Growing up in the 90s, there wasn’t widespread education about mental health issues. Hardly anyone understood panic attacks. So to avoid the stigma of losing control in public, Nicole tried to keep her panic attacks secret—as much as she could.
But, worrying about having an attack in public made her panic—which made them more likely to happen. She felt like she was losing her mind.
Nicole bounced from doctor to doctor and tried a string of anti-anxiety medications. Nothing worked.
“I didn't have any tools or techniques or working medication. I was just free-floating with these strange symptoms that were making me more and more scared.”
Suffering in silence to appear “professional”
The panic attacks caused Nicole to drop out of college, but they didn’t dictate the whole of her twenties. Her talents and personality shone through to employers, and she found an interesting job in the HR department of a technical university.
She coped by leading a double life. Sometimes the attacks were so intense she felt like she was dying—she’d even call ambulances to her house. But her colleagues had no idea.
“I never told anybody. I called in sick all the time.”
One day, the university held an employee workshop about anxiety and depression. Nicole realised that the talk was aimed to help people like her. With this encouragement, she tried going to the doctor again. This time, she took along a friend who worked as a nurse as backup.
“That first course of SSRIs saved my life”
Nicole was put on a type of antidepressant called SSRIs—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which work by allowing more serotonin to pass between the nerve cells in your brain. At the time it was a relatively new-school antidepressant, but now they’re the most common variety.
Finally, she’d found a medication that did something for her.