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Navigating BPD and Panic Attacks with Medication, DBT and Music!

“At 19 years old I had lost all of my independence, I was unable to work, and I couldn’t even make a meal for myself 90% of the time. At this time I was also diagnosed with OCD. I turned 20 completely alone, I couldn’t even leave my room to have happy birthday sung to me.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hi! My Name is Sarah, but most of my friends call me Bunny. I’m from Sydney, Australia and I’m 20 years old. I like to think of myself as a passionate and creative person. I have a love for crystal collecting and run my own small business where I share my love with other like-minded people.

I also have an extremely deep love for music! My mini zoo at home consists of two budgies, Blue Cheese and Beetle, and two cats, Jasmine and Boots (also a special mention for my angel kitty Meshka) 

I have been described as “bright and bubbly” since I was very young and many people tell me I’m a warm and caring person. I dream that one day I can encourage others to be themselves authentically and without the fear of being judged by others.

All that being said, behind closed doors, I struggle a lot with my mental health and I often have a lot of trouble putting the love and kindness I show others into love and kindness for myself. 

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

My struggle began when I was just ten years old, I was officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder after I began to refuse to go to school. I vividly remember the feeling of fear and terror I felt each morning before school. I very suddenly made a full recovery when starting my first day of high school a year later. 

I honestly thought this would be the end of my struggle but when I was 15 I began experiencing very minor panic attacks. These were often accompanied by derealisation and depersonalization and intense nausea. I started seeing a psychologist and was promptly diagnosed with ADHD and depression and my anxiety diagnosis was reaffirmed. 

I had the misfortune of getting into an abusive relationship from ages 15-17, he was the same age as me and was so sweet in the beginning. His true colors did eventually show when he began to sexually, verbally, and emotionally abuse me and play it off as “mental health issues”.

At such a young age I had no idea that such behavior wasn’t normal, I truly believed that I was the problem in the relationship. He eventually cheated on me and ended the relationship which was a blessing in disguise. In the months after that breakup I developed severe derealization, depersonalization, and suicidal ideation. This time period was also when I began to struggle with self-harm.

A year later when I was 18 I got into a new relationship and spent a lot of time with his family, at this time I began to realize how unstable and dysfunctional my home has been for my entire life. My mother was traumatized as a child and never sought help in her adulthood, so the generational trauma was passed down to me and my younger sibling.

I began experiencing extremely unstable moods and unhealthy attachment issues. I’d have episodes of extreme anger or upset followed by euphoria. I was just generally unstable and would swing between emotional extremes that were far from age appropriate. I also had a strange feeling of numbness and issues with my identity. I also struggled a lot with self-harm during these episodes. 

These symptoms lead to me being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder at 18 and also sparked what would eventually become a Panic disorder. 

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

My worst began in 2021, surprisingly despite my BPD I was in a reasonably healthy relationship. For the first time in my life, I was able to process the trauma I had experienced, his home was a safe space for me and his mother took me under her wing. Being so young and suddenly having the weight of lifelong trauma bestowed upon me, I developed Panic Disorder and emetophobia. 

It started very simply with nightly panic attacks but soon became much more than that, in 2022 I hit rock bottom. I was broken up with while stuck in a covid lockdown and I had surgery (a huge fear of mine). The pain meds gave me the most terrifying 9-hour panic attack, I genuinely thought I was going to die that night. This is what I consider the true beginning of my Panic disorder despite being diagnosed with it a year earlier. 

From then on I was very unwell, unable to eat, sleep, shower, leave my home, or do anything. When I wasn’t panicking I was nauseous and anxious. I became disabled from my multiple mental illnesses, when it wasn’t panic disorder it was depression or BPD. I was also psychologically addicted to anti-nausea medication as a result of my emetophobia. 

I developed severe agoraphobia at this time and most days found it hard to even leave my room. At 19 years old I had lost all of my independence, I was unable to work, and I couldn’t even make a meal for myself 90% of the time. At this time I was also diagnosed with OCD. I turned 20 completely alone, I couldn’t even leave my room to have happy birthday sung to me. 

I can confidently and without a doubt say that I have never been more miserable and lonely in my entire life. I felt like the shell of a human, as if my body was just a vessel for anxiety and I had the misfortune of being there for the ride. 

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

The turning point for me was getting medicated. Without a doubt, I would be dead if it wasn’t for my medication. I started on Mirtazapine in December of 2022, and for the first time in three years, I experienced a breath of fresh air. I had 3 entire weeks panic free. After one small panic attack another 4 after that!

It took me so long to build the courage to get medicated, as I have a strong aversion to SSRIs due to the potential for side effects. I had also known that SSRIs had the potential to exacerbate my BPD. Mirtazapine however is not an SSRI and I was assured that it was so gentle with very little chance for strong side effects.

I eventually added Propranolol into my regimen and this gave me even more relief! My panic attacks went from severe for hours and hours to 30 minutes and far less severe!! 

