I've had issues with anxiety since my early teens. But it wasn't until my early 20s that I actually started suffering from the occasional minor panic attack. Now, if you've ever had a panic attack, you know how scary and tiring they can be. For those of you who don't know, there are many different symptoms that a person can experience during a panic attack: sweating, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, dizziness, inability to understand those around you, feeling cold, feeling hot, shakiness, inability to speak, thirst, numbness, and so many others. Each panic attack experience is different for each person.
When I say my panic attacks were "minor," I mean that I'd be able to excuse myself from whatever the situation was to relieve my nerves. Sure, I'd be shaking, nervous, hot and probably having breathing issues, but I wasn't so far gone that I couldn't take care of myself. So that's what a "minor" panic attack means to me, at least. And since I was always able to take care of myself in those moments, I figured there was nothing to worry about. In my mind, I only sorta had an issue with anxiety but, it was no big deal.
When I met my boyfriend, we connected instantly. We told each other everything there was to tell — the good and the bad. We asked each other questions about life, regrets, love, and everything in between.
"What scares you?" he asked me once. And I told him that I didn't really know what scares me until I'm already scared. Then, I told him how I have minor anxiety here and there. I made sure to stress that it was no big deal and I'm usually able to handle myself.
"Well," he said, "if you need me, you know I'll be there."
About a month after we started dating, he agreed to film a concert that our friend's band was doing. We loaded the camera equipment into the car and hit the road. When we got to the bar, we were taken to the area where the concert was being set up. We found a table the band was set up near and we put our stuff there. A moment later, the opening band went on.
People drank and listened to the music but there wasn't much dancing. So, being the goofball leader type that he is, my boyfriend handed me his wallet and jacket, went to the front of the crowd and began dancing like a wild beast. It was funny and awesome, but as I stood there watching him, more and more people began to come in and watch.
The room seemed to be getting smaller and he seemed to be getting further and further away from me. As more people gathered in, the room got hotter. I put my hair up to cool my neck, but that didn't do any good. Unsuccessfully, I tried to make my way to the back of the crowd near an open area but barely anyone noticed me trying to get through.
Finally, he made his way through the crowd to me and suggested we go to the bar for some water. We then headed outside so that he could cool off. As we were sitting under the neon marquee, I said nothing about the way I was feeling. I guess I just wanted him to focus on catching his breath. Maybe that was my way of focusing on catching mine, too. We made some small talk — he did anyway. Finally he looked at me and said, "Are you okay?".
I nodded quietly. He just looked at me waiting for the real answer.
"Um," I struggled to speak, "I'm just — I'm having a little panic attack."
"Oh no," he said as he put one arm around me. "What can I do? What do you need?" Two little questions. Probably super-easy to answer. But at the time, it was like trying to understand the meaning of life or figure out infinity.
All I could do was say that I just needed to breathe. And that should be simple enough, right? I was breathing rapidly, trying to slow it down somehow while letting the wind blow onto my face. And then, bam! I went from rapid breathing to suddenly feeling like I couldn't breathe at all. I thought, If I don't catch my breath soon, I may pass out. So, instead of sitting on the post holder for the marquee, I sat on the gravelly ground.
"Wait, no," he said as he grabbed my arm. "C'mon, we'll go to the car."
"I'm sitting here. I don't want to fall," I explained. I said it as clearly and as calmly as I could. But, I couldn't explain how worried I was that was going to pass out. And if that was going to be the case, I wanted to be as close to the ground as possible.
"I'm going to help you to the car," he said. "You're not sitting on the ground."
We walked to the car with him firmly holding his arm around my waist while I kept both hands on his shoulder. I'd never been this short-winded before. And I was starting to feel dizzy. I started thinking, There's no way this is only a panic attack. Something's seriously wrong.
Once we got to the car, he blasted the AC and started tucking my hair behind my ears.
"What do you need?" he asked softly.
"I don’t know." That was my honest answer and I think he knew that.
He offered to pack up his equipment and take me back to his house, but I refused. He'd promised our friend that he'd film his band playing in the concert, and I didn't want him to back out on that. I said that I'd just sit in the car, put on some soothing music to try to calm me down, read an e-book or something, and then we could go home when the concert was over.
Hesitantly, he agreed. When he went back into the bar, I did just as I said: I put on some calming music and I sat there trying to relax. I also started crying. I was embarrassed, tired, frustrated and, most of all, scared. I didn't understand what was happening. I'd never freaked out this badly, and I'd never felt this out of control of my own body. I was sure that something was about to happen to me.
I sat back in the seat and began taking deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth as I waited for whatever was going to happen. Eventually, my breathing went back to its normal pace and the shaking ceased. I still felt like I was a walking sauna but, the AC helped. What I didn't bet on was this episode making me feel so exhausted that I fell asleep in the car only moments after putting the music on. Next thing I knew, my boyfriend was back in the car with me, gently combing my hair with his finger.
After I'd made such a stink about how little my anxiety affects me, I couldn't believe that I had such an episode in front of him and that he was being so kind and understanding about it.
He drove us back home, bought me breakfast for dinner and treated me with love and support until I was feeling like myself enough to fall asleep for the night.
Whether you've had a panic attack before or not, you're never ready for one, especially if it's the first big one you've ever had. I honestly thought something was going to happen — a heart attack, a stroke, a seizure, something. I'd never gone through something like that, or to that extent, before in my life. I had an unwavering feeling that my life was going to change for the worse because of what was happening.
After I explained all of this to my doctor, he confirmed that it was serious anxiety that I was dealing with.
In the moment, you may feel like you're never going to feel like yourself again. But panic attacks are only momentary. They do pass. But that doesn't mean that you should let your anxiety get the better of you. Now that I've dealt with this attack, I know what works to calm me down; just like panic attacks are different for every person, so is whatever works in calming them down. For instance, I like to listen to relaxing instrumental jazz while I use a meditation app on my phone. It's all a matter of finding what works for you.
If you ever have a panic attack, speak up. There's nothing wrong with asking for help. Taking care of yourself is the smartest thing you can do, and the bravest thing you can do. Remove yourself from any situation you think will cause you worry, and don't feel the need to apologize for it. Most importantly, know that you're going to be OK. You're a badass. Even badasses are allowed to feel anxious now and then.