I know the title of this blog post will sound crazy to many people and may possibly offend you, especially if you are struggling with panic attacks in your life. But my goal is not to make you bitter – only to share my story and hope that it can inspire you to look at your situation differently. In this two-part series, I will be sharing with you my experience with panic attacks and why I believe panic attacks are good for you.
I experienced my first panic attack when I was 25 years old. It was a quiet September evening and the year was 2007. I had just finished eating dinner and was sitting on my dining table working on my computer. As a full time employee and a part-time student at the time, there was no time to waste. Every second for me was serious business. My wife was seated across the table working on her assignment as we were both students. It was a beautiful night and everything looked perfect.
As I was working, I suddenly had an urge to drink water, so I stood up and headed for the kitchen to get a glass of water. As I was walking towards the kitchen, I felt light headed and dizzy. My whole body felt funny and I could not think straight. Suddenly, a flash of bright rainbow colours started flashing from the corner of my eyes. My heart was pounding heavily in a way I had never witnessed before. At first I did not think much of it. I decided to sit down for a while hoping it was just a passing moment of temporary dizziness.
But things got worse very quickly, my chest was getting tighter, and I felt like I was forcing myself to breathe. I had no idea what was wrong with me, but I felt a strong urge to get out of the house. So, I stood up and started walking around hoping to distract myself from what I was feeling. As I was walking, my depth perception felt wrong and the floor felt like it was moving up and down for no reason. My vision became increasingly distorted and blurred. There were tingling sensations all over my body and I was trembling and sweating. My wife could see my distress and she tried to calm me down. I was convinced I was having a heart attack and the only thing I could think of in that moment was getting to the ER as fast as possible. The ER was only a 5 minute walk from my apartment. I had experienced anxiety before, but this was more than I could handle.
As soon as I got to the ER, the nurse at the reception could see I was in serious distress and she acted quickly. I told her I was having a heart attack. Within minutes, I was lying on the hospital bed with all these machines around me. My wife was there starring in shock and confusion. I was only 25 at the time and a heart attack was the last thing on my mind. But here I was, faced with the possibility of either dying prematurely or having to drastically change my life (at least that’s what my anxious mind was thinking). After 30 minutes or so of medical tests, the doctor looked at me and gently whispered, “You are not having a heart attack, you are just having an anxiety attack.” He went on to tell me that an anxiety attack is also known as a panic attack and that it happens when you are too stressed. I knew what the word anxiety meant because I had studied anxiety while completing my undergraduate psychology degree, but I had no clue what an anxiety attack was. The doctor simply told me to go home and he promised me that if I tried to relax more often the anxiety would go away quickly.
Things did not get any better after this harrowing panic attack episode. For the days, weeks, and months that followed my life took a whole new direction. Panic attacks became a norm in my life and without any warning I found myself suffering from a full blown panic disorder. My panic attacks became more and more frequent and I started to avoid certain places for fear of having panic attacks. I couldn’t go to the movies anymore because the noise and lights in the theater would trigger panic attacks. I developed a fear of heights and enclosed spaces. I started avoiding elevators and preferred stairs. If I went to a meeting, I would sit near the exit just in case. The fear of not knowing when and where the panic attacks would happen was unbearable.
When the first panic attack happened, it shocked my whole system so much that I spent an enormous amount of time worrying about what was happening to me and why it was happening. This constant worrying added so much stress to my life and that stress led to more panic attacks and to more anxiety. Before I knew it, I had a breakdown and I got trapped in the cycle of anxiety, panic and depression. It was hard for my wife to see me in such a state. I just could not understand what was wrong with me. I felt like I was hiding out and sleep walking through life.
To be continued in part 2.
About Tawanda Chirenda
Tawanda Chirenda is an anxiety-transformation and resilience-building coach, speaker and founder of The Willing Student Method, a program that helps individuals overcome anxiety, build resilience and live a happier, more purpose-filled life as a result. Although Tawanda is now a resilience-building coach, he came to it the long, hard way, through many years of struggling with anxiety, failure, and helplessness. At the age of 25, Tawanda was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that drastically affected his normal functioning and everyday life. Through a willingness to learn, grow and change, Tawanda was able to successfully recover from this condition and regain his healthy and productive life. Tawanda has been fully recovered for more than 7 years now and he is a much stronger person than before. You can connect with Tawanda on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website, www.thewillingstudent.com, to learn more about his work.