I barely make it through the doors of the emergency room before I land on my hands and knees on the floor. My mother and the nurse help me up and into the triage room. The nurse is kind and concerned…until she realizes there’s nothing physically wrong with me.
You see, I’m in the midst of a massive panic attack.
It began as they always do – no real trigger, just a gasp and a feeling of building anxiety. I start to pace as the adrenaline begins to fire, and it gets harder and harder to breathe. In fact, I keep having to remind myself to breathe as my face and my hands and my feet begin to go numb. Hyperventilation has arrived. Of course, because I’m barely breathing I get light headed, at which point I have to convince myself that I am not, in fact, having a stroke. Uh oh, heart palpitations. No, I’m not having a heart attack. My heart will continue to beat for a good long while.
By this time, all outside sensations are off the wall. Colors and shapes seem far away, but at the same time so sharp that it hurts to look at them. Sounds seem muffled, but so loud that I want to cover my ears and scream (which I’ll admit that I sometimes end up doing). My thoughts are coming so fast and furious that I can’t make sense of most of them, and I’m almost running on autopilot. The panic has taken over, and all I can do is ride the wave.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know what is happening. I know that I’m not dying, and that eventually it will pass. But in that moment, when I feel like I can’t get enough air and parts of me are numb or pounding and my vision is growing dark around the edges? I’m dying. Probably within the next 10 seconds. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it. And my lord, the fear is huge and overpowering and well, absolutely terrifying.
Now back to the emergency room. I’m gagging and hyperventilating and barely able to get out yes and no answers to the questions posed by the nurse. My mother tries to explain that I have Panic Disorder and if they’d only give me Ativan, the attack would taper off and stop. The nurse has obviously decided that, at 33, I am too old to have my mother answering questions for me.
So, she hands me a paper bag to breathe into and says, “Madam, it’s ONLY a panic attack. There’s nothing wrong with you, and you just need to calm down.”
Really? Calm down? What a novel idea! Don’t you think that if I could calm down, I would have done it by now? On my own? In the privacy of my own home? Without someone like you, who has obviously never experienced the terror and helplessness of a panic attack, judging me?!
Long story short, I was put in a room to “calm down”, and a much kinder nurse came in and determined that my panic attack was most likely caused by the migraine that I was experiencing. They gave me something to treat the migraine…which I had a reaction to. Which caused more panic attacks. Which is a whole other story in itself.
*Everyone experiences panic attacks differently, but the basic symptoms are the same. Find info on anxiety and panic here. Anyone who has had an attack also knows that it’s next to impossible to describe what it’s like to have an attack. I’ve done my best. Why? Because I want you to know you’re not alone. That fear is real, and your reaction to it is nothing to be ashamed of.
Oh, and for those of you playing the “Year of No Fear” game at home? I’ve signed up for two 5K races, and am currently in the process of making a bunch of Big Life Decisions. I’ll keep you posted!
About Jessica Wilson
My name is Jessica Wilson, I’m 35 years old and single. The single is (mostly) by choice, the 35 is not. I am mom to 5 furbabies, have become an avid runner, and own and operate a small business. I’ve been dealing with mental illness for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety in my early 20’s, and continue to struggle with it or manage quite well, depending on the day. It very obviously runs in my family – my grandmother was bipolar, and mental illness can be traced back at least 3 generations on my maternal side, in various forms.