What Tim thought was a heart attack turned out to be a panic attack and the beginning of a new journey with anxiety.
Two years ago, when boarding a flight from my home in the Whitsundays to Sydney, I suffered a panic attack. This experience was the beginning of uncharted waters for me - an unplanned and often frightening mental health journey which has brought with it months of anxiety and panic attacks, three months off work, countless GP visits, crippling headaches, medical tests and imaging, including an awful MRI of my brain, counselling referrals, meditation, lots of yoga and plenty of soul searching.
Two years into my journey, I’ve accepted that anxiety, to some degree, is now part of my daily life.
My anxiety manifests in a number of ways. It can vary between something as minor as a lump in my throat, a randomly elevated heart rate or a headache, to a major panic attack, where I must stop everything I am doing and return home to my perceived ‘safe’ place.
Despite experiencing this internal struggle in my private life, I have always felt compelled to talk about it. Even when in the depths of the worst of my anxiety, I have wanted to talk.
I recognise that mental health is a major issue, particularly for men and I’ve grappled with the many high profile people, living seemingly extraordinary lives, who lose their way so badly, often resulting in ending their lives. I didn’t want to be another statistic and I was, and still am, grateful that I’ve always wanted to talk about my anxiety.
The other crucial element in my recovery has been my support network. I am surrounded by a loving and understanding family and work colleagues. As the CEO of Parkrun, my colleagues have carried the load when I haven’t been able to work. As a Parkrun participant in my local Whitsundays community, other parkrunners have been a constant source of positivity and warmth. The running itself and the exercise endorphins have also been monumentally helpful. This is despite my internal battle in the first 500m of every run, where I struggle to convince myself that my raised heart rate is a physiological response to running and not a heart attack!
Thankfully, I now have more good days than bad. In fact, the bad days are becoming fewer and further between. I still have issues with flying (airports seems to trigger the worst in me) which is ironic given that for most of my 20’s, I ran my own travel business in London and have probably been on a thousand flights! I no longer drink coffee (but dream about doing so almost everyday) or alcohol (I don’t miss it at all) and processed foods have been pretty much eliminated from my diet (sugar makes my brain go crazy). However, I do see light at the end of this tunnel and I believe that part of my future involves helping others who are going through a similar battle.
For me, talking about my anxiety has been therapeutic and the response was overwhelming. My story has resonated with so many; people connected with my story and it opened a powerful dialogue. The experience has been incredibly validating for me - to help others find some peace with their own struggles brings me a sense of my own peace.
I encourage others - if you think sharing your story will help you, in the way that it has helped me, then get in touch. We’re all in this together and who knows, it might just be your therapy too.