By Natasha Barrett
Six weeks into my first term of university I am hiding under my duvet, shaking, sweating, aching, and trying not to throw up – I feel like I’m about to die.
I didn’t know at the time, but this was my first real experience with a panic disorder. Imagine a full-blown panic attack that lasts not minutes, not hours, not even days, but weeks: it was pretty grim, to say the least.
At that time, now eight years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about mental illness, it had never been mentioned in school, I wasn’t aware I knew anyone else who was suffering and my total ignorance meant I genuinely believed I was all alone losing my mind and would need to be locked up Shutter Island style!
Perhaps if I’d had more information and been aware of what was happening to me and that it was relatively common, treatable and that I wouldn’t feel the same way forever, things might not have spiralled to such a degree.
But without that knowledge and without quality health care (the university health centre and counselling service were not the best back then – at one point I was told ‘ah your period must be due’), I felt completely stuck. Feeling petrified every waking moment, being unable to sleep, eat anything, think straight, interact with others or effectively function like a human, makes it impossible to go about your life. Long story short, I was forced to take time out of my studies, which at the time made me feel like a complete failure.
That feeling of failure, as the life I expected suddenly crumbled around me, paired with my first real break up and only a year after my parents had unexpectedly separated, allowed my constant panic to muddily merge with a new feeling – a deep, sticky, all consuming depression. I felt even more isolated and that I’d never get my life back on track, and to fast forward slightly, this eventually led me into a pattern of self-harming and a suicide attempt the day after my nineteenth birthday that left me semi-conscious in hospital for the best part of three days.
After this, I can’t pretend I had a sudden wake-up call or anything, I was bitterly disappointed to still be alive because things still felt impossible and it hurt to see the pain I’d caused my family and close friends. I didn’t undergo any particular treatment, I tried a few types of medication and went through a bad period of drinking too much and neglecting relationships, but very, very slowly, over the course of a year and a half, I began to feel more like myself again. To be completely honest I think at that point I just had to struggle forward until eventually, I was just about able to resume my studies and start to rebuild my life.
I wasn’t suddenly cured of my panic disorder or depression and they continue to crop up again for weeks or months at a time. Since then I’ve had some really dark periods and in 2019 I actually went through quite a similar breakdown/relapse to what I experienced at 18, and ended up quitting a job in a very toxic environment.
But along the way, I began a vast learning curve, I went back to university a very different person with a very different outlook and threw myself into every mental health related event I came across. At the time one of the Students’ Union Officers, took me under her wing a bit and was running some incredible projects around mental health with students. I shared my experiences, spoke at events, met more and more people who understood what I was talking about and had similar stories, and became passionate about campaigning for improved mental health support and raising awareness of how many people suffer in silence due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
When I graduated I wanted to continue putting my experiences with mental illness to positive use in the hope of helping others, but it was a little harder without the student environment, so I continued to blog and write about mental health. When we were all thrown into a unique situation by COVID19 and forced to spend a lot of time at home, alone with our thoughts, I decided to bite the bullet and kickstart a project that I’d been mulling over but lacking the confidence to start for a long time.
I started the podcast ‘Crazy Talk’ (the name comes from attempting to reclaim the word ‘crazy’ often used very negatively), with the goal of exploring a new platform from which I could reach a bigger audience and connect those struggling with mental illness, with those who wanted to share their stories or offer advice. Sometimes simply hearing that someone else has experienced what you’re going through, keeps you going, and if I’d had that eight years ago, I know things would have been a lot easier for me!
We are now in our second season, with our 18th guest and lots of lovely listeners across Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and other major platforms. Each episode a different guest shares their experience with mental illness whether that’s BPD, depression, an eating disorder or PTSD, the guests have ranged enormously in terms of gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity and ability which has allowed many of our audience members to find really relatable content.
My hope is that the podcast continues to grow and reach more people who could benefit from it, whilst helping to breakdown some of the stigma surrounding mental illness by putting it out in the open and showing that anyone can suffer with some form of mental illness. I’m always looking for more guests and more ways to share the work we’ve been doing so feel free to get in touch if you’d like to chat or find out more.
You can listen to the podcast here: https://anchor.fm/crazytalkpod
How can No Panic help you?
No Panic specialises in self-help recovery and our services include:
Providing people with the skills they need to manage their condition and work towards recovery.
Our aim is to give you all of the necessary advice, tools and support that you will need to recover and carry out this journey. Find out more: https://nopanic.org.uk/support-services/?sfw=pass1614792822