“I remember my first nocturnal panic attack. I was pregnant at the time and I’m not sure I even knew they were a thing back then.
It was just a normal night, I had been asleep and woke up to a sensation that I can only describe as free-falling. There was a feeling of suffocation, I couldn’t catch my breath. My heart was beating really fast, and thoughts were racing through my mind at 100mph.
What was wrong with me? Was I having a heart attack? Was I dying? I felt so alone and scared. It was the middle of the night, I didn’t know what to do. Panicked, I couldn’t move through fear. I can’t even describe the sinking feeling or the impending doom that engulfed me.
I tried to relax and go back to sleep. However, just as I would drift off, something would jolt me back awake. That same sinking, free-falling feeling would hit me once again, spiraling me back down into fear, anxiety, and darkness.
The next day, I spoke to my GP, sobbing the whole way through the appointment. I recall her asking if someone I loved was fighting in the Gulf War. Why she asked me that question I’ll never know. Maybe she was searching for an explanation that would match my level of distress. However, I’ve come to learn that that’s the thing with panic attacks life rarely reflects the depths of the fear of panic. It’s often (although not always) irrational.
Since this first experience, anxiety still hits me at times. It also always seems to arrive in the middle of the night when I have no control whatsoever. There isn’t an obvious trigger (I’m asleep) but I’ve come to recognise that it is a sign that I need to pay attention to what is happening in my waking life. I’ve also learned that when the nocturnal panic attacks come I need to concentrate on slowing down my breathing. An extra pillow seems to help when I’m experiencing anxiety and slowly drinking a cold glass of water (it brings down the heart rate apparently). A GP also told me that massaging a point behind the ears will help slow the heart rate down.
The thought of nocturnal panic attacks does not scare me anymore. Fighting them never helped so I have learned to embrace them, listen to them and understand them…. Funny thing is, as soon as I accepted them, they started to disappear.
Counselling also helped me to understand myself and helped me to work out ways to help myself. I’m also happy that mental health is spoken about now and we don’t have to feel ashamed to say ‘Yes, I experience anxiety too’.”