TIM CLARE: How I finally beat my anxiety after years of living with howling panic attacks

His anxiety was so crippling he might barely select what to eat with out turning into consumed by fear. 

After 20 years like this, author Tim Clare, a father of one, resolved to strive each therapy he might to remedy himself. Today, he’s panic-attack free. Here he reveals what turned his fear round…

When my daughter, Suki, was about eight months outdated I had a extreme panic assault. I was sprawled on the ground, screaming till my throat burned, delirious with terror.

I can’t bear in mind the set off however I nonetheless really feel the gut-deep dread, the barrelling disorientation, the conviction my life was over. I was going to lose my household and please Mummy, Daddy, Jesus, gained’t somebody HELP.

My spouse had closed the doorways between us. I might hear her enjoying YouTube nursery rhymes to drown me out so our daughter wouldn’t hear her daddy screaming, begging.

Just penning this down 5 years later fills me with curdling disgrace. To be so scared I couldn’t cease myself shrieking, though I knew the noise may frighten my child. So scared that I couldn’t breathe, my muscle tissues cramped, sweat poured from my inclined, flailing physique. That my spouse needed to act to guard my daughter from being scared by her personal daddy.

When my daughter, Suki, was about eight months old I had a severe panic attack. I was sprawled on the floor, screaming until my throat burned, delirious with terror

When my daughter, Suki, was about eight months outdated I had a extreme panic assault. I was sprawled on the ground, screaming till my throat burned, delirious with terror

The extra I suffered, the extra contemptible I discovered myself.

Over the previous 15 years I have been recognized with generalised anxiety dysfunction, panic dysfunction, acute anxiety, panic attacks and despair. I’ve been referred to as anxious, uptight, careworn, paranoid, hysterical and unhinged.

All with some justification, I may add. I am not straightforward to be round.

Most of my life has been formed by concern — anticipating it, decreasing it, blocking it out.

For years earlier than Suki was born, I managed anxiety with alcohol and self-harm — ingesting till I vomited or handed out, for example. I had my first panic attacks round this time, in 2006, really horrifying episodes the place I felt like I couldn’t breathe or was going insane.

I thought the way in which I was treating my physique was guilty, so I give up alcohol in 2012 and the self-harming.

But they’d been my coping mechanisms. My anxiety and panic attacks received worse. When my attacks have been dangerous, I’d have a number of a day, three or 4 days in a row, every lasting between 20 minutes and an hour. At finest, I may go for ten days with out one.

I noticed the physician, received prescribed remedy, together with the antidepressant sertraline, was placed on a protracted ready checklist for cognitive behavioural remedy (a sort of speaking remedy the place you be taught to problem unfavourable thought processes), did meditation courses, yoga — and skim ebook after ebook that promised to show me how you can be calm, de-stress and beat anxiety. But my panic attacks all the time got here again.

After one, in 2019, I managed to make myself much more frightened.

Over the past 15 years I have been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, acute anxiety, panic attacks and depression. I’ve been called anxious, uptight, stressed, paranoid, hysterical and unhinged

Over the previous 15 years I have been recognized with generalised anxiety dysfunction, panic dysfunction, acute anxiety, panic attacks and despair. I’ve been referred to as anxious, uptight, careworn, paranoid, hysterical and unhinged

As my terror settled down into the acquainted ruminative, rolling boil of fear, I thought of all I’d learn in regards to the results of parental psychological sickness on youngsters, linking it to impaired educational achievement, a better threat of creating extreme psychological sickness, even a toddler’s likelihood of getting bronchial asthma. I sat with that for a very long time — the menace of passing this darkish inheritance to my astonishing, hilarious, unrepeatable daughter.

In that second, one thing shifted. For one final time, I would attempt to beat anxiety. Surely the answer’s on the market. Surely somebody is aware of.

I would method each researcher I might discover in any area whose work was even tangentially associated to anxiety, ask what they’d discovered and apply their findings to myself.

So determined was I that completely every little thing was on the desk, from the accessible to the possibly harmful. I tried hypnotherapy and chilly water swimming. I experimented with deep respiratory workout routines. I began operating.

I even thought of looking for a surgeon to chop out my amygdala, what was described because the brain’s ‘fear centre’, and devoted a lot thought to this I really felt jealous of the analysis monkeys I examine who had undergone the operation and appeared to be calmer afterwards.

