Myers shares her experiences with us. Her journey is one of an unexpected physical setback which triggered anxiety and panic attacks that impacted her everyday tasks.
I hadn’t felt quite right for a while, but I put it down to tiredness. I had a week in Greece to look forward to so that would give me the downtime. I’d been busy packing our suitcases , there should have been excitement but I felt absolutely dreadful. Within a few hours I was unable to stand, my speech was impaired and the room was spinning and the most horrendous nausea, I’d slumped to my left hand side. My husband rushed me straight to our local A&E. Upon admission they thought I’d had a stroke. Lying on the hospital bed trying to focus my eyes on something to stop the spinning as a number of tests were carried out. I was given an injection to help with the nausea and that soon started to take effect.
My speech slowly started to return but it was a bit delayed and I had forgotten some words , there was such a foggy feeling in my head and I felt like I was still constantly moving, despite lying down. The consultant came through with my results and luckily they were clear, no sign of a stroke and nothing abnormal detected . By this point I was able to sit up , they believed it was a problem with my inner ear causing vertigo. I was given some medication and discharged, next step was checking with my GP if I was fit to fly.
Feeling rather groggy and with the help of my husband I stumbled back to the car and home to try and rest. Surely this would pass and I’d be able to get sorted for my holiday in 3 days time. I swayed in front of my GP holding onto their desk to keep myself up right, I was determined I was going to be able to get on that flight. As long as I declared to my insurance and took the medication I was ok to fly. I was given the advice that my ears looked clear and sometimes these things resolve in a couple of weeks.
Great the holiday will sort me out, how wrong was I. The medication was dampening down the nausea and some of the spinning sensations but I was starting to feel more and more alien as the days went on. Desparately trying to mask it from my family , I hid behind my sunglasses and used the excuse of an afternoon nap to try and muddle through. On the outside I appeared fine but on the inside I was in utter turmoil. I got through the holiday, touching down at Newcastle Airport was a relief , I was home. Maybe a few days in my own bed and I’d be feeling better, things took a turn for the worse.
I’d ended up having a bad reaction to the medication and had to stop with immediate effect, it took several weeks to get over the effects of the medication whilst still battling with bouts of vertigo, brain fog, confusion, lethargy, nausea but what was this feeling of dread, palpitations , chest pain and being unable to breathe? I’d experienced my first full blown panic attack.
I was starting to become a regular in my GP’s surgery , trying to get to the bottom of what was causing these issues. I was referred to ENT but told there was a very long waiting list and it would be around 18 weeks for the first assessment. I was so disheartened, so confused, so tired and exhausted – what was wrong with me. My condition started to deteriorate further my balance was effected more and my day to day life severely impacted. I was still trying to go about my usual routines as much as I could but suffering more and more with the panic attacks and struggling with my now limited mobility. Staggering around like I’d drank a bottle of gin. I lost confidence in myself, in my ability to be a mother, in my ability to manage my workload. I didn’t want to go on this way, having searched Google so many times I was more convinced there was something sinister at play. I’d diagnosed myself over and over and the results were grimmer and grimmer each time.
I was on a downward spiral and I felt like I was closing in on myself. One weekend it all became too much. I curled up on the sofa shut the outside world out and cried and cried. It came to the Monday morning I couldn’t get up to go to work, this was so unlike me. I could see where this could be heading if I didn’t try and spring into action and do something. I made another appointment with my GP and I sat in front of her and broke down. I will always remember the words as I sobbed uncontrollably “this is all too much”. I’m usually quite a tough cookie but my previous coping mechanisms of “let’s pretend this isn’t happening” was no longer working for me. That very same mechanism that had gotten me through the dark period of my Dad’s suicide attempt and then loosing him a year later, was no longer serving me. My GP was very understanding and suggested that I should refer myself for counselling and also start some new tablets to try and help with my balance. I’d tried counselling in the past and it wasn’t right for me at that time. Having no other option and feeling like I was at the end of the road I agreed. Little did I know that decision would become a real turning point in my life.
I’m fortunate to have an excellent relationship with my Manager, he knew what I was going through and was fully supportive and accommodating . I knew I had his support which immediately put me at ease and I felt I could be completely open and honest with him without any fear of judgement.
I wasn’t able to travel for counselling sessions but I was able to access these over the phone. It was a relief to be able to openly say what I was feeling in that safe space. The therapist was able to explain what I’d been encourtering was anxiety and previous unhelpful ways of coping were coming to the surface. To be given that safe space to say everything I’d been holding back for years, it felt so liberating and also scary at the same time. My biggest issue at that point was the thought pattern of “What if” these scenarios were playing over and over in my head. What if I was unable to look after the children, what if I fell over in public, what if someone thought I was drunk, what if I had a serious long term condition. It felt like there was no break from my thoughts, and I couldn’t see a way forward. Let alone contemplate how long I had to wait for my hospital referral.
My therapist recommeded cognitive behavioural therapy, to challenge the negative thought process and move away from the what if’s. This was an absolute game changer for me and a tool that I still use to this day. I’d started to adopt advoidance behaviours to situations which escalated my anxiety, this was busy environments, shops in particular due to the visual stimulation of the aisles. It was so overwhelming and I couldn’t understand the reason why. I was still finding it difficult to walk and used to do so with the aid of a hiking pole for balance. My therapist encouraged me to try graded exposure and put myself into these situations albeit briefly and build it up. I’ve never felt such relief when I got to the point I could go into a supermarket, pick up an item, pay for it and leave. I remember feeling uncomfortable when my counselling sessions were coming to an end. My therapist kindly reminded me that I had done all of the work and that I needed to build on it and keep going. This felt like a huge step but I was determined to keep going. With the help and support of family and friends I kept working on this, using the techniques I’d learnt such as grounding and mindfulness and I gradually felt like I was starting to gain some control.
Time arrived for my hospital referral and after several appointments I was sent more testing, it was discovered that I had a balance disorder caused by damage to my vestibular nerve in my ear, the easiest way to explain it if you imagine your ears as a spirit level, mine was seriously off kilter. The balance issues, vertigo, brain fog, sight issues were all caused by this nerve damage. Finally after months of not knowing I knew what was wrong. I was in the process of building my resilience and coping mechanisms for my anxiety with my new found skills, I’d finally spoken out about the feelings I had held in for way too long. The next step in my recovery was to stop the medication, as my brain needed to be retrained to ignore the faulty signals , I truly believe having been through therapy this had helped me shift my mindset to a more positive one. I no longer feared my anxiety, I invited it along feeling more in control . I challenged myself daily with small goals, I stuck to all of the exercises I had to do to retrain my brain and I ensured that my self care was top of the list. I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight and of course there were set backs along the way. It wasn’t a linear process, but one thing kept me going was determination and the new found ability to say no to things!
The nerve damage can never be fixed, it does flare up time to time, stress affects it, hormones, head colds, lack of sleep but it’s an awareness of knowing what I can do to help and having that tool kit of things which work for me.
At one point I couldn’t see a way forward and for once in a long time I was looking forward to the future.
THANK YOU CAROLINE
The bravery and ability to start building back up from a dark place is extraordinary and a true testament to Caroline. If you are interested in sharing your story with the community, please do drop us a line – [email protected]
If reading this story has brought up issues that you have struggled with, please seek help immediately. Good help is available and you can access support using the below services.