Ex-police officer and mum of two Hayley Grant-Bampton recalls experiencing anxiety from childhood, but it wasn’t until she had a panic attack that she understood what had been going on her whole life. Now, she’s using her own experience to do something positive...
I used to be that person that would use the term “panic attack” loosely. If I was running late for work and the traffic was bad, or if I couldn’t find that perfect outfit for a night out, I’d say that I was having a panic attack. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth, and little did I know the physical and emotional rollercoaster I would ride in the years to come.
My earliest memory of feeling anxious was when I was just four years old, on my first day of primary school. By lunchtime, I had wound myself up so much that I was sick and sent home.
Throughout my primary school years, I had dozens of these “episodes”. When friends would invite me for sleepovers, birthday parties or even school trips, I would feel “different”. I remember thinking to myself: “Why does no one else have these sensations?” I would feel sick out of nowhere, my heart would race, and I’d get hot and flustered. It was like my brain was telling me something was seriously wrong, but I could never understand what that something was. I started to believe that these feelings were “normal” for me.
These “nervous” moments would keep coming, to the extent that my dad would regularly have to come out in the middle of the night to bring me home from sleepovers. I’d make up any excuse to leave, but once I was in the car the sensations would fade away, and within a short period of time I would feel fine.
In my head I linked sleepovers to these sensations and I would avoid them. I remember feeling like I was going to be left out of friendship circles because of it. I later learnt that my pure avoidance of these situations was only fuelling my issues.
Several years later, I was in my late teens, and in my first proper relationship. I had developed a major fear around eating in formal situations.
My relationship with this boy was strong, yet I still felt I couldn’t talk about what was going on in my head. What if he thought I was crazy? What if he left me? I hadn’t really spoken to my parents about it either.
Enough was enough when I was actually sick at a table in a restaurant. I decided to go to the GP and tried to explain my symptoms. I came away with morning sickness tablets as the doctor had absolutely no idea what I had been suffering with for the past 16 years. The word anxiety wasn’t even mentioned.
I kept these tablets close though, and they became my safety net. For a short time, just knowing I had them gave me a false reassurance.
A few years later, I left school and I joined the police service. Even though these unknown sensations still lingered, I somehow managed to keep a lid on them. I rarely spoke about these feelings to anyone, as I didn’t know where to start. At the time, I managed to go to work, throwing myself into helping people in a really busy London borough.
The years that followed were stressful though. When I was 22, my beautiful nan passed away. It was quite sudden as she deteriorated very quickly, and I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to her. This completely broke my heart and I had a tough time grieving. It was shortly after this I found out I was expecting my first child, and while this was a really exciting time, my unborn baby’s dad and I had a rocky relationship – which resulted in a messy breakup shortly after my son was born.
It was like my brain was telling me something was seriously wrong, but I could never understand what that something was
A year later, my parents divorced after 30 years of marriage. They didn’t have the smoothest relationship, and I’d always felt a massive pressure on my shoulders to make sure my dad was OK when they argued. Once they separated, things calmed down. I met my now husband and we had our little girl. The “feelings” I had been experiencing for all these years calmed, and I started to feel “normal” for the first time in forever.
Then, two years later, my life changed forever. It was the day before Christmas Eve in 2013, and my hubby and I were shopping for the last few bits. I had my first full-blown anxiety attack. I thought I was dying.
We sat down in a corner of a restaurant and I became overwhelmed with what I now know to be every anxiety symptom going. I felt sick, I had a racing heart, I was dizzy and disorientated, I was sweating, my hands cramped up, my legs went to jelly, and I had this weird tunnel vision sensation.
I’ll never forget, there were two guys sitting on the table opposite us who didn’t notice I was struggling. All I could think of was: “Why can’t they see I need help?” My husband Lee was stuffing his face, also oblivious to the fact I needed help. I appeared “normal” from the outside, but inside I was panicking.
From that day on, I finally had my diagnosis. I was suffering with anxiety. It may sound strange, but it was a relief. I finally had an answer to what had been happening for the past 25 years!
At times, the anxiety was horrendous. One attack would roll into another. I lived in a constant terrified state. I was your typical “textbook” sufferer. I tried so many different remedies, but nothing worked, and I had to sign-off from work as I was really struggling. The fear of getting on the train was bringing on anxiety attacks – as was the fear of public spaces, or tight spaces. Nowhere was “safe” for me.
But then I came across mindfulness and meditation. It taught me to take a step back from the everyday stress that I was battling in my head. It taught me that when I believed I was coping, I was far from it. Mindfulness and meditation allowed me to have even just 10 minutes a day of “me time”, to sit peacefully and just breathe. I learnt that I didn’t need a physical “safe place” to feel safe; I had my own breath.
While I was off work, I sat down and wrote out what I wanted from life. I decided to enrol on a course so that I could help children who suffer with anxiety, like I did as a child.
So, Happy Little Minds with Hayley was born! I have set up my classes, in and out of local schools in my area, for children aged three years and up. The children who come to my classes experience anxiety, stress, low self-esteem/confidence, or have been bullied, or may be on the autism spectrum, or have ADHD. I have already seen some massive changes in them, and have formed some amazing bonds with children who have struggled their entire life. It’s truly amazing.
After 15 years in the police service, I’ve now left to continue building my business; it’s an amazing feeling to have complete job satisfaction through teaching my classes to children instead.
I was once a negative thinker, but my anxiety has made me realise I am a strong woman. To all my fellow anxiety sufferers: Keep going, you are stronger than you think!
Find out more about Hayley’s classes to help children by visiting happylittlemindswithhayley.co.uk
Hayley’s story beautifully illustrates that however strong and capable we are, we still need to take time for some self-care. She battled through her stress and anxiety, searching for a solution, and realised that what she really needed to do was take a step back, speak out and find help that would allow her to deal with it. Anxiety attacks can seem insurmountable, but with the right techniques, they can be a thing of the past. It’s great that Hayley is now finding fulfilment by using her experience to help the next generation!