I am sat here writing this post, whilst listening to a prolific British soap actress explains on national television how poor her experience with a consultant on depression was. Granted not all consultants will be poor, but I can feel where she is coming from. I’m going to explain where I feel I was not dealt with correctly when it comes to my anxiety. The points I am about to make cannot be pinned down to one person and they are more just about the way the system works.
On diagnosis with panic disorder, I was referred to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). In some areas this would mean being seen in a couple of weeks, but in my area the waiting list was 6 months long. An initial assessment would have taken 3 months, in which time I don’t want to think what state I would have been in. I was fortunate my mum had private health cover with work, but this only covers 3 years of treatment, so at the end of this year we will have to pay for my appointments with the physiologist.
Another problem was the inconsistent advice I was given. A few years ago, I had a panic attack over the Christmas period and was advised to go to A&E and ask for the Crisis Team. The Crisis Team deal with suicide cases, so when I was there I did not get seen by one of the team, but a doctor who was not a specialist in mental health, so it was difficult for him to advise me.
My final problem has been, when I hit a rough patch, I have to wait to see someone. I don’t think the NHS offer emergency appointments with psychologists for anxiety and if they do I have never been made aware of this. A lot of things can change in a day and it would be nice to know someone is there when you need them.
These are just a few of my experiences, but feel free to leave a comment if you have had a different (or similar!) experience…
The day of my diagnosis, I went in to inform the school and I was in a bit of a state really so I got sent home. From then on the problems started.
The first problem was finding me help. I was prescribed beta-blockers to help manage my panic attacks, but I needed some other help. After visiting the doctor I was referred to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) but in my local area the waiting list was six months long. As my mum has private health cover with work, she managed to find me a psychologist to see, but being diagnosed just before Christmas meant that I had to wait until January to get an appointment.
In the build up to the Christmas holidays I don’t remember being in school much as, at this point, I was refusing to go to school. Although taking my medication, I was still terrified of having another severe anxiety attack. I have found since that taking my medication does not prevent the feeling of an anxiety attack fully, but prevents me having a major one. I was being supported by the inclusion team, but I still felt no-one really understood me and just wanted me in the classroom. I felt a bit like I was considered more as a vital statistic than a person.
Over the Christmas holidays, I think my family began to realise the severity of my problem. After spending all of Christmas Day and Boxing Day indoors, I began to develop a fear of open spaces. My parents tried for 2 or 3 days to get me out of the front door but I would have an anxiety attack trying. Eventually my mum got me in the car and we made it about one mile down the road. I began sobbing and screaming until my mum turned the car around. I remember clutching my mum’s arm as she held the gear stick. Taylor Swift was playing on the radio (it was either We are Never Ever Getting Back Together or I Knew You Were Trouble) which is a weird thing to remember, but I can just hear it looking back. Some day after this, but before my return to school, I had a really bad anxiety attack. I cried and hugged my mum as I felt like I didn’t know who or where I was. She called the out-of-hours GP and they advised her to take me A&E and ask for the Crisis team. My mum took me to A&E and asked for the Crisis team as instructed, with my dad meeting us there. The Crisis team are there to deal with suicidal patients and so I did not speak to anyone in the team. I was instead sent to see a doctor. Warn out and on edge, the only advice I was given was a booklet printed on the internet, before I was sent home. This made me feel misunderstood and alone.
Before returning to school, I think I had my first meeting with the psychologist. They decided Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was the best way to help me with my condition. At the first appointment my parents went in with me. I don’t remember much, but I think I talked about what tasks, places and things I felt manageable to do and attend again.
By this point I was not avoiding school and not going to dancing or Guides.
