My first panic attack
It was around 2008, and to this day I still have no idea what triggered it. It also wasn't my last.
It all started when I was out for a run. Running is one of the things I now consciously use to keep my anxiety under control. So looking back it's irritating that this is where I began my journey.
It was a beautiful evening in Cornwall park here in Auckland, sheep grazing, families playing and others running past me smiling. I noticed about 5 minutes in that I couldn't breathe properly. I thought I was tired and possibly had over cooked myself. I went back to the car, drove home and settled in for the night. The panic escalated when I realised I had lost my appetite and I didn't have any dinner. I tried to shrug it off and lay down to watch TV and relax. My breathing was laboured and suddenly I couldn't concentrate on what I was watching. I paced my room, up and down up and down. There really was something wrong with me, my throat felt like it was closing and I began to panic that I would suddenly stop breathing altogether and die, I considered ringing my family to say goodbye, I'm not joking. I opened my patio door and stepped out into the humid night, it was still and the night sky covered in stars. The thick air did nothing to help me and made it even harder to breathe. It was around 2am when, after forcing myself to breathe for hours, my heart started to explode out of my chest, thud, thud, THUD. Faster and faster until it got so out of control I was convinced that instead of running out of breath, I was going to have a heart attack. Of course, this triggered a psychosomatic symptom - my arm started to ache. At that point I was convinced it was all over. My short life was expiring and the fear was palpable.
I'm staunch, and stubborn, so instead of seeking help from my flatmates, I told myself I deserved whatever this was and I suffered, I struggled for 4 more hours. Then at 6am, my flatmate got up after hearing me crying, sobbing and gasping for breath.
He took me to the local accident and emergency unit and before I knew it I was naked from the waist up and hooked up to heart monitors, which I found out later had recorded my heart rate at 200 bpm. The doctor told me I was having a pretty bad anxiety attack and asked what was going on that would trigger this. I had no idea and I was still in shock over my body and mind betraying me and causing me so much distress. What he did say was - although my heart felt it was going to explode and stop, it was NOT going to kill me. He explained that athletes often reach those levels over 200 bpm and they're still alive right? It made sense and it has stuck with me ever since. There was no real follow up from that incident and I was sent on my merry way. I didn't research what had happened and I brushed it off. I would go on to have many, many more panic attacks just like it. I'll tell you about them too, eventually.
If you experience something like this, you will be ok, you will not die. Your body is reacting to what's going on in your mind and it becomes a very vicious cycle. You will not stop breathing, you will not pass out and you will not have a heart attack. Our bodies have a very sophisticated system from the dawn of time. It helped us fight off, or run away from predators back when we were living in caves. Now though, it could be that exam you need to sit, that meeting at work, that bill you need to pay, that mess in your house or the worst...the future. Our 'fight or flight' kicks in and since we have nowhere to run to burn off the adrenaline, we just keep burning, crackling and exploding.
They fade, your body becomes exhausted, and hungry. Your appetite is there underneath it all and sleep isn't far away. It can be managed and you can recover and be well. If you need help, reach out, to someone, to anyone. Visit my S.O.S page and never ever be afraid to tell someone that you're in the middle of this.