When Barbara West had her first panic attack watching TV one evening, she had no idea what was happening.

“It was 2012 and I was lying on the couch watching TV and the next second I was sitting up gasping for breath and my heart was beating incredibly fast and I thought, ‘What’s going on?'.”

Barbara, a natural health practitioner in Tauranga, thought she may be having a heart attack but soon realised it was a panic attack.

“After that I was manic for four weeks. Normally I’m on AA-sized batteries but I suddenly went to being on 18D-sized batteries. My system was full of adrenalin and I was desperately trying to find a reason for it,” says the 57-year-old.

After four weeks of being manic, Barbara came crashing down.

“All that charging around calmed down and settled into serious depression, which lasted for about three years.”

Like being at the bottom of a well

She likens her depression to being at the bottom of a well and having to work constantly to pull herself up.

“No amount of logic helped me feel better. I felt like a failure and like I hadn’t measured up to a lot of people’s expectations, even though I knew logically I wasn’t. I also felt no joy. It could be the most beautiful, wonderful day but I felt nothing.”

At the time of Barbara’s panic attack she had been under some stress, but it still took her by surprise.

“I’d had to move house, I’d lost my part-time job and my mother was dying. Prior to that I’d sailed through life quite happily. I’d had a couple of heartbreaks but that’s all.”

Barbara says she didn’t have disturbed sleep during her depression, which enabled her to rest properly.

She had a couple of good friends she confided in about what she was experiencing, which helped her immensely. The MHF website was also full of helpful information, she says.

“Exercise was also really important and helped me a lot. I made sure I kept on mixing with people, even though I was pretty lousy company. I carried on working and making myself do things I knew I had previously enjoyed.”

New challenge ahead

Barbara now has her eyes set on tackling the Kilimanjaro Challenge in September to raise money and awareness for the MHF. 

“I’m starting to get really excited about climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and am preparing myself physically.

“It’s always been on my radar and this wonderful opportunity presented itself so I signed up for it.”

Barbara is climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with four other friends. They call themselves the Tauranga Social Climbers and are busy raising funds as a group, and individually, for the climb and for the Mental Health Foundation.

“We’ve had movie nights, a sausage sizzle, a pamper day and other things. I also made and sold puddings and mince pies at Christmas.”

While Barbara is through the worst of her depression, she is still wary of experiencing it again.

“I’m out of the woods but I know they are still there.”