I was 17 years old and I thought I was dying. I had no idea what a panic attack was or that what I was experiencing was related to my mind more than my body.
That day I had said goodbye to my high school boyfriend of a year and a half. He left that day for college and I still had my senior year left in high school. He was only going 45 minutes away but I felt like my rock was leaving me and things would never be the same. I had a tumultuous couple of years before this day. I had gone to boarding school, hated it and moved back home after a few months, moved to Tokyo because of my dads job, moved back and lived with a friend and it turned into a bad situation, moved in with a family friend and had a good situation, my parents moved back and then my boyfriend left.
I was home alone. My parents were away and so I naturally did what most teenagers do and I had friends over and drank. We ended up going to a friends house and I only had a couple of beers. At some point out of nowhere I started to feel dizzy and nauseous. This was almost 20 years ago so I don’t remember much of the details. I remember laying alone in a room thinking that I was going to die while listening to all my friends having fun in the other room. I know that I was too embarrassed to tell anyone that I was scared I was going crazy. My mind was racing with thoughts of death, serious illness and losing my mind. I eventually got up and walked around and went outside. I then had my first taste of the fight or flight response. I felt a sudden urge to flee the party and get home (my safe place).
I told some friends I was really sick. They assumed I drank too much. A friend drove me home and I threw up, eventually calmed down and then fell asleep. I woke up the next morning and thought evertyhing that happened was a result of drinking, not eating enough that day and being upset about my boyfriend leaving for college.
Then a couple weeks later my parents were out of town again and I had some friends over. I had a beer and was talking to a friend when all the suddent the wave of panic came over me. I made up some excuse and went upstars to my room to calm down. Luckily I didn’t have another panic attack that night but I felt very anxious and uncomfortable for the rest of the evening. It was then that I realized something was going on here and that it was a mental health issue.
I honestly can’t remember in my pre-google days how I realized what I had was an anxiety disorder and that I had a panic attack. I can recall looking at some books in a book store and then as my anxiety continued to increase my mom made an appointment for me to see a psychologist. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, more specifically generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
And this was the beginning of my journey with anxiety.
I wish I could tell you the journey ends here or somewhere down the line but it didn’t. 17 years later and I still struggle with it. I am still having occasional panic attacks and anxiety is still a part of who I am and what I do. It factors into the decisions I make, it has woven its way into all my relationships, it has consumed me at times and left me broken on the floor. It has also brought me great strength and it has brought me pleasure from the small things I am able to do that others would find mundane.