Last Wednesday morning, one week ago today, was really nothing special at all. I got myself and Jr up and ready and out the door, lingered over some time with my parents when I dropped the kiddo off to spend the day with them, and headed into the office since there were some visitors from the main office in town and it is always nice to have some “face time” with long-distance colleagues.
4 hours later I was being carted out on a (extraordinarily tall) stretcher to an ambulance waiting in the parking lot. (Seriously – I had no idea you were so high up on those things… are they all so freakin’ high!?) Minutes before that, I was 100% convinced that I was having a heart attack, had waited too long to act, and was going to die in my office waiting for the paramedics only a few minutes away.
Soooo, none of that was true. Thank God.
What did happen? I can’t be sure yet – my primary care doc and neurologist are still ordering up tests to check things like hormone levels (getting old is sure fun, isn’t it) and look for any changes on MRIs (to rule out any new lesions that might indicate a change in disease course for my M.S.) We shall see what the results are when the dust settles.
But if I had to guess, hindsight being 20/20?
Horrible, no-good, very bad, worse and different than I have ever experienced, Anxiety Attack.
Hello darkness, my old friend.
Or should I say you dirty unwelcome bitch.
I don’t talk about my long history with Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder here very often. Or at least not seriously. I joke about having refilled my Ativan script for an upcoming flight, I hint about my extra worry and helicopter parenting. I poke fun and I minimize and brush by it without really talking much at all.
Talking about it makes me worry that I might panic from talking about it.
That’s the thing. Once it starts, it is a horrible, vicious, unending loop. It feeds on fear of itself.
And this time was different. I can ALWAYS pinpoint a cause, no matter how little or unreasonable. I always know what caused an attack. Because of that I can head many off at the pass by taking precautions or making extra preparations before a particular activity, (or, worst case, by not doing it at all, which sucks but doesn’t happen often any more.) But not this time. There was no warning. There was no trigger. It felt SO MUCH WORSE than anything I had ever experienced before. My whole body tensed; heart racing, feeling like it was being squeezed by something; chest pains; dizziness…
Something awful was clearly happening to me.
In my mind I know that statement is no less true because it wasn’t a heart attack. I remind myself that constantly. But anxiety is cruel in other ways too – it hides inside of you, it is difficult for others to see and to understand. It builds on the shame of each “why don’t you just calm down/snap out of it/stop worrying/choose differently” look and comment, well-meaning or otherwise. Because in your heart you are asking that too. “Why can’t I just calm down?” “Why can’t I just enjoy this activity like others do?” “Why do I have to plan and overthink and worry?” “Why can I not be free of this?” “WHY?”
My 20s were a blur of panic. Sometimes as an under-riding current of general anxiety, others as months of crippling waves of panic leaving me trapped by worry and fear, never venturing out of my walkable urban neighborhood. Shortly after I got married my mom made a last desperate plea for me to get help. I didn’t want the weight of the anchor that my panic and anxiety was to prevent the journey my new husband and I had just started together in our marriage and so I agreed.
Almost immediately I wished I had reached out long before – and little by little, my world grew again.
This week – in the hours and days since the heart attack that wasn’t, I have gone about making follow up appointments and tracking referrals and insurance claims and all of the business of tying up loose ends that happens after an ER visit. But I have been watchful, waiting guardedly for a hint that the next one is coming.
This time I will fight, clawing to keep every inch I have gained back, every experience I have won back over from terror to ease… I know that there are setbacks, and that is fine. But I refuse to accept a spiral. I will deny shame a place in the battle this time, and I will be am being proactive.
This time panic, you can’t come for me. This time I am coming for you.
If you are experiencing Anxiety or Panic Attacks – PLEASE reach out. Your doctor is a great initial resource, there amazing groups full of supportive people in many areas and even online. It took me years – heed my mother’s advice now and reach out. (I didn’t know then what I know now. My mother is always right.)