Did my brain actually need a concern centre? Why not take away this outdated piece of {hardware}, this neural anachronism? Why not embrace the chance of a life with out concern? Even given the terrifying permanence of slicing half of my brain out, I chewed on the thought for a protracted, very long time. What would really occur to me if I discovered a surgeon keen to do the operation?

Faecal microbiota transplantation, or FMT, was additionally on my checklist. It had confirmed efficient at treating sufferers with probably lethal C. difficile (a bacterial an infection of the big gut).

FMT took intestine microbes from the faeces of wholesome volunteers and transplanted them into sufferers through both a tube inserted by means of the mouth into the abdomen or higher small gut, or through the anus to entry the big gut. The principle was this helped battle off harmful micro organism linked to C. difficile.

Experts have been establishing trials to see if FMT might assist with persistent fatigue syndrome or Parkinson’s. Perhaps it will assist. It had appeared to have had some impact on fearful mice in experiments.

Eventually, after discussing it with scientists, I dominated FMT out.

When I requested Professor Simon Carding, who researches intestine microbiology on the Quadram Institute in Norwich, if he thought I may be capable of beat my anxiety utilizing the poo of a really calm stranger, he instructed me that presently there’s no robust science to justify FMT for something apart from treating C. difficile.

But if I have been to strive it, he stated, the perfect donor could be a relaxed individual with a nutritious diet. ‘Someone who’s been screened for infections. Someone whose intestine microbiome doesn’t comprise nasties. Who’s had comparatively few therapies. So perhaps somebody between 12 and 18 is your very best supply.’

I simply needed to discover an angst-free teenager and ask in the event that they’d thoughts pooing right into a Tupperware.

I additionally tried transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) — or, as neuroscientist Adam Green of Georgetown University cheerfully described it to me, ‘brain zapping’ — which makes use of electrodes to cross a weak electrical present by means of the scalp into the brain. It goals to jumpstart the formation of new neural pathways and relieve anxiety.

There is a brand new wave of client tDCS gadgets you should use at residence, which value between £250 to £400.

Although the proof for tDCS is patchy, I purchased a tool — a gray plastic headset with three rubber pads into which I put white sponges soaked in saline answer. Using the corresponding app on my cellphone, I might management the electrical zaps and so I cranked it up — and felt a prickling, burning sensation beneath the pads, like jabbing pins into my scalp.

While outcomes are stated to build up with use, there’s no ignoring that I didn’t really feel much less anxious and the one factor my first session stimulated was a sore purple patch on my brow the dimensions of a Garibaldi. I saved it up anyway.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, by means of all this, I spent appreciable time questioning what had induced my anxiety.

I wasn’t all the time a coward. My mum tells me that as a younger youngster I was ‘fearless’, operating off down the seaside in direction of the ocean with out trying again, shouting out at school and performing to an viewers every time I had the possibility.

The change was gradual. Increased self-awareness, social intelligence and inhibition are, after all, pure elements of our improvement, as are the acquisition of fears. You burn your hand on a scorching range, you be taught to be cautious of touching any range. You gauge the temper within the room earlier than launching into that fifth rendition of Frere Jacques.

But there have been stand-out moments which had maybe contributed to my state of thoughts. Intensely distressing bullying at college, which began when I was round 14, provoked my first memorable expertise of deep, grinding fear. And when I was seven, my granddad died whereas we have been on vacation collectively.

I bear in mind Dad drawing a multicoloured potato for my brother — and the alien weirdness of a world the place somebody might be deleted, then what appeared like minutes later we have been colouring and pointedly not mentioning it.

I discovered by no means to talk of what had occurred, or my emotions. And as a result of I had wished to not go on vacation, I then nervous I had in some way induced my granddad’s coronary heart assault by considering this.

But whereas these moments amongst others in all probability contributed to my fear, they couldn’t be the entire story. Perhaps it was my genes? I went as far as to do an at-home genome evaluation check the place I spat right into a tube, and the contents have been analysed for genetic markers related with specific circumstances.

When I later mentioned this check with geneticist and broadcaster Dr Adam Rutherford, I was dismayed to listen to him say: ‘Spitting in a tube does literally nothing to explain yourself.’

Genetic evaluation, it appears, may also help with circumstances corresponding to cystic fibrosis as a result of there may be one gene, CFTR, largely answerable for it. But with circumstances corresponding to anxiety, you may even see dozens — even tons of — of genes which have smaller, however statistically important hyperlinks for individuals with that situation.

I admit, half of me had longed to listen to Adam Rutherford say: ‘You’ve received the coward gene. No surprise you’re anxious.’ I needed an answer.

