Heydon Pickering

Heydon is a Web Designer from Norwich, England who specialises in CSS, typography, semantic HTML and Responsive Design. He has written about web typography for Smashing Magazine and Web Designer Depot and has created popular icon-based web fonts available through Font Squirrel et al.

As a freelancer, contractor and employee of Neontribe (where he paper prototypes a lot) Heydon has built websites, social media profiles and application interfaces for clients that include The Guardian newspaper, Paul Smith, Sound & Music and Channel 4.

You can follow Heydon on Twitter @heydonworks

Published Thoughts

The first time it happened, I was on a bus. As the world around me spun woozily, my lungs filled with quick-drying cement, pushing a curious yelping sound past my lips. Embarrassed and dizzy, I departed the bus, staggered to my then girlfriend’s house and made a call to NHS Direct. I described the sensations of not being able to breathe properly, a painful, lurching heart and the continual “shock” like pulses felt in my guts and flanks. It was difficult to hold the phone because my fingers had begun to curl inwards like the limbs of dying beetles.

They sent an ambulance and I left the house to meet the paramedics on foot. “We thought you’d be lying down” one said with flat exasperation. Explaining the sheer torture that sitting or laying still would have caused me seemed futile: I knew I had nothing physical to show for the peculiar anguish I was feeling throughout my body. Dutifully, I was taken to hospital. Parked on a stretcher, my body still refused to settle. Every so often my heart would struggle, causing me to bolt upright, gasping for air. They kept me long enough to prove it wouldn’t kill me.

Over the course of the next few months, I arranged visits with a number of local doctors. Each practitioner was interested in the singular symptom of chest pain. After three electrocardiograms and one ultrasound, I was starting to feel guilty for not having a heart condition. The local head of cardiology sent me packing on one occasion with a verdict of “there’s nothing wrong with you, now sod off”. She meant it as a kindness in her brash, doctorly way.

Nonetheless, the “attacks” had become frequent and increasingly terrifying. Sometimes I’d lose my sight temporarily and every time I’d lose my mind. The various and acute pains, though they left no scars, were manifest; not the mere thoughts or worries many think constitute “panic”. After each episode — some of which lasted for hours — I’d be left too hungry to eat and too tired to speak. I resolved to self medicate and went to bed drunk most nights. I couldn’t fall asleep, so I had to pass out.

As if the panic disorder wasn’t bad enough in itself, the antidepressants eventually prescribed to me for the condition would trigger — with predictable and unamusing irony — a major depressive episode, sending me into further disarray and making my life still harder to manage. When I started experiencing suicidal thoughts, I contacted a specialist. I was lucky enough to be able to pay for one to meet me at short notice.

Though I would have happily taken a bullet to a leg if it meant I could have avoided either the months of continual “panic” or the ensuing depression, these mental health issues remain widely underestimated. Talented and otherwise perceptive doctors are sometimes oblivious and — when the condition is identified — perhaps too eager to medicate. Only strict diet and exercise regimens helped me, and I had to find that out for myself. As for the casual insistence of some to “get a hold of yourself”, it is not only insulting but a complete waste of breath. Many of my worst attacks took me completely by surprise, emanating from my body to besiege my mind — not the other way around.

The problem is, we don’t talk about this stuff enough, so we don’t know what we’re dealing with. We don’t talk about it because the conception that those who suffer from anxiety or depression are simply timid, weak-willed or “flaky” is so prevalent. Though I was generally lucky with the accommodation of my invisible ailment, there were some who considered my disorder not as a physiological problem but as a fundamental shortcoming of my personality. It is on this false premise that sufferers become marginalized, threatening their job and relationship prospects and helping to perpetuate the taboo status of the conditions (which, in the mean time, go untreated).

This is one reason why the Time To Talk campaign was conceived (#timeToTalk on Twitter), inviting sufferers and past sufferers of mental health issues to speak out. This is my small contribution and I hope it has shone some light on the subject of panic disorder. If you are experiencing anything like I have described, I highly recommend you consult the Mind and Anxiety United websites.

Finally, I ought to mention Doc Ready. This web application, which I was privileged with helping to develop and make accessible, is designed to help young people who suspect they are experiencing mental health issues to prepare for appointments with their doctor.