Dipti’s first panic attack was terrifying and, unfortunately, it wasn’t her last. But something good did come from it; she came to understand the unresolved grief she had carried for most of her life. Only then could she find the power to address it
One minute I was having a lovely meal with my new husband and friends, and the next I found myself lying in a hospital bed, convinced I was going to die. My heart was racing, the world felt like an alien place. I was restless and petrified, I couldn’t breathe. Nothing anyone was saying to me was making sense. I felt as if I was under water – I just wanted it to stop. This was my first panic attack.
Looking back, I believe I had experienced undiagnosed depression since I was a teenager. I lost my mum in 1990, when I was aged 13, but then carried on as if everything was normal – or pretended that it was. In actual fact, feeling sad and low for days on end had become my new normal. But none of this, lying in a hospital bed having a panic attack, made any sense. Everything was so good in my life. I’d married my best friend and had a wonderful job.
It was when I went to university in 1995, that I first really started to struggle. I had felt so triumphant; despite all I had gone through after my mum had died, with the support of my amazing teachers, here I was at university, able to enjoy all the freedom and fun that I wanted.
The first month or so was fine, but then it all changed. I was only able to go to lectures, and withdrew from everything social. I thought this was because I was missing home, as I was so used to having all my family around me all the time. Things became really bleak and I spent a lot of time crying and in my dressing gown. I felt sad all the time, I couldn’t eat, and felt totally invisible.
I remember my sister being visibly shocked at my thin frame when I went home one weekend. I just pretended I was having so much fun that I didn’t have time to eat. It felt like a failure to tell her how things really were.
Somehow I got through university – I don’t know how. I never told anyone how sad I felt. I never told anyone that I cried all the time. I never told anyone, because I didn’t understand that feeling like this wasn’t normal.
After miraculously getting my degree, I became caught up in the whirlwind of a big Indian wedding in 1998, which lasted for three weeks! We were then on honeymoon for four weeks. To the outsider it was the stuff dreams were made of, but looking back I clearly remember a sense of detachment, almost of me looking in on someone else’s life. Feelings of dread frequently surfaced, and I had the constant worry that something bad would happen.
That first panic attack in 1999, the first of many, was utterly terrifying. It made no sense to me. I was deeply in love and finally happy with how my life was going. We were dining in a restaurant in the famous St Katherine’s Dock in London, with two of our good friends. Initially, I had just started to feel uneasy and excused myself to go to the restroom. The feeling of ‘uneasiness’ persisted, and I then couldn’t focus on what people were saying; I had the strangest feeling that I was almost out of my body. I thought fresh air would help, so stepped outside. But my legs became totally weak, unable to hold me up, and my husband found me sitting on the floor, slumped against a brick wall. I was terrified at how fast my heart was pounding, gasping for air, and eventually passed out. The hospital told me that I had experienced a panic attack, and assured me that I wasn’t dying.
Grief coaching helped me to breathe again. It showed me how loss and grief layer up over the years
This is when homeopathy entered my life. It really helped by giving me tools to deal with the panic attacks until they eventually went. But I was still unable to understand why, almost eight years later, I couldn’t experience joy properly – after all, I had so much to be happy about. I felt depressed, lacked energy and confidence, and I didn’t know why. Everything was so good in my life now; it was 2007, I had two beautiful boys, and I had spent three years retraining as a homeopath.
The day had come when we were graduating homeopathy college in the summer of 2008, and we had all been asked to make a speech before receiving our Licentiates. On getting to the stage, I thanked my family for being there. I then mentioned my mum (who had died more than 18 years ago at this point), and I became a blubbering mess and couldn’t say much more. Later that afternoon, a colleague and friend pulled me aside. She told me she believed I was still consumed with grief, and that she felt I needed to go through a grief coaching programme.
I had been to see counsellors, cognitive behavioural therapy practitioners, hypnotherapists (all I had benefited from), but had never heard of grief coaching. My initial thoughts were: ‘That was all so long ago, I’ve dealt with that.’ However, I decided to give it a go, and had no idea how drastically it would change my life.
Grief coaching helped me to breathe again. It helped me to see how the grief of losing my mother had caused my depression, anxiety, panic attacks, sadness and loss of confidence.
It showed me how loss and grief layer up over the years, and how unresolved loss and grief can have debilitating effects on your emotional, physical, and spiritual health.
It enabled me to identify each one of my losses, and then attend to every one of them in a safe and structured way. It helped me understand that my loss and grief was about so many things, including the death of my mother, my miscarriage, and being deeply betrayed by one of my best friends.
Unresolved grief can accumulate, and then the mind and body cannot be separated. I have learned that all losses need to be given the respect they deserve, and need to be dealt with in the unique way that grief coaching offers.
Today, I am happy to say that I don’t experience panic attacks any more. I am deeply respectful of my feelings and never ignore myself. I am more confident, at peace, and more optimistic than ever; I have broken free from the prison grief keeps you in.
These days, I am very proud to say that I am a qualified homeopath, grief coach, and life coach. I help people with depression, anxiety, grief, and panic attacks.
It’s a privilege to be able to offer hope and healing to people, and it never ceases to amaze me just how many people are struggling in silence, not knowing that the way they are feeling doesn’t have to be their reality. I’m living proof of that…
Fe Robinson | MUKCP (reg) MBACP (reg) psychotherapist and clinical supervisor, says:
Dipti highlights the profound effect grief can have on us. Grieving is a process that needs time and space, if we do not turn towards ourselves and allow our sadness and loss to be fully felt, then symptoms can become problematic later. Dipti gives hope to the many people who are touched by difficult loss, and rightly says it is not just death that we grieve, we lose relationships and other things held dearly, too.