PANIC attacks and anxiety have always been a part of Linzi-Louise Patterson's life.
But the 31-year-old Scot was unprepared for the downward mental health spiral which saw her skin covered in rashes and bleeding blisters, left her housebound for two years and ultimately made her suicidal.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous Digital, the former nanny, who lives in Glasgow, opened up about her daily battle with agoraphobia – a fear of leaving the house.
She said: "I've always had anxiety and panic attacks but they were never something I worried about, I thought it was normal.
"When I was 28, I developed a rash all over the top half of my body and on my face. My face got really bad.
"It was sore to the touch and burning, like having a big blister on my face. My skin would crack and bleed all the time.
"I had other physical symptoms of anxiety, too. I would teeth grind at night and lost a tooth from it.
"I was tensing my legs so tightly all the time without noticing, so when I was standing up for any period of time I would buckle over.
"Back then, I was overworking myself, I wasn't taking any time out for me.
My anxiety and panic disorder tells me people hate me, they’re staring at me and judging me
"Eventually I had a panic attack which caused me to pass out. I drove myself to hospital and had another one there.
"I woke up in a completely different room, not knowing what had happened.
"They told me I needed to speak to my GP about getting signed off work and having blood tests done. I've not been able to work since."
Doctors thought Linzi had an autoimmune condition called Lupus and sent her for several tests, but they all came back negative.
Linzi said: "I went back to the GP and said ‘I’m sick of all this, it’s the same thing and they’re all coming back negative, could it be anything else?’
"She said ‘it could be stress related’. Eventually I was diagnosed with panic disorder and agoraphobia.
"I stopped leaving the house completely, unless I had a doctor's appointment. That was once every two weeks and only for five minutes.
I was living alone and I lost who I was as a person. It was hard, I was like a zombie
"I thought people were staring at my face, because it looked so bad, and I would have a panic attack every time I tried to leave the house.
"My anxiety and panic disorder tells me people hate me, they’re staring at me and judging me.
"I was having four panic attacks-a-day and they make me feel really weak, so I thought ‘I'm not going to bother going out anymore’.
"My family live on the Scottish Borders and I didn't have many friends in Glasgow.
"My mum or dad would come up every couple of weeks and bring me food shopping.
"But it's a two-hour drive each way and I live in a one-bedroom flat, so they couldn't stay with me.
"I couldn't face going to a shop myself, so I spent a lot of money I didn't have on takeaways.
"I was living alone and I lost who I was as a person. It was hard, I was like a zombie."
WHAT IS AGORAPHOBIA?
Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or help wouldn't be available if things go wrong.
It's often known as a fear of open spaces, but agoraphobics are also commonly scared of travelling on public transport, leaving home and visiting busy places.
If someone with agoraphobia finds themselves in a stressful situation, they will normally experience a panic attack:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Feeling hot and sweaty
They will avoiding situations which cause anxiety and may only leave the house with a partner or trusted friends.
They'll order groceries online rather than going to the supermarket. This is known as avoidance.
It is a complication of panic disorder – which currently affects 2% of Brits and will affect 3% at some point in their lifetime.
Agoraphobia is twice as common in women as in men and normally starts between the ages of 18 and 35.
With treatment, around a third of people are completely cured, half see an improvement in symptoms but one in five continue to experience troublesome symptoms for life.
After two years of being housebound, Linzi felt she couldn't take it any more – and made a plan to take her own life.
She said: "I was suicidal. I felt like things weren’t going to get any better.
"I’d got myself into such a hole with the agoraphobia. I thought ‘this is what my life’s going to be like forever’.
"I thought ‘is there any point in me anymore? I’m not human, I don’t interact with anyone, I’ve forgotten how to socialise, I’ve forgotten how to speak to people’.
"One day I was making a cup of tea and I dropped my cup and it smashed. I fell to the floor and was crying for hours and I thought ‘that’s it, I’m just going to do it’.
"So I planned my suicide attempt. I phoned my mum to tell her, we speak three or four times-a-day, we're very close.
"I said ‘I think I might need more help, I’ve planned out a suicide and I don’t want to go through with it, but there’s not another way out’."
Linzi's mum made her an appointment with an integrated therapist, who started treating her with medication, exposure therapy and CBT.
She said: "I still have to see her. It took me about a year and a half to see a difference.
"I couldn’t even look at her for the first six months. I couldn’t keep eye contact with people I didn’t know, I still sometimes struggle with that.
I fell to the floor and was crying for hours and I thought ‘that’s it, I’m just going to do it’. So I planned my suicide attempt
"Even now I suffer from bad panic attacks but I don't pass out and they're not as frequent.
"It's just if I'm overly stressed, but I can get like that from someone coming round to my house, it's a bit annoying.
"When I’m nervous I get very itchy and the rash starts to appear again.
"But I'll just get one or two blisters, instead of my whole face being covered."
YOU'RE NOT ALONE
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You're Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
Last summer, Linzi finally felt confident enough to start dating again and joined Plenty of Fish, where she met her boyfriend of a year Dez Willis, 34.
She said: "I told him everything, even before we met. My therapist said if I wanted to start socialising again, it was best to be completely honest.
"I was quite surprised he wanted to meet me to be honest, but Dez has always been so reassuring and kind and lovely. He's a very calming person to be around.
"We became a couple after two months of dating and we're talking about moving in together, but it's going to be a process for me."
Linzi credits Dez as her biggest support. But, as an oceaneer on an oil rig, he works away for two weeks every month.
Linzi said: "The two weeks he’s away, I revert back into my agoraphobia.
"When Dez is home, he makes sure he takes me out every day. I feel fine when I’m outside with Dez, completely safe.
I didn’t even know what agoraphobia was until I got diagnosed
"I’ve had wobbly moments where I’ve nearly had a panic attack and I’ve told him and he’s calmed me down and given me my beta blockers.
"I still spend a lot of time at home in my pyjamas but I've been trying really hard recently.
"In the last couple of months, I've made friends through Dez who invite me round when he's away."
Earlier this month, Linzi went on her first proper holiday in three-and-a-half years – a 10-day trip to Costa Adeje, Tenerife, with her family and Dez.
She said: "It was the longest I've been away in years. Every single day between 2.30 and 7pm, I had to take myself away from everyone, lie in a dark room and nap.
"Even being around a small group of people, I get exhausted really quickly because I’m not used to it.
I always give myself a hard time saying I'm not getting anywhere in recovery, but then I think of where I was six months ago
"I had a big panic attack at the airport. That’s the scariest part for me, I can't find anywhere quiet to sit.
"I was sick and ended up wearing sound cancelling headphones and sunglasses. It was really bad."
Linzi hopes to return to work or re-train as a counsellor but says she'll probably volunteer at first – because she's worried about letting people down in a paid job.
She said: "I'm hoping to start going out on my own over the next year.
"I'm extremely proud of myself. I always give myself a hard time saying I'm not getting anywhere in recovery, but then I think of where I was six months ago.
"I didn’t even know what agoraphobia was until I got diagnosed.
"I don’t think there’s enough awareness, so I started an Instagram blog a year ago – I have 10,000 followers now. It really helps me feel less alone."
Last week, we spoke to a woman who wakes to pus-soaked sheets every morning, was housebound for six months and can’t get a job – about the agony of living with extreme cystic acne.
You can follow Linzi on Instagram here.
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