In 2001, when I was 53, the panic attacks started. My mother had died in the January and I had been feeling low. Having suffered from asthma for many years I was well aware that I had to steer clear of dust and pollutants and yet on this particular day I stood too close to my husband who was sweeping out the garage. My breathing became laboured and I began to panic. Inhalers didn’t work and I was getting more wound up. I had a nebuliser and even this failed to halt my attack which, by now, was at full strength. My husband called an ambulance and when they arrived I was taken to hospital. After two more sessions with the nebuliser, things were starting to calm down and after a few hours, I discharged myself as I felt back to normal. It’s amazing how much better you can feel when help arrives.
I realise now that it wasn’t the asthma that had got me in that state but a panic attack. I think I became paranoid and every time I got slightly out of breath, I thought that I was having another attack. I wouldn’t go out on my own in case I had another episode and in the July of that year I was put on Diazepam. A week later, I had a review and I can remember at the time not wanting to take the drugs for long, fearing dependency. I was then put onto Dothiepin and Promethazine. During all this time I was working part-time in a kitchen shop and I had a very sympathetic manager who helped me through an attack at work. I started to feel a bit better and when I returned to the surgery in the August, the Dothiepin was increased to 75mg. and Prednisolone was added to help with the breathing.
My husband and I were going on holiday in the September (a cruise to New York) and I was hoping that all would be okay. When we got to the hotel in Time Square, we were told that our room was on the 28th floor. I had had a fear of heights for as long as I can remember so I went into meltdown at this news. The staff were brilliant and after a lot of work, they found us a room on the 11thfloor and although still high, I began to calm down and carried on.
That was on the Sunday.
Tuesday morning at 9.15, we saw on the TV news the dreadful sight of the first plane crashing into Tower 1. We were both afraid of what was going on and stayed in our room for a couple of hours and watched the drama unfold on the TV. Later that morning, we decided to go out and after managing to get through the extra security, we headed for Central Park, well away from the disaster area.
I thought that I was coping well but, I realise now that the panicky feelings were always in the background. I was okay after a while and the strength of the medication began to come down. In early 2003, the attacks started again and the tablets were quickly bumped up. I could no longer cope and was panicky when left alone. I was depressed and at times, could not go outside alone. I tried to analyse what was happening and realised that I was thinking about having an attack a lot of the time.
I tried to distract myself by turning on the TV and getting interested in a film and this helped a bit. What really seemed to help was when I found myself singing! I was determined to start going out on my own and only managed a few yards when the feelings returned. As it’s all about keeping your breathing regular, I started to sing quietly to myself and my breathing calmed down. I had to breathe in tune with the song and I managed to get to the corner shop a couple of hundred yards away. Once with people in the shop I was ok and then, on the return trip, the feelings returned so I started on another tune. This has really helped me and as I have always loved music, I found myself singing along with the radio in the car and even in the supermarket! Luckily I have been well for a number of years now and can now not only go to the local shop, but on the bus into a couple of local towns where I am able to shop for hours.
My husband and I have now retired and have joined a walking group. We stride out for an hour or so at least once a week with lots of others and have made many new friends. I still sing along with any music and, as with a lot of retired people, I intend to grow old disgracefully!
Author Bio – I’m Pam Cridland, a retired shop assistant in Surrey. I worked also for over 30 years managing pet shops. I now enjoy gardening and crafts and anything to do with animals.