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The panic attack that changed my life

Author’s Note: Writing this post was hard for me, because it made me relive what happened to me last summer that shook my world and turned it upside down.  Yet, in sharing this, I am letting go of the past and looking towards the bright future.  In sharing this post, I hope it helps anyone who has personally dealt with or knows someone who has experienced something similar.  It is quite a read in length, but sets the tone for my blog as a whole.  It is the basis of why I am who I am today.

Panic attacks:  I have had mini ones throughout my life before; however, the frequency was minimal: maybe once or twice a year.  To what I can recall, they happened when maybe I was very upset, scared and/or felt helpless.  And so, with these extreme feelings, they came on.  Yes, I went through the motions –shortness of breath, hands freezing up– but they subsided within a couple of minutes.

When I met my husband, he didn’t know this happened to me.  It’s not something I would exactly bring up and mention (it was a bit embarrassing).  But, he ended up learning what it was all about that one fall day (we were still dating at the time).  We ended up arguing about something and I ended up having an attack  —  I felt too overwhelmed.  Panicked himself, he rushed me to the ER and it was there that he learned that I needed to be calmed down and that I just had a panic attack.  And so he calmed me down.  The following year, someone in my family was rushed to the ER for something and there I was, panicking outside of the hospital, because I didn’t know how to take it.  And, again, my husband helped calm me down.  Of course I thought this was scary, but with a frequency of once a year, I didn’t really pay much mind to it.  I thought it was just a fluke I had and off I went to continue living my life.

Fast forward through live events, moments that have made me feel uncomfortable, ideas other people had about me that I let get to me, and me pretending to be someone I wasn’t.  Yes, fast forward to last summer when I was sitting at work and had the hiccups.

I had them for about 2 hours (seriously, they would not go away).  But it was okay and I sucked it up.  At the end of the day, I boarded the train home and sat in-between two people.  However, the car was packed.  It was hot.  I had people breathing down on me.  And I still had the hiccups.

Trying to lessen their [the hiccups’] annoyance, I tried to hold my breath and, when they came, tried to quiet them down.  I knew that my body jumping was annoying the people all around me, not to mention the little whimpers of “hic-cup,”  so I kept trying harder and harder until I felt that I was short of air.  Everything started to close up, I felt like I needed oxygen.  Desperately, I got up, pushed some people to the side, squeezed my way through, and ran to the end of the car and called my husband:

“I can’t breathe!” I said.  “I can’t move, it is too crowded, this train keeps moving, I cannot get off, I am going to pass out!”
“Calm down, you will be okay,” he then said.

And so, there I was, breathing, in a panic, not knowing what to do.  Finally, the train doors opened up, and I ran straight out of there and into a local drug store that had some air conditioning.  Once inside, I walked up and down the aisles; my mind was racing and I was so afraid of passing out that I called my husband again and told him that he needed to pick me up as soon as possible.  I then proceeded to call my father, who tried to calm me down and told me to go into the bathroom and splash water on my face and then the crown of my head.  He could sense the panic in my voice and then said that he was going to come and pick me up from the pharmacy.  I dunked my head into a pool of water I made in the bathroom sink.  I looked like I just came out of the shower.  But I didn’t care.  I didn’t know how to care.  I didn’t know what was going on.

*Takes a moment to take a deep breath*  Just writing about this is making me anxious, but I’m breathing (something I learned) and it’s all going away.  In….and out…..  Okay, I can continue this story.

While I waited for someone to arrive to pick me up, I drank about three bottles of water to hydrate myself.  Finally, my husband came.  When I saw him, I was relieved, but needed a distraction.  I ran inside the car and demanded he make out with me to calm me down (my mind was not processing correctly).  The making out didn’t work.  My hands quickly became so numb.  My fingers started to contour into permanent bends at angles I didn’t even know existed!  My shortness of breath sent a panic signal to my body, so now all of my blood and oxygen was rushing to my core, a body’s response to preserve the internal organs.  And all I could remember was that I was extremely thirsty, extremely scared, and extremely not myself anymore.

