Announcing Our Newest Patron!

Natasha Devon

Photographer: Ethan Cole

I was ten years old when I had my first panic attack. I was freewheeling down a hill on my bike, when I suddenly found I was gasping for air and I fell into a ditch full of stinging nettles.

There were a lot of things going on for me, emotionally, at that time. My brother, Joe, had been born extremely premature and just ten months after my other brother, Ethan. For eight years I’d been an only child and suddenly I had two siblings, one of whom was very poorly. My brothers are two of my favourite people on Earth, now, but at the time it was an almighty gear change.

Shortly after Joe was born, my cousin Chloë, who was only a year younger than me, died of cancer. When you’re a child you don’t tend to think of anything you’re experiencing as being ‘abnormal’, so I didn’t consider the impact that spending so much of my time at the hospital, visiting the Special Care Baby Unit to see Joe and cancer ward to spend time with Chloë, was having on me. With hindsight, I can see that this, along with the fact that I was the only person in my year at primary school who got into a highly-sought after secondary and all the other girls in my class decided to stop talking to me, meant I was a prime contender for some sort of anxiety. It was a perfect storm.

Photographer: Ethan Cole

Unfortunately, this was all happening in 1991, in much less enlightened times, so my doctor wrongly diagnosed me with asthma. As it turned out, I didn’t get a diagnosis of Panic Disorder until I was 31 and in the intervening two decades I developed all kinds of toxic coping strategies, including an eating disorder which spanned over seven years.

For a long time, before I knew what anxiety was and the impact it can have, I just thought I was less good at dealing with life than other people. Now, having received the correct diagnosis and embarked on recovery, I don’t see Panic Disorder as radically different from having, for example, diabetes. Of course, I have to be aware of my mental illness and take steps to manage it, but it doesn’t define who I am. It’s just an element of my life, as opposed to something which dictates every element of it.

Through a combination of medication, therapy and lifestyle changes, I’ve found a balance which means that now, instead of having two or three panic attacks a week I have two or three a year.

A key component in my recovery was finding a community of people who understood what anxiety is like and that I wasn’t being a ‘Drama Queen’. Today, the people that I connected with when I was at crisis point remain some of my closest friends.

That’s why I’m so proud to announce today that I have become a patron for No Panic. As well as providing vital information and support, No Panic represents a supportive network of people who get it. I’m delighted to be able to lend my platform and voice to such an important and necessary cause.

Photographer: Ethan Cole

If you are reading this and feelings of anxiety or panic seem overwhelming, know that you aren’t alone. You aren’t ‘weak’ – your symptoms are the result of very real chemical phenomenon happening in your brain and body. Know also that, with the right support, they can be managed and overcome. There is such a thing as a happy and fulfilling life with anxiety.

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