I also found a lot of comfort in music, specifically the duo $uicideboy$. Their music for me shows a story of success against mental illness and addiction. It made me feel seen and heard to hear lyrics that speak so openly about topics that are typically taboo like self-harm. It was and still is so inspiring to see their music change as they both go on a journey of recovery and sobriety.

As someone at the beginning of that journey, they are a beacon of hope that life in fact does get better. One of the biggest motivations for my agoraphobia recovery is to be well enough to see them live when they visit Sydney.

I wouldn’t currently consider myself fully recovered by any means, I still have panic attacks and I’m still struggling with agoraphobia but I can confidently say I’m now on the road to recovery, slowly but surely I am gaining parts of my freedom back. 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

There are probably thousands of strategies out there for anxiety and panic disorder so I’d really aim to keep an open mind and explore the many strategies out there. What works for one person may not work for others and that’s okay! That being said here is what has worked for me, all of these are done in conjunction with taking my daily meds. 

Seeking out a psychologist who specializes in BPD and trauma really helped me. In particular, learning DBT skills not only helped me learn to cope during a BPD episode but it also helped me cope during panic attacks. You can access DBT in groups, solo with a psychologist, or even completely self-guided with resources online! 

In my experience with Panic Disorder or any form of anxiety, learning as much as possible about how and why anxiety happens helped me so much. I learned about this just from reading articles on Google and searching questions I had about my disorders.

In my experience having a deep knowledge and understanding of what is happening in my mind and body during panic attacks takes away so much fear and uncertainty. I’m able to tell myself “This is just adrenaline and it cannot hurt me, it will pass”.

Panic for me often feels like I’m dying or having a medical emergency which is really scary, but when I know for certain that nothing is wrong the panic loses a lot of its power. 

Gradual exposure has also helped me immensely. Going for walks, in particular, is a great way to get out of the house but also still be in control (I’m able to turn back and go home whenever I need). Some days I may feel ready to walk really far and other days I may only be able to make it to the mailbox and back and that’s 100% okay! 

Panic attacks with panic disorder are inevitable so creating a routine for when they do happen has helped me a lot! For me, my routine looks like getting comfy in bed, putting on a youtube video in the background, and reading until it passes.

You may have heard the phrase “Ride the wave” or “the only way out is through” and I 100% agree with these statements. Having a routine that works for my specific needs helps me ride that anxiety wave.

If you don’t already have a routine it may take some trial and error to figure out what works for you but my biggest advice is don’t focus on making the anxiety go away as this can make the anxiety worse. Focus on making yourself a safe space to experience those feelings.

There are probably so many more things that could be helpful but my last recommendation is to really truly try to look on the bright side. For me having extensive mental health issues to the point of being disabled has been so discouraging and it was very easy (and honestly fair/expected) to slip into a very dark and hopeless mindset.

I struggled a lot with comparing myself to others my age who weren’t disabled. This mindset for me was doing me absolutely 0 favors and just made me feel even worse. I don’t mean this as “never feel sad or sorry for yourself” because it is very important to acknowledge negative emotions and allow yourself to feel them.

However, I think it’s even more important to practice gratitude and focus on the positive things when you can, for me, that’s my partner and sibling, my pets, music, my favorite foods, my physical health, and nature! 

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

I’m an absolute open book when it comes to my mental health and my story. I don’t really feel uncomfortable sharing my experiences as long as the people on the receiving end are open to listening! (I always consider if the listener is in the right mental state to listen, some things can be triggering to others).

I think it’s really important to be vulnerable and honest because you really truly never know what someone is going through behind closed doors, your story may inspire someone who’s in a similar situation to seek help.

The only people I’d feel uncomfortable sharing my story with are those who don’t have an open mind or those who make rude comments or remarks. BPD in particular has such a stigma around it, some people see us as inherently toxic or abusive individuals so I have no interest in engaging with people who believe those types of things.

Sometimes it can be difficult to speak about some of the more traumatic parts of my life, especially my abuse but then again I really think it’s so important to speak about especially because there could be a young girl right now going through what I did and like me has no idea those things aren’t normal. I really truly just want to help others and if my story can help even one person then it is all worth it! 

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

My advice would be to never ever allow anyone to tell you to stop being yourself! 

It’s okay if you have big feelings and it’s okay if you take up space, it’s okay if you express yourself differently to others and most importantly it’s okay if you need to reach out for extra help and support. 

There are so many hateful people on this planet, don’t let them dull your sparkle with their miserable life!

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

  • The anxious truth podcast: this podcast helped me so much with my mindset and helped me feel less alone! 
  • DBT skills workbook: this book has helped me so much in coping with my BPD and my panic disorder.
  • The r/anxiety subreddit and the r/panic disorder subreddit are both amazing communities filled with some wonderful people who will support you when needed! (there may be the occasional troll but the mods are super helpful if you need to report anyone). 

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can find me on Instagram @Strwbrrysh0rtcak3

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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