I was diagnosed, now what?

I was prescribed Citalopram, 20mg to start, and then put on a waiting list for a counsellor. When I was given my prescription, I was advised that it can take up to 2 months for the effects of the medication to start working, but I should start to notice improvements after 30 days. 30 days? I asked if they had anything that would work now, and I was advised of betablockers, but they weren’t keen. I was assured that Citalopram was the right one for me, as it was the most common to be prescribed for Depression/Anxiety, with the best results. Well what can you say to that? You want the best results, right? I took the prescription and started my medication that day.

My first couple of days were OK, I even felt like they were working, of which I know was totally all in my head. Complete placebo effect, as they had not been in my system nearly long enough. Did that matter though? Well, no. Not if it made me feel better. I was looking at things more positively, this medication was the answer to all my problems and it was going to bring the old me back. Right? Well, no. My optimism lasted but a few days, my feeling of fear hadn’t gone, despite me knowing I wouldn’t feel better for nearly two months. I wanted results, and I wanted them yesterday. Why wasn’t I feeling better yet? I started to feel quite poorly, if I remember rightly I had a cold or something, but naturally, I’d convinced myself that my medication was doing this to me. I made the big mistake of reading the side effects of Citalopram. Yeah, don’t do that. In fact, if you’re reading this and have anxiety, I urge you to take all the little leaflets inside all of the boxes of medication you have and throw them out. These side effects are worst case scenario and are put on these leaflets, for the 1 in a however many chances it would ever happen, to cover their backs.

Reading that leaflet sent my anxiety into overdrive; Stiff muscles? Umm well yeah. Check. Sweating? Check. Irregular heartbeats? Check. Agitation? Definitely check. Seizure?? What? Umm, well probably now yes! I started to hyperventilate. I was beside myself. What had this doctor given me? Was he trying to kill me? Naturally I went into full blown panic mode, and had to be peeled off the ceiling. My partner phoned the doctors surgery, and I was given an emergency appointment. Well of course this was an emergency. I’m clearly taking a reaction to this medication you gave me. What use is medication if it makes you worse? I was now crying with fear and frustration at the whole situation. Why can’t someone just help me? Why couldn’t someone have the answer to make it go away?

When at the doctors, I had my blood pressure and breathing checked. Was that it? I mean seriously, this medication could have killed me. I then had it explained to me that everything was fine, they had no concerns that the medication was causing any of these symptoms and that it was my Anxiety. To say I was unamused, would be a gross understatement. Here we are again, “Umm, it’s all in your head, now bore off please”. I get this is not what was said, but in my mind, it may as well have been. I was then asked if I’d tried 7/11 breathing. Well no, never heard of it. They explained that when I feel overwhelmed like that, I was to breathe in for the count of 7, then out for the count of 11. Try it, it’s not as easy as you think. Well not for an ex-smoker. They then told me to never read these leaflets within medication voluntarily. This, apparently, is one of the worst things an Anxiety sufferer can do. This, and google symptoms. If I got a £1 for every time I googled a symptom and ended up in a blind panic, then at the GP or A&E, I’d never need to work again. I bet you didn’t know you’re reading the blog of a woman who has successfully overcome many heart attacks, strokes, all different types of cancer, brain haemorrhage, stomach ulcer etc. Yup. I’m quite a woman.


Going home and realising, yet again, this was all in my head, and that I had wasted even more of my doctor’s time was upsetting. I just needed this to be over. I was a mess. I just had to wait the two months I was advised, and assume that all symptoms felt in the next few weeks were all in my head. Sounds simple and matter of fact, but it wasn’t. It was far from in fact. Those few weeks waiting for my medication to work, were tough. I felt detached from reality pretty much all of the time, I wasn’t sleeping/eating right, I was an emotional wreck. All whilst having to look after 3 kids under the age of 5, with a man who was about as much use a chocolate tea pot. I had absolutely no support network what so ever, and lived 20miles away from my nearest family member. So, to say I felt lonely would be an understatement. These few weeks of waiting, and the months to come, were by far the darkest times of my life.

I relied on No More Panic a lot for their support. Even going back over some of my old posts I see how needy I was, and to me now it’s somewhat embarrassing, but at the time they were all I had. I couldn’t leave the house, I had no friends, not even one, no support, and I was going it alone. I spent most days/nights in their chat room, speaking to people. Some of them I still have in my social network today and who I’m very happy to see are doing so well. The chat room would often do quizzes in an evening, or some sort of game. Sounds cheesy but it was a bit of light hearted fun, that helped to distract us from the reality of what we were all facing when we logged off. Speaking with my online friends made me realise I was not alone with regards to my diagnosis, medication, symptoms etc. I could discuss with them how I was feeling, and at least one person in the room would get it. That was all I needed, was to know I wasn’t alone, and whatever I was going through was ‘normal’ to at least one other person.

