When I was in college, my junior year, my life changed.
I was president of Hall Council which involved much of my time and energy through the week and a lot of weekends too! I was into what most students said was the hardest year of my degree. I had constant classes, study sessions and meetings which seemed to never end. I had just been dumped by a boyfriend who lived 5 hours away, so I really immersed myself and kept myself busy.
I didn’t take really great care of myself during this time (probably didn’t do a great job of it before either…) and between everything I had going on, I didn’t leave myself time to eat. One day in the middle of the craziness, just when I was about to meet a friend in the cafeteria, a dizziness just came over me while I was sitting at my desk. It was like an electricity/numbness running through my body. It scared the living daylights out of me. It came up again… in waves it seemed. I called for my roommate who went and got the RA. She called the RHD and they decided I should go to urgent care be seen.
My friend took me to the urgent care where the hooked me up on the (EVT?) machine to check my heart rhythm, and while I was in there, the episode happened again, so they transferred me to ER and I told my friend he could leave and I’d call him when I was done. So I was alone. Nurses kept asking me what I had eaten, and took blood. Blood work showed low sodium and I don’t remember what else. They kept asking me if I needed help and why I wasn’t eating and if I had a problem. I kept telling them no, that I was just super busy. I honestly don’t think I had a problem, people always whispered about me as if I did because I was always really skinny, which I think was more of a result of being super super picky and not always having a lot of food at home.
They sent me home with a referral to the cardiologist. The cardiologist said that I was fine, it looked like I was just having a panic attack.
Unfortunately these episodes of panic continued. I would be in class and feel something off and just stand up and leave because I thought I was going to die. I stepped down from hall council. I stopped being able to drive myself places and I stopped going out and doing things I once looked forward to. I eventually called my aunt crying to come home, and that night she sent my uncle up to pick me up and bring me home. I had become so afraid of everything.
I finished the semester somehow. I didn’t do great. But I didn’t go to class much because I was so terrified to leave, and what if i died in class? I even walked out in the middle of an exam once! The next semester I tried to return, but I couldn’t even make it to my first class. And in a very difficult decision, I knew I couldn’t stay. I dropped my classes and moved back home. I did take 2 or 3 online classes, but nothing pertaining to my degree.
The anxiety was so crippling. It wasn’t just a stress or thought or feeling. It crippled me. I couldn’t leave the house. I refused to drive, what if I died while driving and hit someone else and hurt or killed them? The panic when I did try to go somewhere, even to a friend’s house made it not even worth it. I would have to have someone pick me up.
Of course, none of it was real. I wasn’t dying. And I knew it in my head, it was logical. But feeling it? I couldn’t calm my mind. I was agoraphobic. Afraid of everything.
I would cry. I knew I would never get married, who would want to marry someone like this? And how would I even meet anyone? I would never have the life I always dreamed of.
After summer I knew I had to return to school, I had already signed an apartment lease. I had to think to myself: So what if I die? Is it worse than this? Is being here going to magically stop it? So I went. But I wasn’t really much better. I called my grandpa crying one night, and he had no idea what to do. I went to class some, but not much. I still avoided doing the fun things I wanted to do, well, the old me wanted to do.
I had so many tests and doctors visits and ER trips during this time. Always diagnosed with Panic Disorder and put on one anti-anxiety/depressant or another. Panic attacks can do the worst things to our bodies, and it is all so real, even if our head is making us do it. I went to a student therapist at college and she used Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with me, and it really did do wonders. I also got a puppy during that time, and him relying on me to take care of him, and him needing me, made me feel better about myself. I had to get up and go out. I had to take care of him. I don’t know which one helped more, but I am so grateful for both.
That was 10 years ago now.
After that year, I really started to improve.
I went to class, I did well. I got a job. I met a boy. Okay… maybe a few. But I met THE boy. I graduated, got a career, a house, married and by some miracle I am a mom. But I’ve never been the same carefree person I was before. I don’t think I will ever be the same.
10 years…. But I still feel the panic sometimes, not often. I find myself calling my husband and he has to talk me through it. I still think I am going to pass out and die sometimes. This last week I have felt it come up a lot more. I need to start deep breathing while I am driving. Tears in my eyes. And I feel like something is wrong with me and I am going to die. This morning I thought I couldn’t breathe on my way in to work, I thought my chest hurt and I was going to pass out, though I could still breathe… I thought it wasn’t right, I don’t know how to explain it. But the brain and logic can’t stop the panic when it starts. Of course I can breathe, and I am okay, I mean, I’m still here typing this.
But I wouldn’t wish the horror of panic attacks and the never ending anxiety it brings on anyone.
I still miss me from 10 years ago. I wish I could be her again sometimes. But I guess she would have turned into someone different. And she grew up to have a different life. And I’m glad for the people in my life right now. So maybe this is just what had to happen.
But I wish I could shake this. For good.