I had never heard of anxiety or panic attacks until months after I'd starting having them. And, truth be told, it is really hard to describe it to someone who has never experienced it for themselves. Before I had a panic attack, if someone had told me about it before I experienced it, I would have laughed and figured only people on drugs or people with serious mental issues had them. Normal people don't have those, and of course, *I'd* never experience anything like that..right?
Panic Attack at the Office
My first panic attack happened while I was working. I worked at a large firm in an office made mostly of cubicles. The company was, and still is, known as being one of the best places to work in the city. The offices/ cubes are clean and well lit, and people actually like going to work there. I liked going to work there.
I had just started working there maybe a few months before, and I was well accepted there. While my work life was going well, my home life was not; my husband and I were having difficulties. I was sitting in my cube, busily typing away with my mind about a thousand miles away from what I was actually doing. And then, I had a thought about divorce and
I felt the kind of fear you'd feel if you stumbled between a Mama bear and her cubs and were afraid for your life. My body wanted to run as fast it could. My body shook uncontrollably as I tried desperately to stay still and not make a fool out of myself in the middle of a busy office space. I was sweating and breathing like I had just run several miles and my heart felt like a hammer pounding up in my throat. And it was immediate...from 0 to full speed in 2 seconds. It took all I had not to run screaming from the building.
"I Must Be Crazy..."
I remember I felt like the two sides of my brain were arguing over which side should take control. The right side or emotional half of my brain was dumping adrenaline in my system and screaming "RUN RUN RUN! YOU'RE IN DANGER! RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!!" The left logical side of my brain was saying "OK eyes and ears, look and listen. Find the danger. Where is the danger. I see no danger, I hear no danger. There is no danger. Why do you feel fear when there is no danger to be found?"
And then, I remember it clearly. The left half of my brain logically put it together the only thing that made sense, "OK. There is no danger, yet you are afraid. YOU MUST BE CRAZY."
And then, I really freaked out.
I thought I was losing my mind. I thought "Oh dear God, I don't know what reality is." I looked around the office like someone who believes the world is out to get them. My mind raced as I tried to figure it out. Did I die? Was I *really* in an office building? What was happening? I couldn't stand it any longer. I ran out of my cube to the stairs to go outside. Thankfully, I held it together enough not to scream while I did it.
Once outside, I went to a grassy area and fell to my hands and knees. The ground felt good to me, and I started to calm down. My breathing and heart slowed down to almost normal, and I felt like I could think again. My head wasn't screaming at me to run away or thinking that the world was against me.
Hiding My Fear
In the months that followed, I experienced this every day and chalked it up to something I just had to deal with. Maybe I was going crazy, but by God, I was going to try to act as normal as I could so others wouldn't know about it.
A few months later when I was visiting my physician about ADHD, I mentioned that I was having difficulty sleeping -- by now I was awakened in the middle of the night by panic attacks. I told him I didn't know what was going on, that I might be losing my mind, and explained about what happened every day. I told him that maybe I was losing it, but I was really trying to keep it under control, and please don't send me to an institution.
He didn't look at me like I had two heads or send the people with white coats to drag me from the building.
He just said,"Oh. That's a panic attack. Sometimes that happens."
Panic Attacks Are Not Harmful
My Doctor changed the medication I was taking to alleviate some of the symptoms, and gave me breathing techniques to deal with a panic attack when it happened. He said most of the time, you just wait them out and breathe deeply, and the worst that could happen from a panic attack is that you faint. He assured me that I wasn't going to die and no, I wasn't having a heart attack.
I have never been so relieved in all my life. I'm wasn't going crazy, I was just having a panic attack. I could actually laugh about it.
Panic Attack Symptoms
To help you determine if you suffer from panic attacks, here are the symptoms:
1. Rapid heart beat, pounding heart or palpitations
3. Shaking visibly or inside
4. Choking sensations or lump in throat
5. Smothering or shortness of breath sensations
6. Chest pain or discomfort
7. Nausea, bloating, indigestion or abdominal discomfort
8. Dizziness or unsteadiness
9. Feeling light-headed
10. Feeling unreal or dreamy
11. Feeling outside yourself or like you don’t exist
12. Fear of losing control or going crazy
13. Numbness or tingling sensations in face, extremities or body
14. Chills or hot flushes
15. Skin losing colour
16. Blushing or skin blotches
17. Urgently needing to urinate or defecate
If you experience these, see your doctor. Usually, a panic attack is not harmful, and there are medications and/ or lifestyle changes that can help.
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