On a cold, clear afternoon drive in early January I'm rapidly transported into a mental territory I'm completely unfamiliar with. My heart begins to beat so quick I was convinced I was having a heart attack. My hands were clammy. I felt sick, the type of sick in your stomach that you can't quite pinpoint to a definite location. You just know it's not right. My hands and feet became tingly, like that feeling you get before you pass out. My body temperature soared, sweating inexplicably. The very car I'm driving, the wheel I'm holding, the vibration of the road making contact with the wheels seemed so alien and unfamiliar. My mate in the passenger seat, whom I had spent the last few days with, was completely unaware.
I kept chatting, adjusted the radio, cranked up the air con but I had to pull over. I was panicked. “What was happening to me?”, I thought. I was paranoid of my environment. I mentioned out-loud that I didn't feel well and explained what was happening as best I could. My friend assured me it was just the hangover shakes from the few-too-many we had the night before (and probably the night before that) but I was unconvinced. Leaving the car to get some air, I remember glancing at my friends worried facial expression. Why was he worried? Was I going crazy? Why couldn't I think straight? Should I call an ambulance? What do I even explain to the them if I do?
I took a breath, lots of rapid breaths actually. I tried to focus on my breathing because I knew I was hyperventilating. I was trying to focus on anything to be honest. My grip on reality was loosening, I felt like I was being unplugged from the matrix or some sh*t. Out of site of the passing traffic I crouched down on the passenger side of the car, my face pressed against the cold metallic exterior while I tried everything to regain control of my bearings, my sanity. Whatever it was, it wasn't pleasant to say the very least.
A journey back home, an encounter with worried parents and an emergency trip to the doctors later revealed that I had a panic attack. My GP prescribed me with some valium and that night before the calming effects set in I thought “wow, THAT was a panic attack?” Up until that point I had been ignorant to the severity of panic attack symptoms. In my pre-attack stupidity, I assumed it really only meant you were a bit 'off' or anxious in it's mild interpretation. How I was wrong. My mind had snapped so to speak, my mental health was deteriorating and I was scared.
I had just been through a pretty horrible break up prior to my first panic attack. We parted ways on December 26th last. I was heartbroken, lost and depressed. As you would be after a four-year long relationship. I wasn't sleeping and even when I did, vivid dreams haunted my ever-tired mind. The first attack was, as I have since learnt, a physical symptom of mental stress and strain. My mind had just had enough; it was though my thoughts had imploded inwards with nowhere to escape. At the time I was drinking more than I should in an effort to 'forget' the pain of loss. I was obsessively checking my ex's social media, which made everything so much worse. Don't do it if you break up with someone by the way, it will tear you up inside. It wasn't to be my last episode but if you've read this far I can assure you things got better. It's cliché to say I know, but it did.
I'm in a very public job. I had to manage being on the radio everyday to thousands of people – people who expected to hear the “happy” Dave Cronin – with the fallout of my break up and its associated depression, stress and anxiety. So, I decided to get medicinal therapy when it all got a bit too much again, I was seeing a psychologist regularly but above all I was determined to “feel better”.
With the help of some amazing friends, parents, work mates and doctors I was on the road to recovery. When I started to feel better it was like a physical weight had been lifted. The sunny days actually started to look bright and not dark like it did. I was having fun, not pretending to, like I had done. My depression stayed somewhat and I'm still trying to jump that particular hurdle. But my anxiety attacks became less frequent and for the last few months, I'm pleased to say, has disappeared. Being a presenter, oddly helped and acted as a therapy of sorts. It's a high pressure job. I had to be professional and provide an entertainment service so I convinced myself to be happy. It worked.
I've just turned twenty-five, I know so many lads who have lost friends to suicide much younger than me. I've lost friends younger than me. It truly is an epidemic amongst young males in particular who may have experienced something similar, less or worse to what I have. I'm in the fortunate position of being influential to others and I give up a little bit of useless privacy in sharing my story in the hope that it just might give you the encouragement to seek help.
I share my story not for attention because it's what us media-types do but because I care. I care that we are losing people to something that can be fixed. I care that some of those in power appear not to care enough in the provision of youth mental health services. I care about you and me and the need for us to collectively care about each other more. If you care, care about yourself and care about your mate who seems a little distant. I, like Kelly Clarkson, am a firm believer in 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger'. But don't do it alone. It may be stormy now but it never rains forever…Even in Ireland!