SA and my life – The Catalyst

It was one Thursday afternoon in October 2008. I’d been trying to expose myself to situations I found frightening in an attempt to reduce my anxiety/ learn coping methods. I remember walking down one of the busiest halls in the school at the end of lunch time, where there was a crowd of about 30 boys in the year below me standing along either side. They started the usual insults and kept trying to trip me up. They were all staring at me. I was scared and my heart was pounding but I told myself I could get it through it and nothing bad would happen. Then I remember having bits of food thrown at me and shoved into the walls and made a human pinball of. They were all laughing and jeering at me. I don’t know why but walking past the groups of guys who always seemed to do this felt like walking the gauntlet. Then the bell for 5th period rang and I got to escape to class after they’d thrown their last insults and leftover lunch at me.

I felt a small amount of relief at the fact that I’d at least be protected from any physical bullying in class, but I noticed that my heart and breathing rates were unusually fast. It also didn’t help that in the same class,  I got stuck with writing up a practical task (which the teacher kept stressing: HAD to be finished by the end of the lesson) and I was too afraid to ask for help.

I ended up having one of the worst panic attacks of my life about 20 minutes into the lesson. Thankfully, unlike a lot of other people who get them, I knew it was a panic attack and not a heart attack or anything like that, though it certainly felt like one. I was crying and shaking uncontrollably and wanted to literally run out of the classroom and hide somewhere no one could see me, but of course leaving the room in the middle of the class would draw attention to me, so all I could do was sit and try to ride it out. I think a big part of what kept it going was that one guy in particular in that room seemed to enjoy nothing more than humiliating and degrading me in front of the entire class. I was so afraid that he or his friends would notice my crying and it would be one more thing that I’d be mocked and teased about by half the people in my year for days and weeks to come. All I could really do was try to hide my face as I cried and hope no one noticed – thankfully, by some miracle, they didn’t.

I somehow made it through the remainder of that class and into my last class of the day apparently without anyone noticing my crying or other physical symptoms. An hour had passed and the panic attack was still going strong – worsened by the fact that everyone gathered around the table I sat at to listen to the teacher explain something, and I felt like they were looking at me and could tell for sure that something was ‘wrong’ with me. I also found out that we had to do an individual practical task (which I had always found difficult due to my anxiety), which a large part of our grades would be based on. I’d have found it difficult enough if I had been calmer, but in my highly panicked state I couldn’t think clearly at all and convinced myself that I would definitely fail or do something very stupid or dangerous (such as spilling chemicals or burning myself) in this state. So I decided enough was enough and pretended I was ill so I could be sent home.

I remember my mum picking me up from the school sick bay, and just about managing to hold it together as we walked home, before collapsing into my bed and crying for about 2 hours. It seemed like such a major setback to me at the time – I’d worked so hard over the last couple of months to reduce my anxiety, and just as I was starting to think I’d got over the worst of it, my anxiety had reached a whole new level.

It was round about this time – or a couple of weeks after it – that I first started having quite intense suicidal thoughts. I wouldn’t actively research or plan my own suicide (like I later would), but I’d spend a worrying amount of my time thinking about how I could kill myself. I seemed preoccupied with death. I’d look at buildings and try to determine whether or not they were high enough to provide a fatal drop. I’d get through the seven hours a day at school by daydreaming about hanging myself or going down to the railway, lying on the tracks and waiting for the train. I didn’t tell anyone how I felt. It was like both the anxiety and the bullies had finally succeeded in bringing me to my knees. I did my best to make my loved ones believe that everything was fine. I started to feel better again towards the beginning of December. I think doing work experience which I really enjoyed (Stable hand) – and therefore getting more daylight and exercise – probably helped a lot.

Over the next three months I tried to talk to my mum about having this thing called social phobia. Whilst she didn’t accept it as a mental health problem or anything like that, she did accept that I was finding social situations increasingly difficult. I had more panic attacks which were as intense as the one in October. I finally tried to seek help for my anxiety from my GP in early March 2009. It didn’t go well. I told her about the panic attacks and all the ways in which my anxiety was affecting my life, but she just thought I was going through a ‘phase’, gave me a leaflet explaining what panic attacks were and why they happen (which I already knew), and sent me on my way. I felt completely hopeless after that. It seemed no one wanted to believe that this was a real problem for me, or to help me. My anxiety only worsened and my mood remained low. Sometime in April, out of sheer desperation, I wrote an email to my guidance teacher explaining about my anxiety, and she finally referred me to the psychiatrist who I’d continue to see for the next three years.

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