Saturday, 4 July 2015

Panic Attack Advice

A friend was telling me today about another friend of hers, somebody who I once met but don't really know.  This woman has a mental health diagnosis (I think schizophrenia) and, without going into details, she is one of those people who have become a victim of the system. She is unlikely to recover, probably because she has lost the will to recover or the belief that there is any hope of recovery (this is what I gather from my friend's recounting of her tale). 

I was really surprised to hear that the council are in charge of this woman's financial affairs - she had to sell her flat many years ago (I forget why, something to do with benefits perhaps?) and they have not given her the money from the sale because she is deemed incapable of acting sensibly with it. 

My friend said that it is for this woman's own protection - that she might spend it on a new car or a holiday.  But to me this just illustrated the injustice in the mental health system - a gambler or an alcoholic can do what he wishes with his own money, sell his home and destroy his family...  But somebody with a diagnosis of mental ill health can not have charge of their own financial affairs.  I had no idea this situation existed before today and it made me really cross. 

As I say, I don't know the woman concerned well - I don't really know her at all, in fact.  But when I think about her - which I do quite often, because my friend is fond of her - I think in terms of, 'There, but for the Grace of God, go I'.  (I like the poetry in that saying).  Her final breakdown, which she never recovered from, was after she had a miscarriage and separated from her then partner.  And I think - I might never have recovered from such a loss either.  My family have been my lifeline and I am not sure that without them - without Paul's belief in me, without Anna to hold the two of us in place after that rocky start - I could have pulled myself back into the real world.

I would like to help this woman, have suggested to my friend that we should meet.  But she doesn't want to meet me, which is fair enough, and anyway I am not sure if anything I could say would actually help.  She will get better, maybe, one day when she is ready.  I hope. 

In the meantime, why on earth shouldn't she have her own money?  Why shouldn't she splash out on a new car?  Or a holiday?  Maybe those things might be the trigger that would make her start to feel like a real person again.  Why would it be a waste, any more than it would be if anybody else treated themselves to the things they wanted?  Aren't most people's decisions about how to spend their money reckless, unnecessary, in literal terms? 

Anyway, I probably shouldn't write any more about somebody else's business.  The woman concerned is not complaining, or not officially so.  She is too used to being 'looked after', treated like a child, or more accurately, like a mad person. She has given up on any hope or expectation of leading a normal life.  Which is ridiculous - she was unwell and there really is no reason why she shouldn't get better.  It is just a shame that so few people realise that. 

The story made me cross and more determined to keep on fighting the injustice that is meted out to the mentally ill - or, the emotionally distressed. 

All this is a complete digression.  So, to get to my final point, which is the thing that made me want to write this post.  The panic attacks.  My friend told me that her friend - this same woman - has panic attacks and so I passed on the advice the GP recently gave me on this matter.  I went to see the GP after suffering episodes of chest pain that I knew were caused by panic but which still made me feel as though I was going to die however much I tried to reason myself out of it.  I think I wrote about it all on here, but I can't remember if I wrote in detail about my visit to the GP and what he said.  And I realised that if I haven't, I should, because after listening to his words of advice I have not had a panic attack since.

I told the GP that I thought the attacks might be some sort of reaction to food, because it often (not always) happened after I had eaten.  I said I had cut out various foods, notably nuts, because they seemed to be a trigger and he said that I could just end up with a really restricted diet that way and that I really needed to re-introduce those foods, so that I knew if they had actually caused the problem.  Also, he said that pain was not usually associated with panic attacks, which I knew, but I still thought panic was the problem.  He suggested medication, but he was almost smiling when he said it - I think he must know I am rather anti-medication, although he is not the GP I usually see at that surgery. 

Anyway, he then said that I should pay attention to my breathing.  He said that breathing is key - usually when we have panic attacks we have been over-breathing - breathing in too much - and the action we need to take is to breathe out.  So that is what I do now, if I have any inkling that a panic attack might be starting.  I breathe out.  And it has worked!  Simple advice but very effective.  It deserves to be shared.

I don't feel at risk of these episodes any more and I suppose that is part of the reason why they are not happening - I am not anticipating them, I am not fearful.  I think also the breathing out thing might work for me partly because the GP told me it would and I believed him - I am quite suggestible!  But whatever the reason, it works, so I passed the info on to my friend today and I hope she passes it on to her friend, and I thought I would share it here too if I haven't already.

Please pass it on to anyone you know who suffers in this way.  I hope it helps.    

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