This is something that is very close to my heart as over the years I have suffered with anxiety and panic attacks. My first experience of anxiety and panic attacks was when I was 9 years old, and I struggled on and off for most of my childhood. My experience of help and support was a very bad one and looking back this lack of support has definitely had a major impact on my life.
I was put on a high dosage of beta blockers and paroxetine from the age of 12 and stayed on them until I was 28 years old. When I wanted to come off them, I sort advice from my GP, and I was shocked by what they suggested. One GP told me to just stop taking them cold and another one told me to take my medication on alternative days increasing to only every 3 days and so on until I wasn’t taking it anymore. Although I am not medically trained, I would never ever advise anyone to suddenly stop taking prescribed medication. Even the later suggestion in my opinion was not appropriate for someone who had been on this medication for 16 years and on such a high dose.
In the end it was down to me to work out a safe way of coming off the medication with the least impact possible. With a lot of research, I found that the body was unlikely to notice a decrease of 5% per week but that it can take around 6 weeks for your body to register any change in dosage. So, I sat and calculated how I could do this – to begin with I was on 280mg per week so to reduce this by 5% would take me to 266mg per week. The closest I could get to this was by taking 40mg 3 times per week and 35mg 4 times per week, therefore totalling 260mg per week. Then keeping to this for 6 weeks before reducing the weeks total by another 5%. It took a lot of calculating and it took a long time to safely come off the medication, but it did work for me.
As I said earlier, I did ask my GP for advice as everyone should do but despite speaking to 2 different GP’s neither were able to help in a way that wouldn’t cause serious withdrawal. I did attempt what the 2nd GP said of taking my medication every other day and then every 3 days etc and ended up having a complete breakdown which could have ended very badly.
Aside from the lack of professional support, the main hurdle was once I got down to 5mg per week as this was the lowest dose available in tablet form. It may not sound like a lot to be in your system, but I was anxious about going from 5mg per week to 0mg per week after coming so far and with it taking nearly 2 years to get to this point, I didn’t want it to all be in vain.
So, I went to my GP and asked for their advice (despite my previous experiences) and this time I was told that they could put me on a different medication that was available in lower doses but they’d need to hospitalise me for this or tough as although my medication was available in liquid format (therefore making it possible to take a very small dosage) that it was too expensive for the NHS so they weren’t prepared to prescribe it for me!!
If I had the voice I do now I would have stayed put, stating my argument that one prescription would have probably lasted me until I came off it altogether and that the other alternative is that I could end up in hospital which would cost the NHS a lot more than one prescription but instead I left feeling deflated. So, I fumbled through by cutting tablets in ½ to begin with before coming off them altogether hoping that I would be ok – fortunately, I was.
I really hope that things have improved since but from what I have heard through other peoples experiences it still appears to be very hit and miss as to the support available. I have heard of so many cases where people have turned to their GP for support almost at the point of crisis but not quite in which case, they walk away being told to self-refer for NHS counselling or CBT which consists of an average of 6 sessions and a waiting list of who knows how many weeks.
Therefore, when I knew I needed counselling after leaving the domestic abuse, I knew that I would need more than 6 sessions as well as needing someone who would be able to offer the right support. Knowing this, despite the cost involved, I made the decision to find a private counsellor and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. She has had such a positive impact on my life – life changing, and I will be eternally grateful for everything she has done. I wish I had known her years ago!
I now have a fantastic GP who is very understanding of my situation and of mental health and she has been very supportive throughout. However, I have also seen another GP on one occasion who got fixated on my heart rate, which was high, despite me trying to explain that I suffer with white coat syndrome and that whenever I am at the doctors or hospital my heart rate goes through the roof. They weren’t interested in the reason I was there to see them but instead wanted me to go to A&E because of how fast my heart rate was – which as you can imagine just sent me into further panic mode!
I was shocked when I discovered that my counselling tutor has such a strong opinion of medication for mental health problems. Don’t get me wrong, I still think she’s an incredible tutor, but I was disappointed by this. She believes that people on medication are not willing to work on their issues as medication treats symptoms but does not address its causes. Whilst I acknowledge that medication does not address the roots of mental health, I believe that medication is a personal choice and one that is discussed with your GP.
In my experience, if it wasn’t for medication then I would not have been in the right place to work on myself. Some of my peers felt the same as myself but I found it concerning that others agreed with my tutor.
My counsellor suggested that sometimes we need scaffolding to help us which can be of varying degrees and differ in what we class as scaffolding, so for me my scaffolding consists of medication, counselling, self help techniques such as exercise, meditation, visualisation, breathing techniques and surrounding myself with people who care about me.
I would hate for anyone to feel judged for whatever scaffolding they need to get by and would never judge a client who came to me who was on medication for anxiety, depression, or any other mental health problem.
I feel that it is a shame that in 2021 there is still a stigma around mental health, particularly with men and that there is still a huge lack of support and resources available.
I am passionate about working with young people with mental health problems to try and provide them with the tools necessary to live their lives to the full without struggling with the debilitating effects of anxiety, depression etc.
Therefore, alongside the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, I will continue to campaign for every school in the UK to have access to a counsellor.
I’m a big fan of self-care and think that this is something everyone should make time for, no matter how little. There are some useful pointers in this self-care starter kit – Download A Self-Care Starter Kit From The Blurt Foundation (blurtitout.org)