Sometime in early November of 2019 was when it began. It was my week off from school and I was home sweet home with my wonderful mom. I remember where I was sitting, what I was watching and the nauseating panic that began to flood through my veins. It started slow, creeping towards my chest, squeezing as it crept, forcing my heart to pound in resistance. I turned off How I Met Your Mother, got up to pour out my cup of coffee, thinking I must have had one cup too many. I went to the shower, attempting to let the water wash away the emotions. It only made it worst, as if soaking me and forcing everything to seep in deeper. I rushed to get dressed and walked outside. I was shaking, my hands weak as I zipped my coat closed. I called my mom at work. She told me to just breathe and go for a walk. She was busy and there was no logical thing for me to tell her. I felt as though I was in deep trouble, terrified of what was happening to me internally, but when she asked what was wrong, the logical part of me thought, “Nothing.” Nothing had happened. Nothing was wrong.
I had experienced a panic attack a total of maybe three times before that day. I have now lost track of how many I’ve had since. The days that followed I spent confused, unable to escape my thoughts. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. The nights I spent vibrating, my entire body shaking with tremors as if I was trying to fall asleep naked in a snow drift. Shivers that began in my legs and worked inwards until gripping my entire body. When this happens, I imagine I must look like a human Shake Weight. A heavy tar had surrounded my heart and I could feel every beat at all times. The dread in my chest never left. I was fucking scared.
I remember driving into the city to spend a day with friends; this day had been planned for weeks. It was great. I still felt the feeling in my chest, but these wonderful people offered a much-needed distraction from myself. On the drive home I was alone again. I did not do well alone. I didn’t have anyone to save me, to talk to, to lean on. As I thought these words in circles, my legs began to twitch. I remember thinking I just had to make it home. All I had to do was focus through the drive, fight back with every twitch and make it home. I parked after the 30-minute drive and ran to the door, threw my keys down and went to my room. The second I sat on the bed I let it happen and my body shook harder than I ever knew possible. It was like having the flu, with that cold-sweaty feeling covering my entire body. My body was exhausted from having pushed through and I was paying the price. I felt completely out of control. Mom was sleeping in the other room and had work early in the morning. I didn’t want to wake her, so I forced myself to lay down and beg for sleep.
The next morning I went to the clinic and saw a doctor. I asked them to run every test- low iron, thyroid hormones, low blood sugars and got hooked up to an ECG, convinced there must be something wrong. No abnormal findings. I spoke to the doctor about my symptoms after this, breaking down into tears as my legs bounced uncontrollably in the vinyl covered chair. The conversation lasted all of 10 minutes and I walked out with two prescriptions: one for an anti-depressant and Ativan. I felt absolutely defeated.
The week off ended and I went back to college, terrified and weak.
It’s been a rough go since that week. Ups, where I begin to get hopeful and unexpected lows that are infuriatingly more memorable. The feeling in my chest lingers, tainting every moment. It’s like my life has turned to a terrible sepia color when I was used to neon light. Being scared of myself and what my body is capable of is a new type of hating myself. I’ve been down the road time and time again of “Holy shit, I am the grossest human alive. There has never been anyone uglier than me.” We’ve all been there. But hating how my body treats me, rather than hating how I treat it, is new territory. It has the power to betray me in any moment. It can take any day and make it about regaining control.
Not every day is terrible. There are some days or moments when I feel okay and like maybe I’ve got it figured out. But there always seems to be a panic attack waiting around the corner from that. I didn’t write this with the intention of pity or being “part of a movement.” I wrote it because it’s what is going on in my life and it feels FUCKING HUGE. It’s all I can focus on and it’s happening during a time when I have much more important things (like school) to give my attention to. I was hoping that maybe by writing about it and sharing my experience, I’ll begin to work through it. I’ve been spending every day since November distracting myself from my own mind. I’ve been obsessed with the idea of “getting back to my old self.” I am starting to recognize that I may never be that girl again. And that’s okay. I need to move forward rather than making myself sick trying to go back in time. There is so much to be said about anxiety and depression; I just hope I was able to talk about it and not sound like a major douchebag.
I’m not sure how I am supposed to accept how my body treats me when I spend every day terrified of it, but I am happy that I have recognized that it’s what I need to do. It’s easy to say all this when I feel in control, but it’s the devastating lows that makes my certainty waiver. Throughout this entire “journey”, the thing I have found the most deeply comforting is knowing I am not alone. I am not the first or only person to feel this way and when someone understands and relates to the way I feel, I inhale a rich sigh of relief. Here is to conquering my greatest fear: me.