My friend Stacy of JurgenNation.com just reposted an entry about her experience with panic attacks. Although I cannot hold a candle to what she experiences, I had a story to relate in a comment that became too long for a comment, so I just decided to write about it.
I didn’t even know at the time that what I was experiencing had a name; I had had quite a few moments in high school where I would suddenly get extremely hyped, very nervous, shaky, and unable to control my senses, but it would go away eventually and I’d shake it off.
That was, until senior year, last period of the day, band rehearsal, and I suddenly felt very nauseous, very ill, and excused myself to the bathroom. It went downhill from there. Every sensation I would feel would seem to double back on me and cause yet another, stronger one to take its place. My panics are always health-related — I’m sure I’m going to die. Heart attack, usually. I thought it a pretty crappy place to die, surrounded by 1960s era tiled walls and the all-familiar smell of school bathrooms, that beautiful funk of industrial cleanser and teenagers who can’t aim for beans.
A dear close friend, bless him, came and found me in the men’s room and drove me home and stayed with me as I got worse and worse. Eventually my parents arrived home and called 911. I felt so silly but I couldn’t get up off the floor by then, heart pounding, sweating buckets, mind spinning, speech slurring. I remember the technicians tending to me and lifting my big hulk off the floor and out the door and into the idling ambulance.
A 95mph ride 30 miles north to the hospital amid rocking IV bags and tubes and my heart still trying to escape and run amok in the fields surrounding us. I remember suddenly having to pee so badly I ended up convincing a dubious responder that getting a bottle to do it on the ride, right now, was imperative. At the time it seemed so incredibly ironic — here I was, dying (or so I thought), and suddenly my body insisted on taking a leak. Someone was laughing at me, I swear.
The bustle of an E.R. EKG. Little strips of paper with my heartbeats captured for posterity. Docs poking and frowning and shaking their heads over bushed eyebrows and clipboard wielded like swords. Flabbergasted sighs. “There’s nothing wrong with him!” as if I was a fruitloop. By then I was calmer, the monster was leaving. I kept telling my mother, “I know it was real, it happened! I swear. It was awful.” She believed me, bewildered though she was.
I was worn down. Tired. All I wanted to do was sleep, to forget for awhile that I had endured it. “Panic attack,” came the final thought from the doctor shortly before I was released back to normal society. He said it with the demeanor of someone holding a dirty gym sock, as if it was all in my head. Well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, jackass, but would you like to trade?
Research on my own later — hrm, maybe this isn’t so uncommon. Signs that pointed to what I had been doing wrong — too much caffeine, too little sleep, too much stress, heavy class load (9 classes, 7:30 am till 3:30pm with hours of practice afterwards). I had simply pushed myself beyond and the whole of me gave up and said, “Fine! Screw you.”
I still get them. They’re not as frequent nor as awful because now I know and I can usually talk myself out or at least keep busy with something, anything, until the sensation passes. I am my own best therapist when nothing else will listen. I always fear that they’ll escalate again into something terrible, but so far, the beast has stayed at bay. I have a feeling that he’ll always be there, waiting for the opportunity to snatch again, but for now, he is tamed. And I am calm.