Hs Ben Barratt; a 34 years old who suffered severely with panic attacks, social anxiety, separation anxiety and Generalized Anxiety which ultimately lead to intense and deep depression. Just when he felt like there was no way to climb out of the dark hole of anxiety, he managed to pull himself together and get a grip on his anxiety. Here is his story and how it can help you cope with anxiety.
…but doctors failed to give me the help I needed.
Ben began to suffer with symptoms of anxiety around the age of 26, and it lasted for around 4 years. He had all the signs of anxiety and panic attack symptoms but doctors failed to give him the help that he knew he desperately needed. The problem was that when he first started with these uncomfortable feelings, anxiety was more of a “it’s in your head” as opposed to what it is today, with hundreds, probably many more, anxiety, depression and panic attack related websites with tips and advice on how to overcome anxiety and panic attacks. This is quite possibly a reflection on the increasing pressures of life that affect nearly all of us. While everyone has their own individual pressures and symptoms when it comes to anxiety and depression, Ben found his path to better his life, anxiety free.
What I want more than anything is to share with you my own experience on how I dealt with my social anxiety which lead to panic attacks then depression.
As mentioned, Ben was 26 when he had his first real experience with anxiety. He had never realized those same similar symptoms of anxiety from a young age, but the signs of anxiety were always there. What started out as a normal day turned out to be the first really noticeable symptoms of how affected with stress and anxiety he truly was. However, there wasn’t one thing that stood out. It was a culmination of many stressful factors that had clearly been playing on his mind more than he realized – and desperately ignored – and ultimately it was this that lead to his first panic attack which caused his anxiety disorder.
Ben had been to the local pub for a few drinks with a client. It was nothing heavy and was actually quite usual in his line of work, as he operated his own business in the print industry. That evening, Ben and his client returned to his home to work on the project through the night. Looking back, Ben acknowledges that this should have highlighted that he was certainly over working, probably over drinking, and definitely putting myself under way too much pressure. He also formed a personal relationship with this client, which allowed the endless hours of work to be a venting session… to Ben.
A common phrase is to never mix work with pleasure, in this case, the theory was right.
Throughout the tired hours, Ben was surviving on energy drinks day and night, entertaining clients and then working through the hours of day and night. His work became his 24/7 lifestyle thing. Ben admits to feeling invincible; unbreakable; and this might be blamed on the high doses of caffeine he was taking in. The problem was that because of being so overworked and consumed, he ignored the signs of anxiety and also started to feel depressed; a combination that can easily lead to full blown depression – and it did. Everything was finally taking its toll; invincible Ben was crashing.
All of the symptoms for anxiety were there but I ignored them.
At the same time, his private life was also becoming just as complicated as his work routine. He spent little very time with his long term girlfriend, as she was often out of the country following her own dance career which certainly could have contributed to his depression; the loneliness can become unbearable. As a result, he did not get out of the house as much as I should, and definitely not for personal pleasure. While he craved a family life and children, she didn’t want to start a family at that time in fear of it affecting her own travels and aspirations. Ben felt trapped, and tied into a mortgage on a house that he felt was more for her benefit than his own, and because of his poor work-life balance,he knew no one socially in the village. He was alone, and it was all putting a strain on Ben’s ongoing and now lonely, stressed life. To make matters worse, he had no role model to turn to for either business or relationship advice as he had already been estranged from his father for a few years due to a serious disagreement, and unfortunately his mother didn’t give him the support he needed. Alone; and no where to turn to. This highlighted his separation anxiety.
Let’s go back to the morning after spending hours awake at night with the client. Ben had a busy day ahead of him but still hadn’t completed the project completely. So the two agreed that his client would accompany ben to his previous commitments before returning back to the project at night. The day started with the two viewing a potential investment property which, truth be told, Ben knew he couldn’t really afford, but he was following the dream of one day being a property developer. En route in the car, he received a phone call from another print client informing him that a job he had produced had been printed incorrectly and was going to need a reprint. Ben knew that his lack of sleep and personal struggles were the cause of the problem, which meant that all the work would be redone; free of charge; and a big debt to Ben’s account. Instantly, he felt his anxiety levels increasing at the thought of losing money that he already could not afford, and the stress and panic started to build.
