There’s no stigma and it can happen to YOU...

Gemma Sherlock
Gemma Sherlock
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Reporter Gemma Sherlock opens up about experiences with mental health and tells others it’s okay to speak out and seek help

Why is everybody staring at me?

It’s probably because you’re sweating profusely and your hands won’t stop shaking, it’s probably because you look scared, it’s probably because you are not strong enough to beat this.

It’s because you need help.

If it didn’t happen again this morning you wouldn’t be here, staring at the faded blue walls, scanning leaflets on whether you have booked in for your flu jab.

But you are here and this is happening.

The soft sounds of BBC Radio 4 from reception does nothing to soothe the bumbling burn in your chest – only a faint similarity to what happened earlier.

Today was the second time it happened this week but you don’t want it to be ‘third time’s the charm.’

I thought I was having a heart attack. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t breathe, the choking wouldn’t stop, the room was spinning as I tumbled to the phone.

The screen glowed 999 ready to ring when my breath caught, the tears ended and my thudding heart slowed to a steadier pace.

My first experience of a panic attack.

Panic attacks usually start suddenly and some sufferers have experienced them lasting beyond 30 minutes.

The sudden burst of adrenaline, the increased oxygen and heart rate, gives our bodies the flight or fight response.

If we need to flee a masked murderer or save our family we will need this adrenaline, this heightened panic.

Do you need it waking up every day before you begin a busy day at work? No.

I certainly didn’t need it during work as I steadied myself at my desk, suppressing the sudden urge to scream, cry or both.

Back in the waiting room the other patients have stopped staring but they know, they see the girl in the corner faking it, faking the smile.

It’s only when the doctor gives me my freedom and opens the door that I can break, I can collapse and succumb to the feeling of worthlessness.

“How can I help?”

How can you help doc?

How can you stop this eternal worry, the constant ‘what if’ scenarios and the unconscious but equally overpowering thought that the pain killers are continuing to build up in the cupboard.

Her smile is inviting and one I don’t want to let down.

I think of my parents, feeling like a failure and admitting I’ve been defeated, I take the first steps in opening up and the tears soon reappear.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in four people will experience one diagnosable mental health problem in their lives.

The foundation also reports that every year in the UK 70 million workdays are lost due to mental illness, including anxiety, depression and stress related conditions.

In 1990, 416 million people suffered from depression or anxiety worldwide – these numbers rose to 615 million in 2013.

But what is anxiety and what is depression?

Mind, the mental health charity, says, “depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time, and affects your everyday life.

“In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits.

“It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile.

“At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live.”Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid, particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.

Anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.

“Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to,” say Mind.

In 2013, there were 8.2m cases of anxiety in the UK.

In England women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men.

And I was one of those statistics.To be told I had chronic anxiety, an informal term to describe any type of anxiety that doesn’t seem to go away and isn’t prompted by events around you, was a strange, welcoming relief.

It answered questions I had held on to for years, it gave some comfort to my personality, “the worrier”.

But the relief did not decrease the sense of failure.

The ultimate blow came when the doctor also prescribed antidepressants.

But why should it be a blow?

Why should it be failure?

A diabetic goes to get help when they need medication, a person who has asthma goes to get help when they need an inhaler so it is only right that a person with a mental health problem goes to get help when they are not at their best.

It is only right that we detract the stigma, we admit it’s okay not to be okay.

The hard leather chair in the doctor’s surgery now has a groove as I sit with tissues and help lines.

The fresh air hits my wet face as I stroll back to the car.

Before I set off to work I make a list, clear the cupboard out, speak to my parents, seek support.The line opens on the phone to get that help: “I’d like to make an appointment please.”