What did I do when I wasn’t online? I looked after my kids, cooked and cleaned. That was my existence, being Mum. My partner at the time, wasn’t of any real help, both emotionally or with the family/home. Our relationship was toxic, and I believe this is a huge contributor as to why I ended up this way.  I became so low that I would often think of just ending it all. I couldn’t do this anymore. I was so alone. I was permanently exhausted and I was struggling to be the Mum my kids needed and deserved. I would often think about my life, my anxiety, my toxic relationship, was I good mum? Would the world be better off without me and my drama? Does anyone love me? I remember that being a big question. Who actually loves me? Who can love me?  I’m a mess. No-one wants to be around me. Hell, I don’t even want to be around me, but I’m stuck. I honestly loathed myself. When you’re feeling low and isolated, it’s so easy to just assume that no-one loves you. I think it’s because we’re finding it hard loving ourselves, so cannot possibly fathom that someone else out there that cares. Well I did have someone, in fact I had 3 little someone’s. I needed to woman up for them, they needed a Mum that could care for them, and they loved me very much. If you have read my post on PMA, you will know that I need to find the one good thing in every situation, well my kids have always been mine. As hard as it was to do, I got up every day and I got myself back into a routine. Albeit, leaving the house was now an issue, and my routine may have been a bit sketchy at times, but the point is I got up and I tried. I wasn’t perfect and I wasn’t better, but I was doing the best I could to manage my Depression/Anxiety, but still try and be the best possible Mum I could be.

In my second month of being on Citalopram, I did notice a difference. I was calmer. The Anxiety didn’t magically go away, I wasn’t suddenly happy and all my troubles had gone, but I was calmer. I cried less and I coped more. Medication is not a magic wand, but it does help. As you can imagine, I was still upset by this. I was expecting this to be my magic cure, and it wasn’t. This was literally the beginning to me learning to manage my issues, the first stepping stone if you will. When I went back to my Doctor for a check-up I was put up to 40mg of Citalopram, and by the time I went to see a counsellor I was up to 60mg. This was a very high dose that helped to keep the severe symptoms at bay, but in turn made me incredibly tired/groggy and my panic attacks were not kept at bay for long. This would later be attributed to the fact that I suffer from low blood pressure, meaning if my blood pressure gets too low, my body gives me a surge of adrenaline, thus making me feel I’m about to panic, and inevitably I do. Whilst the medication helped, it’s not the sole reason I managed my Anxiety. The rest of it was down to me, the medication only dulled the symptoms, to allow me more time to focus. I’m not sure exactly when I got my appointment for my counsellor, all I know is; I wasn’t there that long, maybe only 6 months. I would go to see her every 2 weeks for an hour, and we’d just sit and have a chat about things that had been going on with me; Did I have any panic attacks recently? Any major stresses? How were things with my partner? How was I coping with the kids? Etc. Counselling helped me to see I was completely miserable with all aspects of my life, not just one or two things. I was in a very bad relationship, I was grossly overweight, I had no friends, no support network as my family were 20miles away, I lived in a city I didn’t particularly like and I didn’t have a job.  So, first things first, I sat with her and discussed all the things about myself and my life, that I could change for the better. This is when I realised that the only person who could help me, was me. Fact. I had spent these few months waiting for the right person or the right medication to wave a magic wand and make everything ok, and now I knew this was never going to happen. It was all down to me.

I took stock of my life, what was important, what I needed to change, and I just went for it. I knew things had to change, I was miserable. I started by ending my toxic relationship. By far, the best thing I have ever done. You do not need toxic people in your life, it’s far too short to have them making you unhappy. I then had to address the fact I hated not working and that I had a poor education. I went back to work for a bit, but then enrolled into college, of which was another great decision. I love that I chose to go back and get my education, and I love that I have made some lifelong friends in doing so. In fact, it was going back to college that helped me immensely with my Anxiety. That is not to say it wasn’t difficult, it was especially difficult. It involved me going into a building with lots of strangers, putting me into crowds, queue like systems on the stairs and in the halls, sitting in a class with strangers etc. I had a dry mouth and sweaty palms most days, and I relapsed back onto medication at one point. Despite that, I still don’t regret it. Exposing myself to these situations, and forcing myself to get up and do, has helped me to better understand how to cope and my personal boundaries. I was 25 when I went back to college, so imagine my shock when on my first day I was put into a class full of pubescent boys, only for the tutor to realise my age and then shift me into the ‘mature students’ class. Both nervous and offended, I slinked to the back of my new class where I just sat staring at the board, never daring to look at someone else. What if they looked back? Caught my eye and then I’d have to speak, or feel the need to smile. Umm no thanks. I stayed very quiet for the first few days, but soon warmed up in class discussions. It was then I got talking to a few girls in my class, and realised I knew one of them from years before. We hit it off, and she is one of my best friends to this day. The next three years in college, were some of the best years of my 20’s. I would elaborate more here, but I feel that time of my life is a blog of its own.

