The first time it happened, I was 26. It was around 12:30 in the morning, and I hadn’t been able to sleep because I was nervous about moving the next day—it would be the first time I had ever lived all by myself. Heart pounding, mind racing, I obsessed over what would happen if I got hurt or sick and there was no one to help me. I paced the house, clenching and unclenching my fists…worrying, walking, debating whether or not to wake someone up to take me to the hospital. When it finally passed, I was exhausted, and fell into a tumultuous sleep, dreaming of the many things that could go wrong once I was completely on my own.
Two years later, it happened again. I was alone in my apartment. Because it was racing so ridiculously fast I was sure I was having some sort of problem with my heart. I was clammy, agitated and terrified. I called my sister, who talked to me throughout the ordeal. While on the phone with her, I gathered up my medical insurance card, and started packing a bag in case I had to call 9-1-1. I paced my apartment, back and forth, assuming that if I was moving, I was okay. Plus, I simply couldn’t sit still. Again, it passed. I slept like the dead for 10 hours straight.
It never occurred to me that these were anxiety attacks. Also known as panic attacks, I ignorantly assumed that such things didn’t happen to me—I considered myself a “strong” person. In fact, it wasn’t until this past spring that I even connected those two events. But what eventually led to my making that connection was the fact that I was having anxiety attacks more and more frequently.
Then, they started happening every day.
I was afraid to leave the house. What if I had an attack while I was in the car? What if I had one while the kids were home? I stopped exercising, because every time I elevated my heart rate, I began to panic all over again. Every time my heart beat faster I would wonder, Will this be the time that it really is a heart problem, and not just my mind playing tricks on me?
Anxiety attacks are not just in your head, though. They are a very real manifestation of stressors acting upon your brain chemistry. For me, they accompany depression: the more depressed I am, the more I worry about problems, the more likely I am to have anxiety attacks. This spring, I had become more depressed than I ever have been in my life, hence the daily attacks. I knew I was depressed. I just didn’t realize that I was also suffering from a panic disorder.
I’m now taking an anti-depressant, a medication that also has anti-anxiety properties. My doctor provided me with anti-anxiety meds as well, to take at the onset of an attack, but I haven’t used them since the first week or two of taking the anti-depressants. In four weeks time, I was back to my old self. Better than my old self, really, because until I got out of the quagmire of depression, I didn’t realize how bad off I actually was.
Getting medical treatment was the best thing I could have done for my health, and for my family. If you are suffering from anxiety attacks, know that you are not alone. According to WebMD, up to 6 million American adults may suffer from panic disorders. That’s fairly significant.
I never told people about my panic attacks until this year. I’ve made a conscious decision to not be silent on the topic. I no longer care if people perceive me as ‘weak’, because it’s more important to me that people who suffer from panic attacks know that they are not crazy, they are not a lesser person who can’t “handle” life, and most importantly, they are not alone.
Editor’s Note: If you are suffering from anxiety, depression, panic disorders or other issues with which you need assistance, please know you are not alone. You can contact the National Hopeline Network at 800-784-2433, or visit The Panic Room for more information and contact numbers outside of the United States.