When Anxiety Attacks


The knife is slack in my hand. The vegetables I was cutting, forgotten. Terror grips my chest and I am struggling to breathe. I am paralysed.

The family dinner is now beyond my reach. I have stopped. My body has simply stopped. My mind is racing for reasons why.

This has happened once before. Years ago. Three weeks after my son died, I collapsed to my knees, unable to continue. Raw grief, emerging from shock, forcing me to floor. Demanding that I pay my dues. Telling me to pay attention to my grief.

I knew then what forced me to stop. This time, there is no reason.  No reason to be suddenly fearful and unable to pinpoint the terror. No reason for my heart racing. No reason for my dry mouth, wild eyes and panic. There is no immediate danger.

The dispassionate observer that always follows close whispers, You are having an anxiety attack. Breathe. Just concentrate on your breath. Count back from 10. See something, touch something, smell something. Gather your senses and find ground. Somehow, I emerge from the panic. I am bewildered and confused. Why now?

My mind searches for answers. Despite all life has taught me,  I remain a person who needs reasons. What could have caused this? Was it the new pill I had changed to? Was it hurried week upon hurried week? Was it the decision to start my own business? Was grief changing course yet again? What had turned into un-named terror and left me helpless in its wake?

I am a modern woman. I consulted Google. And, as Google tends to do, it validated the answers I was searching for. The new pill could definitely cause anxiety. There was my solution. I felt a measure of relief. I went to my GP the next day, recounted my experiences, diagnosed myself and asked for a new pill. Without warning, I found myself crying. She looked at me kindly and asked me to fill out a depression anxiety stress scale. I didn’t cheat. I am prone to giving the answers I think people are looking for. I didn’t do that.

She told me I was over-anxious and that left unchecked it could become depression. She prescribed a new pill. She recommended more sleep and an exercise program. She set up a mental health plan gave me a referral for a psychiatrist.

It was there I became unstuck. I have friends that see a psychiatrist regularly. I don’t judge them. But I judged myself harshly. Here I was, someone who had survived the death of her child with minimal professional help, unable to make dinner. Surely this was something I could fix myself?

I have no issue with being broken. As long as I can piece myself back together. When I admit that I need help, the vulnerable under-belly shows and I am uncomfortable. Even writing this now, feels exposed. But it’s important that we talk about it.

I spoke with my friends about my anxiety, warily and fearful of judgement. I found no judgement. In fact, a number shared that they had experienced depression or anxiety. Many of my friends are creative perfectionists and mothers – perhaps the ideal conditions for anxiety to take root. I began to realise that mental health and psychical health are alike. We need to take care of both. Both can dip. There can be times in life when you can heal yourself and there are times when you need help.

In the end, I took the referral and I kept the appointments. The psychiatrist was kind. I told him I couldn’t comprehend why I was suffering from anxiety now when I had survived a parent’s worst nightmare. He told me that anxiety isn’t necessarily logical but logical thinking can help you through it. He told me fear was okay, but there were ways to manage fear without it becoming crippling. He told me that my experiences meant that I had reserves of strength to draw upon. He also told me that my experience rendered the unlikely more plausible in my mind. It all helped. It helped to talk. In fact, the very act of asking for help, helped.

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1 in 3 women will experience anxiety within their lifetime. It’s not a small proportion, as borne out by my own experience. And just as we might seek help should our physical health fail, we should feel no shame reaching out when our mental health falters.

Today heralds the start of Mental Health Week – a week to bring awareness and acceptance around mental health. To finish it off, Hat Day is on Friday 9 October. You can participate by wearing a hat and donating to research. Visit www.hatday.com.au to register a Hat Day FUNdraiser event and invite your friends, family and collegues to join in.

You can also find more information on the Facebook page.

And if you are sharing your Hat Day, the hashtag for instagram, twitter and Facebook is #hatday15
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Have you suffered from anxiety?
Do you find it hard to ask for help?


