Sarah Britten Art

Paintings in lipstick

Thoughts on Panic Awareness Day

Lipstick cityscape Johannesburg

Today, July 10, is Panic Awareness Day. I realised that when I opened my little red Moleskine diary and saw that I’d written that in more than 6 months ago. It’s an important day for me, one to reflect on how far I have come in overcoming the terrible anxiety attacks that started in January 2010 and continued on and off for nearly two years. Last year I wrote about that experience here and I explain the circumstances that led to them here.

I tried all sorts of treatment for the attacks – medication, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (at R900 an hour!), exercise, lavender in the bath, and so on. I even painted this cityscape – title: Panic – as an attempt to ward off an attack. It’s on exhibition at Velo in Braamfontein:


It’s been a while since I’ve had one of those attacks. The familiar adrenaline surge still happens every now and then when I have a million deadlines, but that’s normal, and I’m in a far better place than I was two years ago. The art has more to do with this than you might think: there is nothing worse for a creative person than not to create, and this exhibition is better than any therapy or positive thinking.

I know I’m not the only one. We lead highly stressed lives, especially in Johannesburg. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spoken to colleagues or business associates who’ve revealed they’re on meds the moment I reveal that I’ve experienced anxiety disorder. Yet few of us ever speak out about this. We’re fearful of the stigma, I suppose; worried about being seen as weak or losing out on a promotion.

One person who used her experience with panic attacks and anxiety to change the lives of others is Zane Wilson, who received the Baobab Award last year for distinguished service to the community.  Zane knows all about anxiety, and she has been an inspiration to me. Discovering that there was no support system for people suffering from anxiety or depression, she founded SADAG, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. SADAG does incredibly important work with no government funding. They play an especially important role in poorer communities where people have far less access to the doctors, medication and therapists that we in the suburbs take for granted.

So today I’d like to express gratitude for two things: the work that SADAG does with those who need it most, and my own small victory over a disorder that isn’t terribly serious in a world of so much suffering, but can still make your life a living hell. It has been a tortuous journey at times – I have friends and family who know that only too well – but it feels like I have come out the other side, and survived.

Today is a good day.


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