New group to help anx­i­ety suf­fer­ers

Mary Fog­a­rty talks to Michael Groves about cop­ing with panic at­tacks and the new Bray sup­port group.

Bray People - - NEWS -

EX­PE­RI­ENC­ING a panic at­tack is said to be one of the most in­tensely fright­en­ing, up­set­ting, and un­com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ences of a per­son’s life. How­ever, Bray man Michael Groves is liv­ing proof that a suf­ferer can be freed from the stress­ful symp­toms of anx­i­ety.

He is now co­or­di­nat­ing a new sup­port group for panic at­tack suf­fer­ers ev­ery Thurs­day evening in St. Fer­gal’s Re­source Cen­tre from 7.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. for ten weeks.

‘I want to share my ex­pe­ri­ence with peo­ple so that they can ex­pe­ri­ence the same lib­erty I have at the mo­ment. Peo­ple some­times don’t like talk­ing about it,’ he ex­plained. ‘They tend to shy away from it.’

A panic at­tack is a very sud­den on­set of in­tense anx­i­ety that can last min­utes or hours, de­pend­ing on the cir­cum­stances. Symp­toms can in­clude pal­pi­ta­tions or pound­ing heard, sweat­ing, shak­ing or chest pain as well as tin­gling or fear of dy­ing.

‘You will not die, you are not go­ing crazy, and you’re not alone,’ as­sured Michael, who ex­pe­ri­enced his first at­tack in his teens when he was an ap­pren­tice me­chanic. His older brother was killed when Michael was just four years old and he con­nects that trau­matic in­ci­dent to his later anx­i­ety.

‘I didn’t know what it was,’ he said. ‘I dropped some­thing in to an en­gine and went in to com­plete panic. I was sweat­ing heav­ily and felt my heart racing, even though I knew ex­actly what to do to get the tool out of the en­gine. It didn’t pass, the feel­ing stayed with me all day long and I re­ally strug­gled to make sense of it.’

He couldn’t un­der­stand why such a small prob­lem had pro­duced such an in­tense re­ac­tion. In the years that fol­lowed a num­ber of sim­i­lar things hap­pened, at­tacks brought on by seem­ingly in­nocu­ous things.

He was play­ing foot­ball for the Ir­ish Youth team in his late teens and had been com­plain­ing of short­ness of breath. A doc­tor ex­am­ined him sev­eral times and, find­ing no phys­i­cal ail­ment, sur­mised that there must be a psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion. Michael was di­ag­nosed with anx­i­ety dis­or­der and the road to lib­er­a­tion be­gan.

‘I was an anx­ious child but I didn’t know any dif­fer­ent, I thought that ev­ery child was anx­ious,’ he ex­plained. Hav­ing an ex­pla­na­tion for his symp­toms came as a huge re­lief to the Sal­lynog­gin na­tive, who de­scribed feel­ing iso­lated and alone in his for­ma­tive years, at times even con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide. ‘At times I felt so un­well that I knew I prob­a­bly should have been hos­pi­talised.’

‘If I couldn’t make sense of it how could I ex­plain it to any­one else?’ he said, re­count­ing his strug­gle to cope with the fear. ‘What was I afraid of ? Fear it­self.’

The oc­cur­rence of panic at­tacks is caused by adren­a­line, a pow­er­ful hor­mone that trig­gers a prim­i­tive ‘fight or flight’ re­sponse in hu­man be­ings. All very well if one is fight­ing off an at­tacker or de­fend­ing one’s chil­dren from harm, but pretty use­less as we go about our day-to-day mod­ern lives.

The body is flooded with adren­a­line pro­duc­ing un­com­fort­able symp­toms of panic with no per­ceiv­able foe to fight. Ex­treme fear of the same thing hap­pen­ing again pro­duces yet more adren­a­line, so the hor­mone fu­els it­self and so the cy­cle con­tin­ues.

Michael found that there was very lit­tle sup­port avail­able to him when he was first di­ag­nosed and his own re­cov­ery has come about through trial and er­ror. A self-em­ployed car­pen­ter, he never missed work on foot of his at­tacks, even though there were some very dark days for him.

‘There was some­thing of an “us and them” feel­ing with the doc­tors, who would just hand over med­i­ca­tion,’ he said, adding that those close to a suf­ferer will usu­ally be sym­pa­thetic but can’t re­ally un­der­stand what it is they are go­ing through. ‘Help is very ef­fec­tive when it comes from fel­low suf­fer­ers. You can un­bur­den your­self along­side peo­ple who un­der­stand what has hap­pened to you and without fear of stigma or shame.’

The sup­port group will pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on the cause and symp­toms, as well as cop­ing tech­niques on how to build a re­cov­ery. ‘The in­ter­net is also won­der­ful, there is a mine of in­for­ma­tion avail­able and it is in­for­ma­tion that will lib­er­ate you.’

For ex­am­ple, ex­er­cise and re­lax­ation meth­ods can play an im­por­tant role in over­com­ing anx­i­ety, as well as re­mem­ber­ing that no hu­man be­ing has ever died from a panic at­tack. Most im­por­tantly, learn­ing to al­low the symp­toms wash over you and ac­cept­ing them can help cut the cy­cle of adren­a­line fu­el­ing it­self. ‘With prac­tice you can come to recog­nise that they are un­com­fort­able feel­ings but not danger­ous. You can’t beat it by fight­ing it – the key is ac­cep­tance.’

How­ever, warns Michael, ig­nor­ing the symp­toms can lead to the on­set of acute de­pres­sion if left un­treated. Al­co­hol and drugs can also ex­ac­er­bate or even cause the sit­u­a­tion. ‘It’s un­be­liev­able how adrenalin can fool the body – I call it the Great Lie.’

The at­tacks can be hered­ity or caused by some trau­matic in­ci­dent as well as pho­bias, and even vi­ta­min B de­fi­ciency. Short-term causes can in­clude per­sonal loss, caf­feine or nico­tine or a sig­nif­i­cant change in life. ‘It doesn’t mat­ter what the cause may be,’ said Michael. ‘The way out is the same for every­one. I want to show you that peo­ple do get well, there is a way out but you might never find it by your­self.

‘You may have al­ready been through doc­tors, med­i­ca­tion or self-help books,’ said Michael. ‘If you’re still suf­fer­ing, pick up the phone, get in the car or bus and turn up at a meet­ing. What have you got to lose?’

For more in­for­ma­tion con­tact Michael on 087 9144775.

Michael Groves, who has set up a new group in Bray for peo­ple suf­fer­ing from panic at­tacks.

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