33 thoughts on “When Anxiety Attacks

    • Robyna says:

      It was hard to live through, cathartic to write and terrifying to publish. I was sorry to read of your hypertension – you seem to be handling it so well though. Fortunately I have just had the one attack and getting on top of it quickly hopefully means I have the strategies in place to avoid it happening again.

  1. Michaela Fox says:

    What an incredible post. Robyna, thank you for sharing your experiences. By sharing your vulnerability like this you are in a powerful position to be able to help others. I have never had a full-blown panic attack but I do experience a mild level anxiety. Mostly it manifests itself as insomnia and worry. I think it’s really interesting that you say you don’t judge others but judge yourself harshly. I am exactly the same. I also like what your psych said about anxiety not being logical but it can be treated with logical thinking. This is a great message to get across to people. And I hear you about grief changing course…. this is also something that people need to remember. Yes, you lived through and survived every parents worst nightmare, but grief shifts just like shadows, and sometimes the sunlight just can’t break through, but it will again xx
    Michaela Fox recently posted…No-bake Coconut Muesli ballsMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      Just approaching things logically helps so much. Thinking “I am not coping at life” can be rephrased to “I am trying to cope with something that is very common in life, how can I handle that better?” And aren’t we all so much harder than ourselves than others?

    • Robyna says:

      Thanks Karin. I was skeptical of seeing someone at first, but it did end up being very helpful. Sometimes hard to admit that someone else can reveal things about yourself that you are blind to.

  2. Collette says:

    A beautiful and raw post Robyna. I admire your bravery at sharing such a personal account. You tell your story beautifully. There were many things that I connected with in this post. It can be really hard to accept help because we all want to be invincible, even though we don’t expect anyone else to be. A friend of mine has had a really tough year with an anxiety attack similar to yours, and she just didn’t understand where it came from. It has been an uphill battle for her all year and sometimes she’s felt like she was losing the battle. I’m going to send her a link to your post as I think she’d really get a lot out reading about your experience. xx
    Collette recently posted…The Art of Storytelling: The Old Fashioned vs. The ModernMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I hope she find some comfort within a similar experience. You’re so right about feeling that we have to be invincible ourselves yet never expecting that from others.

  3. The Hipsterette says:

    Thank goodness mental health is now on the agenda – and it is okay to ask and seek help. I have found that to recover from profound grief does requires an attitudinal change by the individual which comes from hidden wells of strengths within – but others can support that journey. I’ll being wearing a hat and donating to research on Friday!

    • Robyna says:

      I think that’s the thing to get across – that it’s okay to ask for help. That it’s not self indulgent or silly. That it’s exactly the same as when you go to the doctor because your physical health is failing. So glad to hear that you will be a part of hat day. Now to find hats that go with the frocks!

  4. Sarah @theroutinequeen says:

    I’ve suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for over 10 years. I’m so glad to hear that your GP referred you to speak to someone as too often it is brushed aside or medicated too quickly. I remember when I was first diagnosed I really didn’t believe it, my life was great, I was happy, what did I have to be anxious about? Sometimes I’d go for months without an attack and then bam, out of the blue they’d strike. It took a look of time (and help) for me to figure out that for me it’s a pattern; Im great in a crisis, I look after everyone and hold it together. It’s months later when everything calms down that it’s like my mind and body go ‘ok sarah, you can fall apart now’ and I do. So what seemed like out of the blue anxiety was really related back to things that might’ve happened a long time ago.
    You’re right talking helps a lot and I’ve found the more I talk about the more I find that other people suffer from it too! I’m glad you’re getting some help, look after yourself xx

    • Robyna says:

      I think it adds to the anxiety doesn’t it? Feeling like you SHOULDN’T be anxious because life is fine. But it really isn’t logical thing, so applying that logic is never going to work.

    • Robyna says:

      Thanks Sarah – and thank you for always being honest and open about these kinds of things on your blog. Creating spaces where people feel comfortable to talk about mental health is so important.

