“The panic attacks terrified me, the first one occurred in a huge department store after a disturbing and unpleasant tube train journey,” remembers brain injury survivor Tamara Bond.
“Anxiety built-up and erupted, my natural breathing and heartbeat rhythm were disturbed, and I was unable to swallow. I didn’t know at the time that this was due to an out of control adrenaline rush.”
Tamara Bond, 51, sustained a brain injury after she underwent brain surgery to remove a hernia growing through her skull on her left temporal lobe. The growth was putting pressure on the brain - causing her to suffer from frequent seizures.
Tamara said she was pleased to get home but was totally ill prepared for the after effects of the brain surgery, which included memory, cognitive and emotional problems, as well as sensory hypersensitivity.
Panic attacks were also a massive problem for Tamara, affecting her confidence, social life and relationships.
She said: “Noise, distractions and unfamiliar situations triggered the most unexpected reactions out of my control. Often it would start a panic attack and it seemed like my alarm bells were being set off unnecessarily.
“I suffered intense fear when dogs barked or ran passed me, motorbike exhaust noises also used to put me on edge, as did lorries driving close by.
“It was so hard to understand as I had no idea what a panic attack was like before I experienced one, it felt such a primitive or instinctive reaction.
“One of my early panic attacks occurred while eating a Sunday roast at home. I reacted suddenly after swallowing a mouthful. It felt uncomfortable in my chest as muscles contracted rapidly causing panic.
“It escalated as I found breathing painful and therefore convinced I was choking. This left me feeling exhausted with a sore throat, chest pain and a weak voice. This incident also meant I struggled to relax while eating, as I was haunted by this severe fear of choking.
Tamara, who is from Suffolk, said the attacks would even affect her when she slept.
She said: “I always slept straight after a choking experience but not a calm, deep sleep but rather a half asleep, half awake state where I continued to feel on edge, easily disturbed and scared to switch off completely.
“Often I would wake up suddenly gasping, feeling my heartbeat rushing and feeling that I couldn't swallow. Sometimes I woke up coughing and panicking that I couldn't stop and therefore couldn't breathe. I never knew what my dream had been about. I remember waking up, sitting up and slapping the side of my head.”
The attacks, as well as some of her other brain injury symptoms, meant that Tamara had to limit her social life.
She said: “Initially, after surgery my husband was good at minimising my social life. This included fewer friends visiting, avoiding my extended family, early nights and avoiding crowded, loud venues.
“It was true that my young nieces and nephews were over-stimulating and I couldn't take part in group conversations or upsetting conversations about our children's problems and insecure futures. Initially I much preferred being at home with my close family only.”
Tamara said she would feel guilty about having a panic attack in the company of her children
She said: “I didn't think it was fair on them and I felt I was failing as a protective parent – but with time I learnt to accept that they were carers during these uncontrollable episodes.”
Tamara received help at a local neurological rehabilitation clinic where she had weekly appointments with a clinical psychiatrist and occupational therapist.
She said: “I was encouraged by my therapist to talk to my husband and kids about my high anxiety and fear of panic.
“I found this difficult because I didn't want to cause concern. It was hard to explain that I was super-sensitive and preferred it if they were calm and content rather than openly critical and impatient.”
Tamara was put into contact with her local Headway group in Suffolk by her therapist.
She said: “I began taking part in a weekly cognitive wheel class which I found helpful. Concentration, attention and memory recall were all focussed on which I found reassuring.
“Another boost came from being amongst others who had experienced brain injury. The complex after-effects were becoming clearer to me and my understanding of my recovery started to grow.
“Since then my confidence has developed and I have been attending Headway but now as a volunteer.
“I give help to individuals who are less able than me in many ways including physically and mentally. It rewards me finally with proof that I can cope.
“I clearly appreciate what I can do, not what I can't do. My brain injury, after surgery, provided me with a positive opportunity to help others. I never thought this would be the case."
“My fear of panic attacks has subsided over time. Almost two years since surgery and my confidence is improving and I finally feel safe to reflect on it as a past experience."
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