Don't panic and carry on

If you've told me a few years back I will be thinking about writing the blog post about my experience with panic attacks, I'd have raised an eyebrow and got immersed in sipping my coffee. And yet here I am. The thing is closest I got to relate to panic attacks was something like film "Up in the air" with George Clooney.

Sure, I never doubted somebody might be facing mental health issues. But empathy without the actual experience is like reading recipe without actually tasting the food. You get the idea, but don't know the flavour. I didn't understand. At least until the day I found myself in middle of it.

Let's not get carried too fast though. Rewind to the day before the Christmas (now more than a year ago), when the world is meant to feel festive and joyful. You know, the idea that is projected everywhere you look, in everything you hear. But let's face it - the reality often involves quite a fair amount of stress, last minute rush to get everything ready.

And there was I, right in the middle of it, not yet realising something deep down inside me was about to go off. Then, not sure whatever it was something being said, I suddenly knew something is terribly wrong. The closest idea I could think of came from the British awareness campaign Act FAST - that's the one focusing on spotting stroke symptoms to save lives. Half of my body was feeling numb, felt somehow confused, and every bit of my body racing to scream for help. Being 40+ the possibility of stroke did not sound so alien. The only thing before getting into the hospital was to check my smart scale (from Withings) which didn't show any symptoms (like massively increased pulse way velocity) except raised hear beat. The less than 20 minutes later I arrived to hospital.

No matter how much you can complain about European medical system, it worked exactly as it should. All the symptoms being confirmed I was tread for possible stroke. My blood pressure was hitting just over 190/120, which is actually a medical emergency. Within minutes I had basic medications applied and before I can realise what's going on the CT scan with contrast medium in my veins being done. Moment later, still on emergency admission bed, I finally had time to think a little bit. Must have been quite confused, because for a bit I was considering asking to be released. Despite the warning given by the doctor. Luckily I must have been under serious medications and don't really recall much of things that happened, only to find myself on intensive care department being closely monitored.

Except, as it turned out, nothing has happened. For a couple of days I have been a subject of the full arsenal of medical checks and tests. Despite the medication they had me on, my blood pressure stubbornly clung to the highs—hovering around 150/95. It was like my body was holding onto the tension to survive. As my third day being hospitalised neared the end, the on-shift doctor pulled up a chair to deliver some news.

He spoke of something called a "silent stroke". As he detailed the condition, one thing became crystal clear to me: the life I had known was gone. I was about to be moved to the regular care for couple days as they continue doing more checkups. Can't recall how much sleep I managed to snag that night. It was one of those nights where your mind decides to jump from thought to another. The whole idea of being asked to see cardiologist, going on endless voyage of specialist visits - that wasn't something I was ready for.

The next morning, a sense of déjà vu came over me as a familiar numbness crept through my body. It was a silent alarm, urging me to get out of bed and search for someone who could make sense of this sensation. "Something must be wrong," I managed to say, finding a nurse—or so I thought—to literally beg for help. As my symptoms intensified, she swiftly administered medication, reassuring me it soon will be just fine. And what a relief it was - the medications did indeed worked its magic, gently pulling me out of the abyss I was about to fall into.

At my next scheduled checkup I couldn't be more grateful, and at the same time curious what did the trick, when all previous attempts by the doctors seemed to fall short. "Antidepressants," was an answer which took me by surprise. "The person I saw on the hall, " doctor explained, "wasn't a stroke patient but rather somebody with panic attack." It was a moment of revelation.

In a strange twist of fate, there I was, with one doctor standing alone in her diagnosis. The other doctors, by some twisted turn of events all males and with more years of experience under their belts, sticked to their belief to treat me for stroke symptoms. Mental health? They mentioned with almost patronising wink. The irony was not lost on me.

Days dragged on and I couldn't bear another test, another scan in search of the answer they felt must explain it. I began to realised that my constantly elevated blood pressure might be just a physical manifestation of my fear of doctors. Getting voluntarily discharged was the only way out. And to my utter shock, when I finally got my hands on the discharge report, it was devoid of any mention of a potential panic attack or antidepressants administered.

Ever since that day, the reality of mental health and its complexities truly hit home for me. As discovered many people around me experienced same, without me ever knowing. Making this even trickier topic as no two people had same symptoms. I've come to understand that while my episodes of panic attacks might not be as frequent as they are for others, maintaining my mental balance needs much more attention.

Taking my inner well-being more seriously meant that I had to start prioritising myself. It might ring of selfishness to some, but the truth is, you can't just shove your needs to the side indefinitely, marking them with a 'later' label. Life's circumstances won't pause, waiting for an auspicious alignment of the stars, and it's naive to think they will. Mental health is a lifelong journey, and it's not about racing to a finish line—it's about the steps you take every single day.

I'm now grateful for the path I'm on, grateful that I didn't wait until "much, much later" to begin. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that the "perfect time" is a myth. The right time to start is the moment you realise you need to make a change, and for me, that realisation couldn't have come any sooner.

P.S. Writing this blog post has been a bit of a mountain to climb. Sharing personal experiences isn't new to me, it's just not something I would do in a written form. I did this a way how to fight off yet another panic attack looming around the corner...