  5. Isabel says:

    Hey Robyna. Your post is honest and brave and personal and I’m glad you wrote it. I have had no great loss in my life like you have, but also deal with a level of anxiety, waking up in the night and obsessively worrying about the future and what if this happens and what if this doesn’t happen and oh my God we’re all doomed. I also have that feeling of embarrassment to talk about it – people like my mother and grandmother would look down their noses at anyone who saw a therapist or psychiatrist, and I feel that pressure to just have a stiff upper lip and get on with things. Anyway, it’s good to talk about these things, and if I can find a hat in my cupboard I might wear it to class on Friday to get people talking about mental health 🙂
    Isabel recently posted…One + Four = Life: Hairy Crabs Anyone?My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      Yes, I fear my grandparents would be the same – “count your blessings, be grateful and get on with life” they might say. But again, that’s a logical thinking approach to an illogical issue. So all it really does is heap guilt back on the person who is experiencing anxiety (or depression) for not being able to heal themselves, by themselves.

  6. Maxabella says:

    I am so grateful for raw and honest writing like this, Robyna. I don’t suffer from anxiety, but my son does. The more generous souls like yourself talk to me about the way you feel, the more I have been able to understand what my son goes through. Reading your words makes me more compassionate, understanding and patient. I can’t thank you enough for opening up to us like this and I wish you the compassion, understanding and patience you need to allow yourself to find a path through this. x
    Maxabella recently posted…How to break a bad habit | Step 5My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      Thank you for your kinds words Bron. I do think that talking about it so important. We can’t change the stigma if we are too ashamed to be honest.

  7. Kyles @ Pickles and Pords says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I have a very dear friend who recently had a severe anxiety attack for the first time and “doesn’t want to make a big deal of it”. I will be forwarding her this article in the hope that it helps and encourages her to seek help.
    Kyles @ Pickles and Pords recently posted…Happiness insomniaMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I really hope it does help her Kyles – I think a lot of the time the stigma around mental health is something we direct at ourselves – we think we should be fine and able to deal with these things without help.

  8. Melissa says:

    My condolences on your loss and also on your Anxiety. Mental Health Week is such a valuable educational resource and I have seen so many great results come out of sharing personal stories just like yours. Every time we share, more and more people learn they are not alone in their Mental Health struggle. Beautifully written!

    • Robyna says:

      Thank you Melissa – and thank you in particular for your kind words about Xavier. I agree, the more we share our stories the less alone we will all feel.

  9. Tamuria says:

    Wow, that was an amazing and brave post Robyna, and you are so right, we do need to talk about it. A very dear family member suffered through depression last year. He is working his way out of it now, with the help of family, friends and professionals. Getting help early can avoid so much pain. Thanks for sharing.
    Tamuria recently posted…FAVOURITE FOODS – comfort and wellnessMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      Early intervention and the recognition that doing something about it is simply part of a healthy lifestyle is so important. It’s when people sit with it for a long time, thinking that have no right to ask for help, that tragedy occurs.

  10. Kate @onesmalllife says:

    Robyna, I just cannot quite describe how stunned I am by how similar my experience is to yours. I had one anxiety attack that I could justify and then one that came just out of the blue. That was the scary one, because WHY?! I sought help and am currently seeing a therapist, it’s early days but I am hopeful. I also really relate to filling out forms with answers to please, I maintain that I had undiagnosed PND after my first child due to a youth spent manipulating the results of the Cleo Survey. Thank-you so much for this. I have written about my experiences too at One Small Life and if you ever get a chance to take a look I’m sure you’ll feel as I do quite amazed by our parallel experiences. x
    Kate @onesmalllife recently posted…The Harshest CriticMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      It really is scary when you can find no apparent reason for anxiety – but it helps when you learn that’s not really the way anxiety works. Will def be popping over for a read of your lovely words on this topic.

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