The moral to my story is; Take all the help from your doctor that you can, they do know what they’re talking about, but be prepared for the positive changes to come from you. You need to find out what it is that makes you unhappy and what makes you happy. Make a list if you must. Assess the things in life you can change, and those you can’t. The ones you can change – do it. It won’t be easy, and more than likely the decisions you will be faced with will be tough, but they’ll be a step in the right direction to you changing something that makes you unhappy, into something that makes you happy.

You don’t look anxious to me!

I don’t look anxious to you? Well that is fantastic, hold on a moment whilst I just inform my brain to stop my insides from trembling, my thoughts from racing at 100mph, my mouth to stop being dry, my vision to straighten out and my heart to stop pounding out of my chest, because hey, I don’t look it.

If you are someone who suffers from an Anxiety condition, I’m sure you will have been on the receiving end of this statement, and we can agree on how infuriating it is. What is it that they’re trying to suggest with this statement? Are we just making our condition up? Why yes, you’re right, I’m not anxious at all now you point out how calm I look. Fantastic. Who needs doctors, counsellors and medication. You sir are a legend.

To those of you reading my blog who do not have an Anxiety condition, and who think, or worse, say that statement to someone who has, don’t! You have absolutely no idea the implications this statement will have on someone like me. All you will do is set off another bout of anxiety, or make the current bout worse. We will start to think things like “Do they think I’m making this up? Do they think I’m a hypochondriac? I’m doing their head in now with all my moaning, they’re getting fed up” or “Maybe I’m not anxious, if they cannot see my, obvious to me, physical symptoms. Maybe there is something more sinister at play here…” And here we have started a negative cycle of thoughts and self-doubt. Now our palms are sweating, our heart rates have increased even more, we cannot have a single positive thought, the walls are now closing in and our anxiety is crippling us on the inside. On the outside? We are probably smiling through it. Looking quite calm. No doubt quiet, as there is no way to hold a conversation when Anxiety takes hold, as it’s taking all our energy to ride out the next wave of panic.

Everyone who suffers from Anxiety, suffers differently. The way I suffer will be different from you, as will the way I cope. There are some generic symptoms that are the same i.e. quickened heart rate, shortness of breath, muscle cramps, headaches, dry mouth, upset stomach, vomiting, shaking, numbness of the hands and/or feet, insomnia, and dizziness. I have suffered all of these, and during a bad flare up, I will get pretty much all of them at one time. In the beginning, I would get these, and I suppose it may have been obvious to people I was having these symptoms. You know why? Because I would usually be mid freak-out and whoever was with me would have me say “Oh my god, my hands have just gone numb. I think I’m having a stroke. Is my face drooping. Wait I think I can feel my face drooping. It is, right I need to get to the hospital” or “I can’t breathe, my heart feels like it’s going to explode and I have a pain in my right arm. I’m having a heart attack”. Now that I’ve lived with these symptoms long enough, my head still thinks these things, and I still worry that I just might have something more sinister wrong with me, but I know I’ve been here before and I just need to ride it out. So, unless I’m explicitly telling you what is going on in my head, and that my head is pounding, my heart is racing and my arm aches, how would you possibly know?

I spend my entire life in a state of feeling anxious. I have days where I cope better than others. My good days usually are due to positive people and positive encounters. For me, distraction is key. I keep my head buried in my work for one. I love my job, and most of the people I work with are fantastic. They are just upbeat, positive people, who manage to generate conversations of utter nonsense half the time, but it’s a conversation that isn’t about health concerns or Anxiety, so my mind is completely distracted and for a time I forget. If I’m highly stressed, or something significant has happened, I find even positive people and encounters cannot help, as my mind will be far too gone with the Anxiety to be able to let the positive thoughts in. On my more anxious days, I will be more quiet, possibly not as smiley, but my symptoms are not visible. My colleagues cannot see that I’m shaking on the inside, that my palms are sweaty, my heart is racing and I just feel like I want to run and I don’t really know why. They don’t know/see this, but does that mean it’s not happening? No.

To all of you dealing with this condition every day, who doubt themselves, their diagnosis, their sanity, and who have had to put up with the statement “Well you don’t look anxious to me”, remember this; This is your daily struggle, not theirs. Mental illness is not something that can be seen, but it is felt. You know how hard it is to get up every day and deal with how you feel, and you know how much you achieve each day just to do what a ‘normal’ person does without a second thought. Never let someone make you feel like you’re making it up, or that you’re a hypochondriac. If they don’t understand, try to calmly explain to them what having an Anxiety disorder really means, and the real struggles it poses. Send them to helpful websites with lots of information, to help educate their narrow mind. If they’re not willing to educate themselves, or they still pose the same view, then you need to consider if you need that kind of negativity. We don’t need nor want to be wrapped in cotton wool, but what we do need each day, to be able to cope ourselves, is a little understanding. We don’t need someone to hold our hand and walk us through life, but we do need someone to appreciate that whilst we don’t need a walking aid, we still find it hard.

For all my fellow Anxiety suffers – You are awesome. If you are up, dressed and contemplating a day that scares you, but doing it anyway, you are one strong badass. Don’t let anyone let you believe any different.