Peter Garrison’s health anxiety journey

Peter Garrison's
health anxiety journey


About twenty years ago, after a few bereavements and health scares involving family members, I experienced anxiety attacks and panic attacks. I developed health anxiety and convinced myself I was dying. Every day was a struggle; I wasn’t sleeping and wasn’t eating. I went to the doctor’s repeatedly and, eventually, I was prescribed citalopram. Over a few months the symptoms diminished and slowly I returned to my normal anxious self.

Twenty years later, there was Covid and lockdown. Prior to this, I had retired and was having a good social life with my friends and participating in voluntary work etc. Lockdown stopped all this. I was under a little pressure to help my elderly sisters who were suffering from dementia and heart disease. It was a struggle, but we got through that.

Lockdown wasn’t too hard as I enjoyed staying at home and doing various crafty hobbies. The lockdown eased and I fully expected to just slip into my old life. To my surprise, the release from lock down was the start of a period of huge anxiety, panic attacks and depression.

The anxiety was a starting point, I found that I was very nervous going shopping and meeting friends. I couldn’t concentrate on conversations and found walking around the supermarket induced panic attacks. I was convinced that everyone was looking at me as my legs trembled. I lost all confidence and started staying in, to the point where I couldn’t walk to the front door let alone outside.

Panic attacks were happening all day and I was convinced I’d lost my mind! The doctors were seeing me all the time and I was so depressed. I couldn’t envisage going on like this but thought I was stuck forever.

The doctors gave me a few different types of medication, some of which made my symptoms worse. Gradually one medication had a positive effect, and I was able to leave the house for short periods of time and walk a bit outside.

I tried hypnotherapy to reduce the anxiety and it helped me to try and remain calmer when I had panic attacks but really underneath, I was still terrified and fighting all day with these attacks.

At this point my sister made me aware of CBT offered privately and I sought help through NOSA. Within a week or so I had my initial assessment consultation. I climbed the stairs to the room with very reluctant legs. The initial consultation was about two hours and the therapist put me at ease. I didn’t feel embarrassed discussing my feelings and symptoms as the consultation was more relaxed and the therapist was reassuring. He produced a detailed individualised therapy plan and I started the actual CBT treatment.

My perception of CBT therapy is that it’s not something that the therapist does that makes you better. You are not a passive part of the process. From my experience, the therapist acts as a sounding board for good sense. He challenges your ideas by putting alternative ones to think about. You yourself, have to put effort into the process and be strong enough to challenge your beliefs and thoughts. I found that the therapy journey was not smooth. I had many days where any progress I gained was swept away by panic and anxiety. The therapy can leave you feeling uncomfortable as you are coxed out of your comfort zones and safe places.

Eventually, I reached a place where I began to understand that to fight panic attacks and anxiety attacks is totally the wrong thing to do. It just increases adrenaline, which makes the attacks worse. It is better to just accept that you are panicking and ride the storm.

After a while, the panics diminished, and I was able to do things that I wanted to do.

I am still anxious and occasionally have panic attacks. My walking is a bit wobbly and I shake with nerves at times. I am more philosophical about these symptoms though and feel more able to understand that is just anxiety and panic. I’m not going to die from it, though it can be unpleasant for a short time. My learned behaviours over a life-time are difficult to change but they certainly needed to change. This is still a work in progress.

I am taking medication still but am in so much a better place in my head. The CBT has made me understand that my approach to panic, anxiety and challenges in life was wrong. It has helped me by giving me tools and strategies to cope. I am now able to participate fully in all the things that I want to do. I never thought that I would be able to do this and feel so much happier and confident that I can cope better with life’s challenges.

This client’s information has been anonymised to protect confidentiality.

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