I started having anxiety attacks when I was 16. I remember that first episode vividly - it was a hot afternoon in the summer of 1984 and I was walking into a movie theatre with my mom and best friend. All of a sudden, a complete feeling of unreality came over me. My hands and feet felt as if lead weights had been attached to them. My heart raced, and my throat was suddenly bone-dry. I didn’t know what to do or say, and it felt like I was going crazy - just pure fear.
I didn’t say anything, and it went away after a few minutes. My next episode wouldn’t occur for another six years.
It’s now 1990, and I’m late for a dentist appointment. Weaving my way past the grandma (complete with floral hat and death grip on the steering wheel) driving in front of me, it hits me -BAM- a panic attack. I pull over. My vision is blurry, heart pounding, I’m suddenly sweating and shaking and completely terrified. In that time of no cell phones (shocking but true for you young ones reading this ) I drive back to our apartment and burst through the door, telling my startled husband to call 911, I’m having a heart attack. He jumps up and makes the call, and the ambulance arrives within minutes. In the emergency room after a series of tests, the ER doc informs me that I had a panic attack. I had no idea what that was, but ended up finding out the hard way, that’s for sure.
After that incident, it seemed to open the flood gates of panic. Waves of anxiety hit me many many times each day, and I was afraid to leave the house, even to get groceries. It was terrible, and debilitating. My husband didn’t understand. To him, I looked the same as I always had; couldn’t I get over it already? That was in a time before panic attacks were widely publicized, or even known about very much. I took Xanax when it got really bad, and attended AIM meetings every week (Agorophobics In Motion). Those meetings were a lifesaver to me. I met other peole who were experiencing the same issues, and guess what? They weren’t nuts! If anything, I found that people that experience panic attacks seem to be more intelligent, and as a whole just kind, thoughtful individuals. At least, the ones that I met. Maybe that thoughtfulness comes from going through hell on a regular basis, I don’t know.
I got along by using Xanax occasionally, and cognitive therapy. It helped a little, but panic was a daily thing, sometimes tapering down, then starting up again. I also developed generalized anxiety disorder, and was afraid of planes, the US entering into a war, and heights. Go figure - never dealt with any of that before. Meanwhile, we had two kids, and I prayed that they would never have to deal with that lovely legacy. My sister had been anorexic when she was a teen, and all three of my brothers have panic attacks. Lovely. Add the innumerable cousins, and we’re talking a really fun family legacy!