“My vision suddenly went blurry, I shook my head as if I could shake the vision back into my eyes, but it didn’t work, I couldn’t focus. Like a scene from a movie it seemed as if my surroundings were all caving in around me, on top of me, trapping me in.
“I sat down because if I didn’t I would have fallen down, holding my head in my hands I sat there for what seemed eternity absolutely bewildered as to what was happening to me. When I finally removed my head from my hands I looked down at them, they were trembling uncontrollably.”
This was Leanne’s first experience with anxiety, a severe attack that would lead her to a period of social isolation, a devastating period of physical and emotional effects and to her essentially being housebound for weeks.
Before this anxiety attack, Leanne’s life seemed pretty perfect. She was young, successful and had no significant cares or worries. She had a great family, wonderful friends, she was social and active, Leanne described herself as “living her best life”. Working as a HR Manager for a successful retail company, it was a secure career she loved that allowed her to travel around the country.
It was on one of these trips that her first ever experience of anxiety occurred, this crippling attack that overpowered Leanne, leaving behind devastating consequences. “Within the space of 48 hours my life completely changed. I lost myself completely,” she said.
In the weeks following this episode, Leanne had not returned to work, she continually re-lived the anxiety attack and was terrified of it happening again. She had visited multiple doctors and psychologists who were confused by her symptoms. She was asked if she had been abused as a child or suffered trauma in her past as her symptoms presented as those common with those suffered by victims of these circumstances. Leanne was shocked and upset by these questions, she firmly told the doctors “no”. The fact was she had no idea what was causing the anxiety which made the experience even more frustrating and difficult than it already was.
Without any real effective professional advice, Leanne’s condition went downhill rapidly. She described herself as “being on edge, scared of my own shadow, I was scared to be alone, scared to be with people, I was crying at everything because I was so terrified, but I couldn’t figure out a reason why.”
Her absolute desperation led her to visit a different GP who wrote her a script for an anti-depressant and sent Leanne on her way. Unfortunately, the medication Leanne was prescribed was far too high of a dosage, and she describes the medication as making her feel as if she was “losing her mind.”
By this point Leanne’s anxiety was so severe she now wouldn’t leave her Sydney apartment.
Her family came and collected her and took her back to the family home. “I would lay in the guest room at my parents like a zombie. I felt like I had been on the biggest ‘trip’ of my life. I felt like I was chewing my face off and my eyes were enlarged. The worst thoughts would enter my mind - I felt like I had no control over them, I couldn't stand to watch tv, or look at social media, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t hold a conversation - I just laid there staring out of the window into the garden."
"My mum was always obsessed with keeping her guest room immaculate, but she could see how bad I was suffering so on occasion she would bring the family dog in to lie with me. He would just lie there and let me hug him, never leaving my side until it was time for him to go eat or for a toilet break. He was the best therapy of all!"
How to help someone with anxiety. Post continues below.
Leanne’s mum took her to see her local GP who corrected the initial dosage of the anti-depressant to half the amount she had been prescribed. The positive effect that this had on Leanne was significant. After a few weeks at her parents’ house and once the medication had taken effect, she decided she had to try and go back to her apartment, something she now associated with anxiety. It was a huge step for Leanne and extremely challenging. During the car ride to the train station to travel back to Sydney, Leanne was hysterically crying. Her parents, unable to really help Leanne fix the problem, dropped her off at the station, sobbing uncontrollably, hoping that they were doing the right thing.
Once back in Sydney, Leanne recalls a day soon after her return that was a pivotal moment in turning her life around. One of her best friends picked her up (without really giving her an option) and took her to Balmoral Beach. Leanne opened up to her friend about all that had transpired for the first time since it had all begun. Then sporadically, her friend ran fully clothed into the water. “Come in!” she yelled to Leanne. Leanne hesitated but then found herself soon in the water with her friend laughing.
"See, there’s nothing to be afraid of," she said to Leanne. Leanne knew then she could no longer be a prisoner in her own mind.
Leanne sought the help of a highly recommended psychologist (Margaret), who diagnosed Leanne with severe anxiety, severe depression and severe stress. Margaret’s work with Leanne is what she attributes to her overcoming her anxiety and getting her life back on track. She now counts her therapist as an integral part of her life and one that she looks forward to seeing. Leanne says, "actively working on your mental health is just as vital as your physical health." With Margaret’s patience and care through cognitive behavioural therapy she has assisted Leanne to get back to her true self, living life to the fullest now on a balanced scale.