I never thought I would be someone who would suffer with a mental health condition. Before starting my nursing degree, I thought that someone with mental health conditions were the type of people you see on Shutter Island or on documentaries looking into insane asylums. I couldn't have been more wrong. I have always been a worrier, always been clingy, always panicked and got anxious and upset over the smallest things even as a small child, and I will talk about all of this in a future blog post.
Over the summer months of this year, I felt my anxiety and fear of everything get worse and worse to the point where I stayed in bed, feeling homesick, feeling physically unwell and struggling to talk to anyone about it. One morning, I was on a shift at my placement, setting equipment up, no patients had even arrived yet when, out of nowhere, I started to feel that well known drop in my stomach, flood of heat from my feet to my head and suddenly my heart started racing. I had to take a breather in the treatment room. I had told myself that if my anxiety ever bothered me while i'm at work, I would do something about it and so finally decided to call up my doctors surgery for help and advice. I saw a doctor that evening and he spent a long time talking things through with me, explaining what anxiety is and how it affects the body and how I have been suffering with it and coping with it. I told him that as soon as I feel my heart begin to race, everything escalates and makes me worse. With this, he took my pulse, which although I was calm, was around 117bpm (normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100bpm) and prescribed me Propanalol 3 times daily. Propanolol is a medication which targets the natural pacemaker of the heart (sinoatrial node) to help calm the heart rate down to a normal level in hope that when I experienced a particularly anxious moment, my heart wont beat out of control as is had been doing. Although doing what it was meant to do and keeping my pulse at around 60-70bpm resting, it gave me awful side effects which included terrible insomnia, lack of appetite, fatigue and tiredness all the time and I just generally lost my energy and motivation to do anything.
4 weeks later, at my medication review, my doctor was not happy with the side effects I was experiencing and explained that in the long run, it could have a detrimental effect on my health and energy levels, especially because I was on my placement at the time which wouldn't help the situation. I came off Propanolol and was prescribed Citalopram 1-2 times daily. Citalopram is a selective serotonin re uptake inhibitoror SSRI, so stimulates the release of more of the 'happiness' hormone, serotonin. I was wary about starting on Citalopram due to the fact that it belongs to the family of anti-depressants, and although I was experiencing periods of very low moods, I was not depressed. I was anxious. My doctor explained how it would benefit me and help me and also explained how it was very common to experience some side effects from the medication for up to 4 weeks while the body becomes accustom to it, however I trusted my doctor and began taking them. It was here that I got given the diagnosis of 'Anxiety and Panic Disorder'.
2 days into my Citalopram, I woke up, took my tablet and got ready for my 13 hour shift. I felt fine. I walked to the bus stop, caught my bus, walked onto the ward. I still felt fine. The night staff began handing over any over night changes to us. As we walked into the last bay of patients, I said 'Good Morning' to my patients one by one and listened to the night nurse hand over. Three patients in, I began to feel very shakey and my heart began to race like I have never felt it race before. I could also hear only my heart beat - it was almostlike someone had turned the volume off in the world and all I could hear was my heartbeat. My fingers and right side of my face went numb and my vision became distorted, not blurred, sort of like blotchy and like I was looking at a TV on static, and then a rush of heat flew up to my head. As I turned to tell the nurse I was working with that I was going to take a breather, I collapsed. I never lost consciousness and luckily, my knees buckled under me so I didn't hit my head on anything. The staff grabbed an observation machine and checked my vitals. Everything was sky high and the nurse in change told me to get to A&E so they can check out my heart as my heart rate and blood pressure was scarily high.
In A&E they did an ECG, did my vital observations again which had slowed down slightly. After being poked and prodded, I saw a doctor who looked at my symptoms, looked at my doctors notes from recent appointments and quite bluntly said 'you've had a panic attack'. I didn't believe him. I told him that i've had a panic attack before and I know that what just happened wasn't a panic attack, nothing had triggered it - I was fine before. He explained that all my symptoms, 13 hour shifts, other stresses from personal life, plus the side effects still remaining from the Propanolol had exhausted my body and just put my into a state of panic . He then leaned over his desk and said "My dear, panic attacks don't always need a trigger. Its your body thinking you need to escape from somewhere, or sometimes even escape from yourself". He also explained that for the first few weeks of starting on Citalopram, anxiety can get worse before it gets better (he was spot on!). So he prescribed me one dose of Lorezopam, another anti-anxiety medication, told me to take one and go to bed for the rest of the day. I did.
The next day, I emailed my personal tutor at university to let him know what had happened as it's university-placement protocol to let your personal tutor know if you have had a day off or have been absent. The reply I received back told me to phone my placement, tell them I wont be returning (I had 4 weeks left) and to see my doctor as I didn't sound well enough to continue caring for others. I saw a lovely doctor the day after who took one look at me and signed me off sick for a month. I went home to be with my family but I struggled a lot for those 4 weeks mainly due to the fact that my time off sick possibly meant I would have had to move back 6 months on my course to redo an exam I would be missing and to redo my last placement. I tried my hardest to push against all of the side effects and bad thoughts I experienced and 2-3 weeks in, with the help of my family, I finally began to feel better.
My medication is working well and my doctor is very happy with my progress. It also helps that my lecturers, personal tutor and programme leader are all nurses and so showed empathy and support when I returned back. I wasn't in the end made to be deferred 6 months due to the circumstances my sickness was for which was a huge relief for me. As anyone with anxiety will know, I still have my bad days, but I also have amazing days which I never experienced before I started my medication when my anxiety was bad. Everyday I wake up and tell myself to be thankful and happy for who I am and the opportunities, people and things I have in my life. I'm working on becoming healthier and happier and continue to help myself with my anxiety while helping others with their struggles too.
Here are some great links that I personally used when understanding what my diagnosis was and I even used them to help my family, boyfriend and best friend to understand how I was feeling, the struggles I go through at times and to learn how they can help me.
I will be writing more posts in the near future detailing what goes on in my mind when I am anxious, how other people in my life see it and deal with it and where my anxiety began and started but if anyone reading this wants to know more information or wants help and advice, please leave a comment or email me - I am always more than happy to help.
Love Luce xo