The two continued on to view the property, before making the long journey to retrieve the problematic print job that was just brought to his attention. It wasn’t a small job, and would have a massive financial impact on his self-made small business.
I simply couldn’t afford for it to go wrong, but unfortunately it already had.
As the day went on, Ben’s stress levels had continued to build and build. With his own property aspirations seeming a distant unachievable dream, his print business suffering financially, and also the stress of having a client right there with him all day just wasn’t allowing him the opportunity to let off any steam. So, he sought for potential relief as the two headed out for some lunch. At that very moment, a good friend of his called and decided to off- load all his problems on Ben’s now fragile, worn and tired shoulders.
I was struggling to deal with my own, and the last thing I needed was to be a shoulder for somebody else to cry on.
He just couldn’t see an end to it.
As he drove slowly up to the ordering window, a lady with a very strong overseas accent asked him what he would like to order, in broken English. He gave her the order clearly but unfortunately she simply couldn’t understand, quite possibly due to the electric speakers that almost never work in drive throughs. He ended up repeating myself five more times but she still just didn’t seem to get it right, and despite being a fairly tolerant person, his stress levels were rapidly rising as hungry [hangry] traffic was building behind us. This is when the panic started.
Ben felt himself go bright red in the face; sweating and feeling dizzy. His words failed him at that point and a horrible sense of fear came over his entire mind, body and soul.
I felt like I was about to die.
Luckily, Ben’s client-turned-friend was able to recognize that something was wrong and took over, repeating the order before they drove on to the next window to collect and pay. With the panic overcoming his body, Ben literally threw his money in the hatch, jumped out the car and ran inside to the toilets. He rinsed his face with cold water and prepared himself for death as he was genuinely convinced that this was what was happening. His mind was racing out of control at a thousand miles per hour and he just kept repeating to himself, ‘Sh*t, I’m going to die.’ Ridiculously at the same time, Ben was still worried about leaving his car at the window bay and causing a scene. So, he pulled myself together the best he could, and although still feeling awful, went back outside to the car.
There was his client, sitting there completely shocked, not really knowing what to say or do to help, but he kindly offered water and chocolate thinking sugar intake might be appropriate. It was obvious we needed to call it a day, canceled the evening plans to work and Ben returned home – and straight to bed. At this point, he still had no idea that was he had just experienced was anxiety and could not see the sign of anxiety.
I just didn’t relate the build-up of the whole situation to my outburst and physical symptoms at the drive-thru. In fact, mistakenly I linked it to a potential underlying medical condition, and of course all that did was make it worse by causing more unnecessary worry and stress and anxiety.
Despite feeling better when he woke up the next morning, the events from the previous day were playing heavily on his mind. Ben found himself constantly wondering and worrying about whether it might happen again, so he decided to go to the doctor to talk to him about his completely uncharacteristic behaviour.This was when he and his condition were shrugged off as being an overload of stress. There was not even a mention of anxiety or anxiety disorders, despite him having all of the symptoms for anxiety. No information was given about the panic attack he had obviously just experienced, and the doctor then went on to suggest some serious life changes such as taking it easier at work, even going as far as suggesting that he should leave his estranged girlfriend. Although it might sound crazy to take advice from somebody who in essence was really a complete stranger, it was the advice Ben knew he needed to hear. After all, he would do anything to avoid feeling a similar attack again. So, he did what he was advised.
That very same day, Ben went home, sat down with his girlfriend and told her how unhappy he truly was with the situation and that he wanted her to leave. Her response is what broke his last bone.
‘No you’re not, you won’t leave me.’
She wouldn’t accept that the relationship was over. She did not understand Ben’s anxiety condition and had no idea about the panic attack symptoms he had the previous day. All of this made him feel even more trapped. He moved into the spare bedroom within the house, trying as best as he could to lead a separate life. Not unsurprisingly, this did not work, and only lead to more stress and anxiety. As a result, Ben found himself drinking significantly more, mistakenly leading him to believe the relief of alcohol could mask his anxiety and panic attacks, a problem many suffers with anxiety can relate to, and this is when the depression blew up.