Trying to get me to go to school was a nightmare. I would cry and scream everyday. I would go and sit in the inclusion teams office as I was too scared to go to lessons, if they managed to get me in at all. My mum not going to work and my dad was sometimes leaving early to pick me up so my mum could go in. I remember one day where I felt forced into lessons and so I began to resist even more. I resisted advice from the psychologist to go in, the efforts of the teachers trying to get me in and my parents willing me to go back. It all reached a head one day when the education welfare officer came to my house. My attendance hadn’t slipped that low yet, but with me refusing to come in they wanted to speak to me. That was when I really began to hate going to school. I felt like they saw me as a naughty child playing truant. Even after the visit I refused to go in that afternoon because it just got me worked up. I felt so alone and guilty, because I didn’t want my parents to get into trouble. Whilst I avoided school, my mum and I wanted me to be given work to complete at home but I was not always given it. Eventually, my parents and the inclusion team took a harder line with me as I remember being in more and sitting in the inclusion office doing work. After receiving a school report expressing concerns in my attendance to lessons from one subject, I continued to feel lonely and isolated. The next few weeks are a bit of a blur, but I think everyone was getting more and more worried about the state I was getting myself into, especially as my GCSEs were approaching and I was going to move schools for sixth form.
I don’t know when it happened, but one day I reached a bit of an epiphany. I remember thinking, no-one cares about me so I’m going to back with as little of there help as possible and do this for myself. Once again, I remember very little of what happened after this, but by my exams, I was dealing with my anxiety attacks in lessons and staying in the classrooms, instead of leaving like I had previously done. I was in school every day and was trying my hardest with the work. I had previsions in place to help me through exams, like a separate room, and I had a pass to leave lessons if necessary. My parents would take me in and pick me up everyday and I think I went home for lunch sometimes. Teachers would allow me to sit with my friends in lessons so they could help me if I began to feel anxious. I would go to the psychologist’s every Thursday and I gradually came to enjoy going rather than dreading it.
In the end, I passed me exams and got into sixth form. I had to choose whether to go a place I liked alone or with my friends, but in the end I chose to go with my friends so I had a support network already. So then it was on to sixth form…
I was first diagnosed with panic disorder in late 2012. Prior to this I had a lot of feelings I’d bottled up for a long time. Between 2008 and 2012, my parents had separated and my half-brother had been born and I had suppressed expressing my feelings on the issue to people. For years I remember getting this moments where I would feel ‘funny’, possibly even before these events, and I know now these to be anxiety (panic) attacks. These started to get worse in 2012 as I remember sitting down in my English class and most days having these ‘funny’ moments that would eventually pass. I think I began to become scared of them occurring and so I would talk myself into having an anxiety attack.
Then, at half term my mum and I had gone to stay with my grandma and we were going out for the day. My Grandma went down the step outside her house, fell and landed on her hip. She went to hospital in an ambulance and Mum and I stayed there until my Grandma was admitted to a ward that evening with a broken hip. We don’t live far from my Grandma, but we don’t live really close (about a 40 minute drive) so me and my Mum decided we would stay at my Grandma’s until the hospital thought her fit to go home. This meant a 40 minute commute to school everyday when I returned back from the holidays. I was starting to get more and more stressed with the commuting and worried about my Grandma until one day in November 2012. I went into English, sat down and started to feel ‘funny’, but the feeling wouldn’t pass. I thought I was about to faint and so I got the teachers attention by saying, “Miss, I think I’m going to faint and I don’t know what to do”. I have no clue why I said that because I definitely do know what you’re meant to do if you think you’re going to faint! She helped me out of the classroom, down the corridor and down the stairs to the school nurses office. Believing I had a bug, the school nurse called my Mum to collect me and take me home, so back to my Grandma’s we went. The next day I was looking forward to, as I was Children in Need so the whole school was in fancy dress. I went as a mad scientist and me and my friend were to tie our feet together all day to raise sponsorship money because we were in most of the same classes. Although I was looking forward to the day, once I got there I felt peculiar and on edge all the time, so I went to the school nurse and once again I was sent home.
On the way to my Grandma’s, my Mum and I discussed how I felt and these ‘funny’ moments I was having and when I had them. This was the first time I’d really talked about these moments I would have. That was when my Mum realised that I was having anxiety attacks. As it was a Friday I could not get an appointment at my doctors for the next day, so I booked an appointment for Monday. Monday came and that was when I was officially diagnosed with panic disorder…