Lauren Mahon, aka the powerhouse behind the online community, website and clothing line Girl vs Cancer, speaks to Stylist about how she’s dealt with 20 years of panic attacks, and why you’re going to be OK if they’re happening to you.
Anxiety first became a feature in my life around the time of trauma I had at 16. When you’re that age, you always think that life is forever, and I was suddenly very aware that it’s not.
I remember I was at college in my lesson and I just felt this massive sense of dread and panic in my body. I didn’t really understand why my heart was racing so fast, and why I felt quite sweaty, clammy and shaky.
I thought, “oh, what is this?”
I was convinced that I was dying, that something really bad was happening in my body. I think that was the first time I had ever had what I’d say was a panic attack.
I think the common misconception about panic attacks and anxiety attacks is that you have to be in a state of panic or anxiety when you have them. What actually happens is it’s when I’m in a state of absolute relaxation, like when I’m watching TV on the sofa, or standing on the Tube on my way home.
I’ll feel this rising panic. It makes me feel like I’m losing the plot: I almost want to take my brain out and wash it in the sink. My whole body becomes restless, like I’m crawling and I just want to rip out of my own skin, step out of my own body and run away from it. Normally to get me out of that feeling I go for a run, funnily enough.
I’m 34 now and I still suffer from panic attacks quite regularly. But I now know I have the tools in my box to be able to support myself when it does happen.
Therapy has been a lifeline for me. I didn’t realise that counselling and therapy is for everybody. I think the main thing to remember is that you may suffer with anxiety and panic attacks, but you can still have a normal, full life.
You’re not strange. This is a very normal reaction to stress, trauma or anxiety in your body. You’re going to be OK. It’s just something that is part of the tapestry of you.