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