Debilitating panic attacks and feeling powerless


Written by a Youth Studies BA(Hons) NTU Alumni

It all began in year one of my youth studies degree, the day before an assignment was due and I could not catch my breath; I thought it was my asthma to begin with, but it was much more serious. I still went to my afternoon lecture as usual but, everything started to become blurred; my heart is pounding, cold sweats and a dry mouth. I try and tell myself I just need a five minute break to have some water and my inhaler but, this only made it worse. I felt that something was stopping me from going back through the lecture door. What is this? How did it happen? Most of all how can I make it stop?
Eventually, I get up and first aid was called; everyone is talking to me, but I cannot hear anything, and my vision is still blurred; the only way to describe it was an out of body experience like this was happening to someone else and not me. The first aiders try their best to get my breathing under control, but nothing is working, and I am steadily getting worse, so an ambulance is called. I go to hospital and they diagnose panic attacks which I have never heard of before and they recommend taking two weeks off university to recover.
When I return after two weeks off, I was signposted by my course leader to the student wellbeing team to discuss supporting my mental health. I describe that feeling of not being able to hear anything which is called disassociation which occurs when your brain suffers a traumatic experience and decides to block it out. My student wellbeing advisor recommends reading up on these conditions to develop coping strategies when I feel the symptoms come on. I do the reading and find my mind now races quicker than it has before, and it begins to affect my concentration at university. I visit the doctor to talk about my symptoms and I am then prescribed medication to reduce the impact of the panic attacks.
After returning to university I, my course leader and my wellbeing advisor have a discussion around my safety whilst at university and recommends putting in an extenuating circumstance just in case I need a deadline extension.
I struggled throughout university with panic attacks and disassociation, but I became more aware of what worked for me when the symptoms began. So I started listening to jazz music, used a stress ball to fidget with, a therapeutic colouring book and the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 grounding technique.
I live with these conditions every day, but they are not who I am. So, I encourage anyone who is struggling or needs support with your mental health, please contact the Student Support Services at NTU.

For help and advice whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.
Personal Pastoral Support at NTU (general worries and anxiety, homesickness, loneliness, a relationship breakup, or a bereavement)
Support from NTU
Silvercloud: SilverCloud is our online system designed to help with a range of mental health issues.
Depression advice
Wellness in Mind: Advice and support for anyone in Nottingham experiencing issues with their mental wellbeing
Struggling at Uni? Go to Student Minds
10 Keys to happiness


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