My family ended up taking me home.  The elevator in my building complex wasn’t working, so my dad ended up carrying me up two floors via the stairs, and then my husband for the remaining three floors.  They plopped me in front of the air conditioner and tried to get me to calm down.  I eventually did so about three hours later and everyone went home.  But there I was, no longer pale as a ghost, but scared.

*Taking another deep inhale in here*

The following day (and the next couple of weeks were just horrible).  I demanded my husband stay home from work because I could not be alone (think hardcore tears, bloodshot eyes, and lots of screaming).  I was afraid of being alone.  Better yet, it had seemed that I scared myself so much, that I was afraid of leaving my apartment.  I could not face stepping foot into the hallway.  I would cry and run back into the apartment.  My husband practiced with me for hours on end taking one, two, three steps away from the door and then walking down one, two, and then three steps down one staircase.  I was afraid of the outside world.  I was afraid of this thing happening to me again.  I cannot begin to tell you how many attempts I made trying to leave my building complex.  I had to take off from work for about two weeks.  I needed to be driven into work when I could finally walk outside, and then escorted for the remaining days of summer.  It took about another month for me to finally be able to walk around the block.  I did not know who I was anymore.  I seriously had something wrong with me at that point.  I could not believe how my world was flipped upside down with that one incident.

And that was the problem.  I thought of it was a one-time thing that changed my whole life.  But it wasn’t.  Truth be told, all those mini panic attacks and fears I had were all warning signs.  I just always chose to ignore them.  I always told myself that it was something that would pass and that it didn’t define me.  I made it part of my life, this discomfort.  Which was so wrong of me.  Because I neglected myself.  I never made the time to take care of myself and learn to let go.  I always had to be an independent person and live up to other people’s expectations.  I could never let them down – oh, no.  I had to be ‘perfect.’  And through all of this, all of the lying to my own self and not speaking up for who I was and what I wanted to do, led me to this giant explosion and state of panic that I wish I never, ever, have to go through again.

And so I let my guards down.  I opened up to who I was inside.  I started to see a therapist.  I sought valuable advice from those very close to me. I decided to take control of my life.  And I am who you see before you today.  I took up yoga and think it’s amazing because it forced me to slow down and listen to my body, mind, and soul.  It has opened up a sense of greater clarity that I never saw inside of myself before.  It has made me start this blog to track my progression.  I am not one hundred percent ‘healed’ yet, but I am slowly getting there.  The panic attack last summer made me afraid of the heat (but I got through some of that fear (yay!) which you can read about here), it made me fear moving fast and making my heart beat fast because it reminded me of the attack (which you can read about here), and it also made me afraid of traveling far distances away from home.  I can no longer see myself getting on a plane because I am afraid (I loved to fly, I was on at least 4-6 flights a year!).  But, I know that one day I will get there.  (I will post about my Washington, D.C. trip in my next post, because it was emotional trip that helped me see that I am progressing).

Point is, if you see the warning signs, don’t ignore them.  Yes, the past is the past.  But we shouldn’t ignore it.  Instead, we have to learn from it.  We need to live in the present and build ourselves up for success in the future.  Which will be an amazing life of less anxiety.  I made a promise to myself that I would give myself a chance and take care of me first and foremost.  I still have daily headaches and things to take care of (think responsibilities), but I am learning how to take it easy and organize it all.  How to live life to its fullest.  Because we only have one life to live on this beautiful planet.  And it’s only up to us to make it better for ourselves.  The hard work comes from deep inside of ourselves and the benefits.. oh the benefits.. they will set you free.

My giant panic attack last summer was a real eye-opening event.  I was putting a lot of stress on myself throughout the years in terms of body, mind, and soul.  So much that they all finally retaliated.  I wish this experience on no one, but what I do wish is that we all take care of ourselves.  Be brave with me.  See the warning signs, and see that we are worth it.  See that a good life is a happy, balanced one.  We will all get there.  It takes time.  And in the end, we will all laugh and enjoy life together.

Don’t worry about annoying someone else with the hiccups, because at the end of the day, they are happening to you.  Take care of you.  Take care of your life.

August 2013 – weeks after my giant panic attack. I was comfortable being outside again.. my husband captured me doing a twirl.

August 2013 – weeks after my giant panic attack. I was comfortable being outside again.. my husband captured me doing a twirl.

Loren.

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