Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for Life & Style.

Polly Gillespie: Don't wait as long as I did for a diagnosis

I didn't speak to another doctor about my terrors for years, because I knew it was simply my imagination. Photo / Supplied
I didn't speak to another doctor about my terrors for years, because I knew it was simply my imagination. Photo / Supplied

I remember it to be an absolutely ordinary day. I was 13 and walking home from the bus stop on Victoria St in Hamilton to my home at the fire station in Anglesea St.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed with panic and fear. There was no imminent danger. There was no creepy predator or anyone letting out a blood-curdling scream, but suddenly I couldn't breathe. I couldn't swallow and my heart was racing so fast that every micro-gram of adrenaline must have been surging through my body.

It was like I had come face to face with a murderer or perhaps the mama bear Leo encountered in The Revenant. I was terrified over absolutely nothing. Having no idea what to do except try and breathe, and then get home as fast as I could, I did just that.

Eventually the debilitating terror passed and I was left with just a murky feeling of doom and gloom. I tried to explain it to my mother. I don't think she understood at all, but as all good mothers do, she booked me an appointment to see the family GP.

It must be a bug, or a virus, surely. Or asthma. Maybe it was asthma.

"It's all in her head," he said, not realising the ironic truth to the diagnosis. "She's very creative. She has an overactive imagination. She'll be fine."

I wasn't fine. It got worse. But because it was all in my imagination I learned to live with the hours, and sometimes days, of terror.

I made it through high school and even varsity in the US without any other diagnosis. I didn't speak to another doctor about it for years, because I knew it was simply my imagination.

Sometimes, when I was living on campus at college, I would wake in the night terrified. My room-mate and all the dorm slept soundly, so I'd get up and sit in the TV lounge watching bad Western movies in Spanish or infomercials for Ginsu knives. When the dawn came, I'd feel calmer. This went on for years.

My first radio station was The Coaster 2ZG in Gisborne - I could write a book just on that bizarre experience. I seemed to be okay for a while... until I wasn't. And, this time, I really wasn't. I had an attack of the terrors that just didn't stop.

They always stopped after a few days, but this time they didn't. I was on the radio each day, but every moment I wasn't I was wide awake shaking. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep.

I decided I must have some terrible disease. Perhaps it was cancer or MS or something rare and genetic. I still thought it would pass. Late one night my flatmate, Annie, came into my room. I was shaking and couldn't speak without stuttering.

"I'm taking you to hospital now. Let's go."

I didn't fight it. If I had cancer or MS or some genetic condition I couldn't fight it any longer.

"Wait a minute." I said to the nurses who took me from Annie, "Why are you taking me to the psychiatric unit? I'm not crazy!"

At this stage I was shaking so hard I was placed in a wheelchair, and they wheeled me to the ward where I would spend the next few weeks. I have no idea how long I stayed there, but long enough to have my sister leave uni and move to Gisborne to be with me.

That night they put me in a padded room. I do remember thinking that I had sunk to the lowest point possible. They gave me a blue pill and a yellow pill. For the first time in ten years I felt a peace that I only remembered from childhood.

"Oh my God, I am crazy!" I thought. "Thank God!"

It took ten years to be diagnosed with anxiety-depression brought on by puberty. It took ten years to understand that, although it was in my head, it wasn't made up. It wasn't my imagination. My hormones wanted to take me out.

I don't know for sure because I'm not a doctor and don't profess to be an expert, but I well imagine lots of teenagers develop similar conditions. I just hope that they go to the doctor and the doctor takes them seriously. I wouldn't wish undiagnosed anxiety on anyone, and not simply for the bad middle-of-the-night TV.

If any of this resonates with you. Get help now before you end up in a padded room wondering how on earth that will help your cancer.

Debate on this article is now closed.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7); (09) 522 2999
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
The Word
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
CASPER Suicide Prevention
Women's Refuge: 0800 733 843
Victim Support: 0800 842 846
Family Violence Info Line: 0800 456 450
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.


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Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for Life & Style.

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