This entire course of of researching and trialling various things took a year. At one level, I felt so dangerous I discovered myself weeping on the cellphone to the Samaritans. I didn’t need to kill myself. But I additionally didn’t need to stay. So what turned my panic round?

Today, I can see a mix of issues helped. (I ought to level out that what didn’t work for me may give you the results you want.) First, train and eating regimen. I’d eaten the identical breakfast and lunch nearly on daily basis since college. Breakfast: 4 Weetabix with milk. Lunch: a peanut-butter sandwich, a cheese sandwich, crisps and a chocolate bar. Dinner was no matter was within the fridge, or a takeaway.

It meant I by no means had the stress of determining what to eat. Choosing meals made me actually anxious, prefer it was a check I might fail.

I’d learn how the intestine was a brand new frontier in psychological well being. That extreme irritation had been linked to despair and anxiety. Inflammation elevated if you happen to have been obese or if you happen to ate rather a lot of sugary, fatty meals.

Porridge grew to become my finest good friend. I upped my fruit and veg. The fibre stuffed me up and helped regulate my blood sugar, blood strain and irritation.

Alcohol remained off limits. Drinking is ‘the ultimate dirty drug; it sort of whacks every neurotransmitter in the brain’, neurobiologist Stefan Brugger on the University of Cardiff instructed me.

Lots of articles stated ‘research shows’ or ‘science tells us’ train reduces anxiety. I began operating, received an inexpensive, mini step machine, balanced my laptop computer on high of my submitting cupboard, and did an hour’s writing every day whereas strolling.

I began reducing weight. My operating distances elevated. I went from 5k to 10k to half marathons, to a weekly future of at the very least 18 miles. I lost a stone, then two, then three, dropping from a 6 ft man of simply over 16 stone to 12 st 13 lb.

I additionally embraced chilly water. I ought to say the primary time I tried a chilly bathe, I screamed. Shrieked as if I have been being murdered.

A number of days later, I tried once more. It damage. Still, I counted to 60, twisting and rotating to ensure no half of me escaped. Then I couldn’t cease laughing. My physique tensed as exhausting because it might, then simply relaxed.

Anaesthetist and researcher Mark Harper instructed me: ‘Essentially, getting into cold water creates a stress response. When you first do it, it’s a very massive stress response. The extra you do it, the much less that response turns into. It doesn’t go away, nevertheless it comes proper down.’

As your cold-shock response decreases — so the speculation goes — so does your physiological response to all stress.

Today, I nonetheless love occasional chilly showers as an emotional reset —they blast the panic out of me; I purpose for 3 minutes.

I’ve additionally embraced deep respiratory workout routines, which work nicely as an emotional circuit-breaker when I’m feeling panicky — basically you carry out managed hyperventilation. 

After 30 to 40 deep breaths, you partially empty your lungs and chorus from respiratory for between 60 seconds and 4 minutes — hypoventilation. When you’re feeling the urge to breathe, you inhale, holding the breath for ten to fifteen seconds.

The first time, I skilled a rush of calm, adopted by an odd euphoria. Tensions and worries melted away. Many researchers I spoke to — in psychology, neuroscience and physiology — questioned if such respiratory workout routines may work as a type of publicity remedy or ‘challenge’, serving to me unlearn unfavourable associations between fast respiratory and the horror of a panic assault.

I’ve additionally found the facility of a to-do checklist. It sounds too easy to work however takes off a cognitive load. And psychologist Dr Tim Pychyl, head of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University, Canada, instructed me to all the time ask: ‘What’s my subsequent motion?’

Sometimes it’s so simple as switching on my laptop computer. I strive to not get caught up in worrying if I can face doing the duty — I simply ask what the subsequent tiny step I must take to maneuver myself in direction of it’s.

Today I cope with greater than I ever thought attainable. I not take antidepressants. I nonetheless expertise anxiety and discomfort — though I haven’t had a panic assault in additional than two years — identical to I nonetheless get achy legs from operating.

Instead of beating myself up, I recognise anxiety as proof that I’m exposing myself to challenges. That I’m doing my finest — for myself and my household.

Adapted from Coward: Why We Get Anxious And What We Can Do About It by Tim Clare, revealed by Canongate on May 5 at £16.99. © Tim Clare 2022.

To order a duplicate for £15.29 (provide legitimate to 17/5/22; UK P&P on orders over £20), go to or name 020 3176 2937.

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