Broken Heart or Broken Brain?
18 months ago, I wrote a letter to an ex-lover, telling them I would support them despite having no experience of anxiety. I suffered from recurring depression, but symptoms of anxiety were alien to me. Here’s the irony, I didn’t see myself slipping in that moment and I fell into months of the darkest depression. Fast forward 4 months and my chest began to tighten, and I began with chest pains.
To begin with I thought this was a result of my excessive caffeine intake. So in response I drastically reduced my caffeine, whilst the pains continued for several months. Then came the defining moment when my drink was spiked on a night out. This frightening evening resulted in an emotional breakdown, my head smashing the pavement and temporarily suffering amnesia. A few days later I experienced my first ever panic attack.
What does a panic attack feel like?
My first panic attack came out of the blue; I was having a normal day at work serving customers during the lunch time rush. First the continuing chest pains, followed by struggling taking shallow breaths and struggling to obtain any oxygen.
A couple of minutes later I start hearing a ‘Whoop’ ‘Whoop’ siren. I turn to my colleague and ask if they hear that strange sound. Whilst I’m serving customers as normal, my heart is beating faster by the minute, nearly thumping out of my chest. I ask my manager if I can go for my break, but he doesn’t realize I am distressed. Then the room begins to spin, and everything starts going blurry. I hear my senior team member, shouting me to go on my break now! Clearly realizing I am about to faint. I go into the back, sit down and focus on my heart’s thumping. Fifteen minutes later it stops, and I continue with my work shift feeling dazed.
Since then I have had two major attacks both when woken up in the middle of the night and I often get chest pains/tightness and breathlessness when I get stressed . I had several months where I was mostly ok, then a few weeks ago the symptoms began to return. Chest pains, breathlessness and constant chest tightness, but why? This time I wasn’t particularly stressed and had ample free time over Christmas as I wasn’t in university (postgraduate).
Anxiety can feel like a heart attack
Maybe it’s my heart? So last week I phone the NHS (England) emergency services to check. The following day I see my GP. They tell me I have no sign of a heart problem. However, they send me for a ECG (electrocardiography) test to make sure (mainly because I scuba dive). Thankfully my results came back as normal, but I was told that people with anxiety can often have almost the same symptoms as someone suffering from a heart attack or angina. I have now been put on Beta-blockers to try and help these physical symptoms.
We are strong, brave and resilient
Many people don’t consider mental illness as important as physical illness, and think it’s all in our crazy minds. People think we appear weak, lazy or over-dramatic. But what if these people knew what we experienced felt like a heart attack on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? You wouldn’t tell someone with angina to stop being a coward and dramatic. Illness shouldn’t be judged, whether it is a case of broken heart or broken brain. In matter of fact we are more strong, brave and resilient for taking on each day despite inner battles with our brains.