Several days ago I had a panic attack. I’ve only had a few of these over the past 5 years or so, and it’s been a long while since one has hit me. I haven’t had a single one since starting therapy a year ago, and then this one came out of nowhere – and it hit hard. I was working at home and had been dealing with a bit of stress over how things are going with a new cat we adopted a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t anything that seemed particularly overwhelming. Then, as I was going about my work day, I jumped on a quick and typical call with a colleague only to find myself barely able to speak part way through. I was desperately trying to get her to stop talking and let me go, but she thought I was just having a coughing spell at the tail end of having had a cold, and so she kept going. My heart rate was out of control, I felt like I was choking and it was nearly impossible to catch my breathe. I broke out in a sweat and as my heart performed somersaults in my chest, I thought I might pass out. I could hardly form any words when my colleague finally brought the call to an end. It was mortifying. I had been pacing around and moving from sitting to standing, then to sitting again all in an effort to find a way to make it stop. I made my way into another room and grabbed the blood pressure monitor that we keep on hand and within about a minute I discovered my diastolic was over 100 with a ‘resting’ heart rate of 157. The thought to call 911 ran through my head, but I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do. In the midst of wondering if this might be a heart attack, I started to recognize that this had to be a panic attack, instead. While I’d never had one quite so severe before, the symptoms were familiar. I next considered calling my therapist, but instead I sat myself down and started working through the diaphragmatic breathing that she had taught me. It took a few minutes, but eventually my heart rate dropped and things started to settle back down.
After a few minutes more, I broke out into tears. I mean, I sobbed hard. I couldn’t form any thought as to exactly why or what I was feeling, it just came. I let it come and tried to just stay open to the emotion pouring through me until it eventually just went quiet. I sat for a while, considering everything that had happened over the past half hour or so. It scared me. There were moments that it felt like I was going to pass out, moments there that it even felt like I might die. I was a little concerned something might happen again, and I was alone in the house, so I did something that made me feel more vulnerable than I have in a very long time. I reached out to my husband to tell him what happened and to ask him to check in on me if a couple of hours should pass without me making any contact. I hated telling him. It’s not that I don’t trust him and can’t confide in him, but it made me feel dramatic and weak and I considered that he might start to wish that he had a ‘normal’ wife. I didn’t want him to see me that way, it was almost shameful.
The reality is that my husband was nothing but supportive and he would never view me the way my brain told me he would. What I realized is that this is an old thought pattern, this is how my ex-husband would have treated me. He would never had understood and would likely have severely ridiculed me for being such an imposition to him. In fact, just two days prior to the panic attack, I dug into some pretty deep stuff in therapy about my relationship with my ex. She’s been giving me caution for a long time that as traumatic events start to come up, my body could react in a number of ways. As she reminds me, the body keeps the score. The trauma is still held inside and maybe this attack is how some of that was finally releasing. I know that release is the only way to fully heal, but I really hope it doesn’t happen in the form of such a vicious attack again.
The gratitude that I have for the awareness and the skills that I’ve gained over this past year is beyond anything I could express. My hope is that if I should ever find in the grips of another such situation, maybe remembering how I was able to pull myself out of it this time might help make it just a little less terrible.