From Our Readers

Starting a Conversation About Mental Health

I remember the day it started. I had just arrived in Texas, having made the big move across the Atlantic from the United Kingdom with my family. My stepdad had a new job in the Houston branch of his engineering company and we’d been there for a few weeks, settling in, seeing the sights and attempting to acclimatize.

On the first day of school, something felt weird. Pushed into this invasive environment, with blue and orange halls housing what seemed like millions of aliens, I felt a haze begin to spread. I knew something was wrong straight away, but I just didn’t know what. I’d talk to people and be suddenly very acutely aware of everything around me. It was terrifying. I thought I’d lost the plot. I returned home that day feeling perturbed, especially as my twin brother – the only person I knew at the school – and I had been separated into different lunches and so I had spent most of the day alone with my thoughts. I shook my head hoping the fog would clear.

That night my family and I decided to go for a meal. We cruised down the concrete rink of suburbia to a steakhouse. We were celebrating. But I felt strange. The mist hadn’t folded. If anything it was growing, fed by my uncertainty of what was going on. Sitting down at the restaurant table, I looked at the menu. Suddenly, once again I felt acutely aware of everything around me. I edged out of the restaurant table, pushing past my brothers, to get to the bathroom.

In that moment, I was caught in flight or fight mode and reluctantly I chose flight. I was too weak to fight this weight pushing down on my shoulders. I sat in the toilet cubicle, head in my hands, mind racing and breath quickening. In retrospect, I can see I was having a panic attack. I’ve had plenty since. But right then, in that moment, I was going insane. The seams of my brain were folding in on themselves and my sense of reality was fleeting. I couldn’t stay in there. I pulled my mum outside with me into the humid air of the car park. As I began hyperventilating, she quickly began explaining to me about anxiety. Apparently it’s not a new thing in our family. And I did manage to calm down, eventually. But from that day on, something hasn’t been quite right.

Imagine you’re looking in front of you. You’re in a park, say. That’s a pleasant scene, isn’t it? Around the edges of your vision you see a somewhat dark outline. You have tunnel vision. Your periphery is shot from the overall strain of your anxiety. This is a weird sensation. Looking at what’s inside the box, perhaps the green overgrowth or the children’s playground you see, you feel like everything is cloud-like, as if you’re in a dream, or in a hazy state of reality. You look closely at things and it’s almost as if they’re not really there. Whereas before you would’ve not thought about what you were seeing, now you scrutinize every aspect. You wonder if you’re real; you wonder if what you’re seeing is real. Everything has changed.

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  • Fiona Woodcock

    I think youre really brave being so open and honest about your panic attacks. The way you describe how a panic attack feels is so accurate. There is still so much ignorance regarding mental illness, I was on this site the other day and everyone was calling sylvia plath selfish for committing suicide when the poor women was a deeply tortured soul with clinical depression, whose husband was a pig! Still clearly so much ignorance about mental illness.

    • Jenny Rae

      Thank you Fiona! I would definitely agree with you there. I feel that if people were as open about mental health as they are about physical health, the world would definitely be a better, more compassionate place.

  • Kristine Tye Lmft

    It’s refreshing to see a post like this on a blog that goes out to a lot of young people! As a mental health professional and licensed therapist, I know that many of my adult and adolescent clients often feel quite alone in their experience of anxiety. We need brave people like you to help us connect in our human experiences and our struggles with mental health, both minor and severe. We all overcome mental and emotional obstacles, and we are not alone. Thanks for this post!
    Kristine Tye LMFT

  • Michelle Serrano

    love this

  • Nath Gtz

    Well, I was diagnosed with GAD almost two months ago, and for one whole month I suffered panic attacks constantly, it was really horrible, and in one point I started to feel it was not worth living like this, honestly I wanted to die. I was really depressed. But since 3 weeks ago I haven’t suffered another attack, and I think it’s really REALLY helpful talking with someone else about this and most of the times they support you when you don’t feel good.
    Also it’s important to know that you’re not alone! A lot of people suffer anxiety desease and articles like this one also can help. They helped me to undestand this along with mi therapy.
    Greetings from Mexico!

  • Emily Fitch

    I was diagnosed with DID along with GAD with minor agoraphobia… I always feel like it’s nothing I should be talking about… But at the same time, I’m busting at the seems… I have a need to make people understand… My actions can be erratic, and often very conflicting… But it’s because there is a war inside me… I try so hard to remain present on a daily basis… It’s difficult to function, but I’m still here… Still making it… I’m so glad this is a topic we no longer need fear…

  • Barbara Sandoval

    For me, I had seen the first time I had a panic attack that there was something wrong with me from that day also, I thought I had been going insane and that I would never be the same again. But now I have realized what was different about me. It wasn’t that I had some kind of mental “disease” or “disorder”, for me it was that I had experienced something new in my life. For me, I didn’t need to dwell on the fact that I had had a scare ( which I did dwell on for about two years, until recently). I could safely say that my panic attacks don’t scare me anymore. I took a long time to get over my first episode, but now I’m more enlightened than I was before my first panic attack. Fear does exist, but don’t let it strangle you.

  • Lonneke Jansen

    This is so recognizable, that’s it a little scary.
    For me it just started, but it’s exactly the same. Thank you so much for writing this, I needed it and I will take your advice to heart.

  • Lonneke Jansen

    That it’s*

    Sorry, I’m Dutch.

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