Natasha, 42. Health Anxiety.

Name: Natasha Desborough

Age: Rude question. But I’m 42 if you really must know.

Occupation: Writer and Broadcaster

Mood today? Quite bright and perky.

Wine, coffee or green smoothie? Can I have a cup of tea instead please? Strong builder’s tea. Not too milky.

3 vices: Bad swearing. Replacing the words ‘me’ and ‘you’ in pop songs with ‘wee’ and ‘poo’. Always being half an hour early everywhere. It drives my husband and kids nuts.

3 virtues: Never, ever being late. I’m a very loyal friend. I can see the funny in pretty much everything.

What’s the best thing anyone has ever said to you? ‘I love you’.

If you weren’t a writer and broadcaster, what would you be? Working in film production. That was where my career was heading before I became a radio broadcaster.

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What’s in your Headcase? 
Anxiety/ Health Anxiety.

When did you first notice things might not be quite….’right’. 
I suffered a terrible panic attack when I was 17 shortly after my parents got divorced. I was utterly terrified and had no idea what was wrong with me.

What were the symptoms/what happened?
Tunnel vision, heart racing, sheer panic. 

How did you feel? 
I thought I was going to die or go totally insane. It was terrifying. I wish I could go back in time and reassure myself that I would be ok.

Do you know why it started?
With hindsight, it’s obvious that I reacted badly to my parents' divorce. I think I assumed that as I was almost officially an adult, I could cope. But I couldn’t. I was good at pretending though. So good that I fooled myself, as well as everyone else.

Did you know what it was, or what to do?
Nope.

How long did you wait before telling anyone? 
I can’t remember but it must have been months. Years, even.

Who did you talk to? 
I chose to bury my head, and didn’t confide in anyone about what was happening to me. I don’t think I have ever felt more alone in my entire life.

What help did you get?
I didn’t at the time, but many years after when the panic attacks returned, I called up a counsellor and had some sessions.

What happened then? 
Counselling helps. I need more sessions every few years and each time I learn something new about why I feel the way I do. And I learn ways to spot the trigger signs and slow down my panic responses.

How are you now?
My dad died recently, so I'm wading through a big, muddy puddle of grief at the moment. But I’m coping. So that's a sign of improvement in managing my mental health, I would say. 

What was the moment you remember things changed for the better?
I still get very anxious during the Winter months, so each year when Spring arrives everything seems to change for the better.

Who helped you the most? 
My yoga teachers. They have no idea how much they have helped me.

What is the best piece of advice you were given? 
Stop. Breathe deeply. Laugh.

What worked best for you? 
I have never taken any medication and I hope I never will. I’d like to try more CBT. I know why I feel the way I do but I probably need a few more tools to manage it a little better. Also, just being outside and walking my dog really helps, and I’m thinking about giving Light Therapy a go. But I really believe that yoga has pretty much saved me.

What you would say to anyone who is suffering similar things, or to yourself in that state? 
It WILL get easier. Just keep talking. Get some counselling. Try yoga.

What’s the biggest change in mental health you would like to see?
A couple of years ago I wrote a piece about my anxiety, and most of the feedback I received was wonderful. So many people who had been suffering in silence contacted me to say that they could relate to what I had written. But I also had a few people making ignorant assumptions and telling me to stop moaning. These are the people who fuel the social stigma that’s still attached to mental health issues. We need more successful and talented people in the public eye to speak out and end the stigma.

If you could say anything to your mental health issue, what would it be?
There are not enough bad swears in the world to say what I’d really like to say. But a simple ‘Fuck. Right. Off.’ will do for now.

Natasha Desborough

Liz Fraser