Coping with panic attacks

In the final article on the topic of mental health, an employee shares their story of how Covid contributed to a series of panic attacks and subsequent deterioration in their mental health.

I’ve been lucky. I have never been anxious or had any kind of mental ill health and had always been pretty laid back. That is until Covid happened. And then I found to my cost how awful you can feel.
To begin with at the start of the pandemic, being on furlough was fine. It was like being on an extended holiday and I tried to get into a routine of getting up at the same time each day, keeping busy and getting out for my hour of exercise each day.
But after a while I, like many people, began to wonder when I’d be going back to work – especially as some colleagues were working still, albeit from home. The days began to merge and I began to run out of things to do. And that’s when the worry started to creep in.
However, in June, as the first lockdown came to an end and the country started opening up, I was asked to go back to work and readily agreed. There were restrictions in place and we had to do some things differently, so it was a bit strange. There were some elements of the job I was nervous about doing such as meeting total strangers – this didn’t sit right with me especially as at the time we couldn’t see family and friends. So this fuelled my increasing anxiety.
Then came the second lockdown. I was able to be in the office but it was when I had some holiday towards the end of the year that I suddenly felt anxious and shaky. I was frightened to death, as I had no idea what it was and had never experienced anything like it. It was so bad I ended up going to A&E where I was told not to worry as it was a panic attack.
I was given meds to calm me down but I didn’t want to take them for fear of the side effects. As things didn’t improve, after a few days I was signed off work and the GP gave me some different meds which I was assured were not addictive. I was advised to do breathing exercises to help calm me and to go for walks but I couldn’t leave the house as I was frightened of having another attack. This went on for several weeks and at one time I really didn’t think I would ever come out of it.
I have never felt so useless though as I did for those three months. I was getting more and more depressed but I was lucky to have very supportive family and friends who were always at the end of the phone for me.
A turning point came when I suddenly realised I could not live like this. I had no quality of life so for the first time in my life I signed up for counselling. It was what I needed and it really helped as I began to understand what was going on and how to deal with it if an attack happens again.
Sadly, these panic attacks do re-occur and it’s a battle. They are worse first thing in the morning as I wake up feeling anxious and wonder if I’m going to be ok. It’s really horrible to feel like this. Thankfully, the good news is I am dealing with it and I am a lot better than I was.
I love my job and am now back at work, although it took a while to go back to full time. Sadly my confidence has not returned and my whole personality has changed. I worry about every little thing and don’t like crowded places.
Thankfully those colleagues who knew were supportive and told me to take one day at a time and that my job would be there when I was ready to return. This helped enormously.
However, I was only phoned by my boss once and wish they’d called a little more often just to check how I was. There was no pressure put on me though and they were supportive which I am grateful for. But then, perhaps they didn’t know what to do or what to say and didn’t want to make things worse.
If I have one piece of advice to those suffering in the same or similar ways it would be to say please don’t be scared to ask for help. It’s an invisible illness so people don’t know unless you tell them. I think if you see a change in someone be kind and just ask if they are ok. It might be the thing that helps them.