TRIGGER ALERT~~~ Panic attacks, anxiety. This is a personal account of my struggles.
There’s air. There’s air all around us. It should be so simple. As humans, we breathe. It’s instinct. If there is nothing physically preventing us from breathing, it just happens naturally, right? You breathe in, and you breathe out. In… and…out…
I’ve caught myself holding my breath many times unintentionally. I’m not sure exactly why it happens, but it does. The first time I forgot how to breathe was when I was 14. My first panic attack. Yippee (note the sarcasm there).
I was in the car. I had my headphones on plugged into my disc man listening to Nirvana most likely totally zoning out. We were at the top of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge that I had gone over hundreds and hundreds of times as a kid. I looked out at the sailboats way down below. We were at the very top of the bridge going westbound. Suddenly, I started to sweat. I looked at the cars around us and could feel how fast we were going. Nothing made sense in that moment. How could we possibly be traveling so fast, and up so incredibly high, and still be in our seats at the same time? Are our bodies meant to be up so high? What about the speed? I had zero control of how fast my body was traveling on this towering bridge. So…I held my breath. There was air. There was no reason for me not to breathe physically. But, all of the alarms went off at the same time in my brain. It was debilitating.
I was embarrassed. I felt stupid. I was young and had no idea why I had that type of reaction. I didn’t know what the hell a panic attack was. From that day forward I felt distant from everyone else. None of my peers were like this. Why did this have to happen to me? What’s wrong with my brain? Those were the constant thoughts I would battle with daily.
The bridge incident was a catalyst for the panic and anxiety I would grow to experience and misunderstand for the rest of my life. It sparked a whole “crap-ton” of issues. (no other way to put it). I began to panic over everything. After the bridge, I started having attacks riding in cars. It was mainly on highways at high speeds. I had panic attacks in elevators, going through tunnels, walking outside, watching tv….It destroyed any sort of self esteem that I had. I felt so incredibly different from everyone else, that I didn’t really bother to try and make many friends. Luckily, I had an incredible group of friends that I grew up with that have always been around, but beyond that-I didn’t try.
I was so good at hiding things too. Looking back, I wish that I hadn’t, but I didn’t want to be weird or different. I assumed what was going on with me was a phase I needed to grow out of. I didn’t know anyone being treated for anxiety or depression etc. It wasn’t something people spoke much about.
I remember one time in math class. Ninth grade I think it was, the girl next to me, she was really nice. I talked to her a little bit here and there. One day she said something that totally freaked me out. Now, I was only 14, I didn’t understand anything about mental illness. All I remember was thinking that she might be different too, but not in the same way as me.
We were having a conversation about something-her boyfriend I think. Then things shifted. She said, “Can I tell you something? I know it might sound weird but…”
I’m “Sure.” I said thinking, how bad can it be?
“Sometimes-” She looked down at her desk and continued, “Sometimes I hear voices.”
“Oh. Ok. hmm.” I didn’t know what to say. She kind of laughed and said, “I know. It sounds weird. But the voices tell me things.”
I really don’t remember much else. All I can remember is….being afraid. I started worrying about myself. I knew I was different. I knew something was off. I didn’t want “voices” to start telling me things.
Later on, after educating myself, I realized or at least suspected that my math friend was most likely suffering from a different mental disorder than myself. In the moment though, as a young teen, the brain can be a very scary place. Hell, as an adult it’s a scary place.
Anyway, back to the point. I’m 30, almost 31. I wrote this for the reader who feels “off” or “different”. I waited so very long to go to a doctor. I didn’t go until I was 28. The funny thing about it, was that I went in thinking my body was falling apart. I thought I must have a thyroid disorder or something else. They did a battery of tests on me. Nothing was physically wrong. It wasn’t until everything else was ruled out, until we began to shine light on the source of the problem-Anxiety, Panic Disorder, and most recently added to the list ADHD.
I wrote this post for the person struggling and hiding in plain sight. You are NOT alone. There are so many of us. Doctors, teachers, mothers, fathers, retail workers, accountants, scientists, nannies… Lot’s of us hide. If you want to hide, it’s ok. Just remember-don’t let your light burn out in the shadows. Our struggles are capable of shining sooooooo much light in the long run. Knoweledge is power. Don’t forget that.
Stop holding your breath. You don’t have to drown.