The founder of Return of the Panda, Fatimah Abbouchi, started her journey in mental health back in 2007 when she experienced her first anxiety attack. It was one of the biggest shocks of her life, as there were no signs pointing to an imminent anxiety disorder. Since then, Fatimah has greatly recovered and now works hard to educate and help others who suffered similarly like her. This is her story, from the first attack to where she is now, and how she got there.

Here goes…

“Its 2007, I am a happy healthy 21-year-old, just given a new opportunity at work and was about to start my first job away from home in the city. I had a loving boyfriend, great friends, and excellent health. I lived at home and had little to worry about it.

I was kicking goals at the organisation I was working at, the same place where I completed a one-year traineeship within nine months. It was around the same year I had been planning my biggest birthday yet, my 21st, and was also developing my own ideas for how I could scale the corporate ladder. I had big dreams of doing something great in life.

Then, in early March 2007, my life changed completely unexpectedly when I was out at dinner one evening with my sister. Mid-way through dinner and a normal conversation, I felt the overwhelming sickness in my stomach, shocked and bothered I immediately made my way to the bathroom thinking it might have been something I had eaten. Then the sudden rush of fear overwhelmed me. Out of nowhere. In the toilet, I was sweating, my heart racing. My chest tightens and hands trembling. The more I felt sick, the more I panicked. The more I thought about what was happening to me, the more it happened. Every feeling intensified until I was hyperventilating, the feeling where you are breathing so fast, you think you might just pass out. I continued to feel unwell and felt as though everything that could be wrong was.

I had had my first panic attack.

For days, weeks and months later I was not myself, my entire world had changed. The worst part was no one understood or could help me. At least that is what I thought. For too long, I suffered in silence whilst my anxiety started to break me down. I was frustrated and felt alone.

That is when I decided to seek help. Starting a new job, the following week, I had to get better as my professional career was especially important to me. I needed to get better because I could not bear the 45min train rides home or the fact I could not eat in a restaurant in the evening for months afterwards, consumed by fear and regularly covered in hives. Enough was enough. I started seeing a psychologist who had diagnosed me with Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

Later that day I immediately started to google GAD. I was not optimistic that I was going to get better, she kept telling me it would take time, but I was in a new job and did not have time to be unwell. I began noticing all the symptoms I read online like shortness of breath, pins and needles in my arms and legs, sweating, tingly feeling in my head, shaky hands, crying, rashes on my chest, flushed, nausea and was not getting better but getting worse. My lowest point was driving to my friend’s house (something I had done all too often hundreds of times) only to get there and must drive straight back home again.

The anxiety interfered with everything I did, ate, and went.

My psychologist suggested I try anxiety medication, but I was not comfortable with that. So instead, I used Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). For me it worked wonderfully as it was able to break down my anxiety so that the solution and my resilience far outweighed the threat of anxiety. The four things that worked for me best was CBT, speaking to a psychologist regularly, progressive relaxation CDs, and believing in myself.

My first anxiety moments I would rate as a 10/10, being the worst feeling in the world, like I was going to die, the end of the world. These days I would say I am a 1/10 that is almost non-existent in my day-to-day life, well not where it impacts what I want to do anyway. It is something that rarely affects me these days and when it does my CBT therapy and self-education has given me the skills to overcome it. I always know I am going to be ok as I go through my toughest moments in life.

Today I am living completely normal healthy happy life. I work full time running my own company called Agile Management Office. Using my years of corporate experience in big business, my business is about all about helping other businesses make sense of the disconnect between delivery and governance. It is rewarding and one of the important things I am working on in my career. I am married to my high school sweetheart, the one person who supported me most, have beautiful nieces and nephews, a wonderful supportive family and family who finally gets what it is to have anxiety, what it means and why it matters to listen and not to judge. I’ve since been able to use what I have learnt to help others who are like me to overcome their own battles, so they too can learn how to control their anxiety, so it doesn’t control them by launching my own not for profit Return of the Panda.

Anxiety is not as obvious as other illnesses. It is invisible and not always taken as seriously. However, it is very real and has had a profound effect on my life. Overcoming it, meaning to be able to cope day to day, has truly shaped me for the better. Remember recovery means different things to different people. It is treatable and does not have to be a roadblock to your life’s happiness, whatever happiness means to you because we are all different.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety, get some help. If you don’t educate yourself and the people around you so you can help if someone you know begins showing anxiety symptoms and develops an anxiety disorder.

Return of the Panda is here to help, with various resources available and our Coping Cards product which is based on real grounding research and works to ease anxiety in an instant. Follow us on our socials also to get education at your fingertips.