My first panic attack occurred just as I was getting ready to present a class lecture as a graduate student in college; and I was late and unprepared. It was a minor bout and it didn’t keep me from pulling myself together and giving the talk, but it was an early sign of things to come for me.
Later, in my mid-twenties, a physical injury, combined with other stress in my life, led to a full-blown panic attack, which led to me getting a ride to the hospital in an ambulance.
The attack came on after I had experienced a chest-wall injury that caused me to have chest pain and numbness in my left arm. One night while watching TV I suddenly felt a rush of adrenaline surge through my body, and all of a sudden I felt light-headed and I started shaking uncontrollably; I was terrified. My heart was also racing and all I could think was that I was having a heart attack at 25, which made no sense at all.
Of course, they could find no sign of any heart trouble in the ER and they prescribed me a few Xanax for the anxiety. That episode marked the beginning of three years of panic attacks, persistent anxiety and eventually depression.
While I struggled to stay functional I had friends and family who were supportive, even if they didn’t understand what I was going through. I sought out psychiatric help and was on medications for a while that helped to stabilize my short-circuiting brain and body. I also read up on what I was experiencing which helped me to manage my symptoms somewhat. Another interesting thing I learned from talking with family members was that there were anxiety disorders in both my mother’s and father’s families.
Over time I was able to get off the medications and focus on trying to control my response to these strange sensations. For this I worked with a psychologist and learned techniques that helped me cope with the feelings and sensations. Though I had some difficult days, especially in the middle of winter during my depression one year, I slowly started to regain a sense of control and well-being in my life.
After three years I was pretty much symptom free, which did a lot for my attitude and outlook; it was like I was getting my life back.
It’s been over 15 years since that period of my life, and while I know I will always need to take care of myself or even deal with the occasional anxious or panicky moment, I feel as though I have made significant progress and continue to live a good and full life. I accept the concept of recovery and know that I will need to live with the possibility of recurrence, but I believe that the experiences I have already lived through provide me with the knowledge and resilience to deal with any future challenges.
The key to my recovery, I believe, lies in the fact that I wasn’t afraid to learn about my illness and reach out for help when I needed it many years ago; and I would encourage people who are going through a similar time in their lives to do the same; the sooner the better! There is treatment and there is hope; I’m living proof.