I was 37 when I had my first real panic attack. Of course it didn't happen overnight. It started with a little bit of worry everyday. Seemingly reasonable concerns that anyone might have about their job; how was I perceived at work? Was I doing well enough? At some point those worries grew bigger and the negative voices in my head got louder. It started to spill outside the work box into other areas of my life; what if he doesn't love me anymore? What if they don't think I'm a good mother? But I still didn't want to worry anybody so I kept quiet, desperate for them not to find out. Pretty soon I was having difficulty sleeping and was waking up in the night to that soundtrack in my head reminding me of all the terrible things that could happen.
I thought it was a phase, that it would pass. I thought that if I just tried harder, worked harder, that it would all get better. I was nervous and irritable at home, but cool and collected at work. I snapped irrationally at my kids at times and my partner struggled to put me at ease. I did have good days where I would laugh and joke and smile and play, but even then the black thoughts were never far away. Anxiety was like the school bully living inside my head. I was scared that if anyone found out what I was thinking that they'd laugh, or even worse, they'd agree. So the fear fed the secrecy and the secrecy fed the fear in a self-perpetuating loop of despair. And I felt trapped, like this was how life always was and always would be.