Presenter, podcaster and entrepreneur James Kavanagh spoke to Jennifer Zamparelli on 2fm about his debilitating panic attacks and how after four years of healing and talking he’s finally on the other side. Listen again above.
The Dublin native first spoke about his struggle with panic attacks and anxiety, telling Jen that they started four years ago after he built an online following for his humorous Snapchat videos documenting his life and scared his partner, William.
With his career taking off, Kavanagh recalled waking up at 4 in the morning with a strange “fuzzy” feeling. “It was like I was immersed in a bath of sparkling water,” he said.
“It started out as this sizzling, fizzing feeling in my feet. It went up my legs and all of a sudden I felt really hot, and it just overwhelmed me. My heart started pumping out of his chest, and this was out of nothing.
“I thought I was going to die, basically.”
The attack lasted 40 minutes, after which he was “exhausted”. “I’ve never had any mental health issues or any kind of history of panic attacks, so I had no idea what it was,” she added. She went to her doctor for a checkup, including a heart check, but the attacks kept coming more and more regularly, usually two or three a week.
“It got so bad that sometimes I think my body clock woke me up around ten to four and I’d check my phone. And I think I was even triggering the panic attack because I was like, ‘This is going to happen.'”
Kavanagh started talking to friends who suggested they might be panic attacks and started finding ways to help manage them, from breathing exercise videos on YouTube to lying down on the floor to “ground.”
“I used to do things like if I felt a panic attack coming, I’d go in the shower and imagine the water would wash it away. And I know this sounds weird, obviously it was a placebo, but if I imagined panic going down the shower drain , that helped me.”
He also had support from William as he had had his own mental struggles and guided Kavanagh through the attacks.
While every single person may experience panic attacks and anxiety a little differently, Kavanagh described what experiencing those attacks was like: just this feeling that life is about to end for you.”
He added that his attacks were “incredibly physical”, recalling that he was “shaking and there was steam coming out” of him during one attack.
His panic attacks turned into daytime anxiety, he added, which left him with dizziness-like symptoms. Kavanagh eventually found a GP who “recognized him for who he was” and put him on SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which he says he still takes and will stay for at least three years.
“That honestly changed everything.”
When asked if he had any reservations about taking the drug, Kavanagh said “great.”
“A lot of that has come from and that doesn’t overshadow my parents on how I was raised. My parents have always been nice, meds are the last thing you turn to.
“I was almost nervous even telling them I was going for it, because I knew they were going to fight against it. And they did to a point. They said to me, ‘Go for a walk. Turn your frown upside down. They’re the one.’ generation, and they mean well too.
She added that she “was afraid I’d lose my personality to them,” referring to how antidepressants are often portrayed in the media and pop culture.
“And it happened,” he added. “People lose their sex drive and they lose this and they lose that. So it’s kind of scary and it doesn’t work for everyone. everyone they’re in is a little different.”
She added that finding the right SSRI for you may involve changing your medication and trying other changes along with that, which should be done with your GP or a doctor.
For him, however, “they were the change, the big change. And within a week, I was back to normal. But in my deepest, darkest period of anxiety, I never really saw myself as I am now. I never thought I’d go back there.”
Listen again to the full interview above. Consult your doctor if you think you are suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, for more information visit the HSE website.
If you have been struck by the issues raised in this story, please visit: www.rte.ie/helplines.
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