A panic attack isn’t very pleasant to witness – watching someone you care about fizzing out of control while you feel unable to help…
However, no matter how gut wrenchingly uncomfortable the observer finds it, that is but a drop in the ocean compared to the impact it has on the sufferer.
I was staying with my great niece (yes, I know I don’t look old enough) Angela and her husband Joe, in sunny Kendal for a couple of days rest and recuperation.
She has recently entered that strange world of limbo after having to leave work due to mental ill health.
She has a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder which knocks her for 6 from October through to March.
She also suffers from panic attacks.
In recent times the Government has extolled the virtues of cognitive behavioural therapy – it’s task centred, it’s time limited and, if you believe reports it’s a rip roaring success.
If you scratch the surface though, the success rate is, at best, 50% for depressive type illnesses.
If we factor in other variables like the postcode lottery for services combined with the tendency for service users to report positively on any input, such is the desperation for any help and not to be seen as a bad patient.
Angela was given CBT via her GP surgery. She found it useful for certain things…but for her panic attacks, less than useless.
Her therapist told her to ‘Act Normally’ during an episode. If she was shopping she should just stay calm and carry on….
During my time with her, I saw Angela have a panic attack – rapid breathing, increased heart rate, a feeling of terror, an experience of other worldliness – dissociation – which adds to the distress.
All I had to offer is,’Slow your breathing,’ and, ‘It will pass,’ not much really, but with the acknowledgement that here was something that was going to profoundly effect her ability to continue her orderly way around Morrison’s.
Something the one trick pony therapist failed to recognise.
When, time and again, this approach proved not to be working, the therapist continued with her ‘keep calm and carry on’ method.
Angela has jumped ship to the therapist offered by her local Mind.
But it wasn’t all gloom and doom. I had a lovely time – it was Joe’s birthday weekend – we went to his parentals for cake and stuff and a pleasantly challenging conversation about mental health with his dad….
We enjoyed the sun, we went to Windermere, we inadvertently went bat spotting along the river Kent, we went up to Kendal Castle, we just hung out and got to know each other.
They told me the weather around this area was altogether more inclement – I don’t believe that, I think they’re just keeping this wonderful part of the world for themselves…
They picked me up off the road and dropped me off again.
I had a lovely time.
After years of feeling crushed by the stigma of mental ill health, Angela has become somewhat evangelical about spreading the message. So much so she allowed me to interview her on camera about all things mentally challenging.
She has, very kindly, told me that my little wander has helped her with her coming out.
If that’s the one message I can get across to folk –
Then I’m more than happy to be a one trick pony.
They’re a lovely couple – just as Angela’s willing to talk, Joe’s willing to listen – surely a winning combination…
Walk a mile