My first panic attack was May 18, 2002. I was at a diner having lunch with my friend when an airplane flew overhead. I have to specify that I was at the “Airport Diner,” so a plane flying by should have in no way alarmed me, but it didn’t just alarm me, it terrified me. The sound of the plane caused every hair on my body to stand on edge. My insides began to shake and the only clear thought I had was “Oh my God something terrible is going to happen and I need to get the hell out of here.” This very thought would soon take over my brain and consume my mind for the next ten years. It was all I ever thought about and felt. I had this feeling of impending doom everywhere I went and I always had the urge to run and hide.
At the end of 2012 was when I first started really opening up to my family about my anxiety. My family and some of my friends had known that I had struggled, but to what degree, they had no idea. I remember talking with one of my sister’s and being in awe of her shocked reaction when I shared my fear of going into a mall with her. I told her how I hadn’t been able to go into a mall since 2002 without having a panic attack. Her reaction made me think, “Wow I was really good at hiding my anxiety.” Her reaction was not unique to the ones I started to get as I opened up to more of my family. Everyone seemed surprised by what I was sharing. How could I have suffered so badly for so long and no one knew? A smile could mask just about anything and I like to smile.
I would like to say that I am a happy person overall. I love to laugh. If I am ever having a bad day I just have to call my sister Christine and my mood will instantly lighten. She has always known how to make me laugh. I love being silly and having fun. I hated the way anxiety made me feel and I simply refused to let it get the best of me and because of that I smiled even harder. Well let me tell you something, putting on a happy face when you feel like you are dying inside is the most exhausting thing ever. I always thought that if I smiled and acted happy then eventually my brain would catch on and I would just “poof” be happy. If you have suffered you know that this is the furthest from the truth.
Now don’t get me wrong I was happy during my ten year struggle and I did have fun moments, but they were never moments of pure joy, they were moments always filled with “what if’s.” What if something bad is going to happen? What if I die? What if someone I love dies again? What if I am really sick? What if I’m losing my mind? I will give a great example. My wedding day was not the best day of my life as it should have been (maybe not the best day, but it would be a runner up to having my children). Okay, it was a great day and one that I will cherish forever, but for me it was a day filled with awful anxiety. If you were inside my head the day I got married you would have heard, “I am so excited. What if I pass out? What if I can’t breathe? I can’t believe I’m getting married. I love John so much. Holy shit I can’t catch my breath. Maybe I’m having a heart attack. I need to get the hell out of here. I hate this. I can’t even enjoy my own wedding. I wish I could relax and have fun like everyone else. What the hell is wrong with me? I’m dizzy. I think I’m going to pass out. I can’t wait to be able to lie down.” And that is just a small example because the thoughts got crazier. That is definitely not the way a bride should be thinking on the happiest day of her life. That day the craziness inside my head was not what everyone saw. Everyone saw a bride with a huge smile on the happiest day of her life.
I think it’s hard for people to hear that the person who they think has it all together, may not actually be all together.
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