“After The Storm” … My Story of Panic

This is my story of panic. It is not a sob story. My panic and anxiety began when I was 33, John was just 8 months old. I lived on an acre of land in a big house. I lived on a mental island. I felt that nobody knew I existed.  I was alone.  I wasn’t sure if I was cut-out to be a mom. I was use to traveling all over the world, coming and going when I pleased and doing what I wanted, when I wanted. And then it came … a panic attack, then another, and another. For the next 12 months it was just doctors, psychologist, psychiatrists, anti-depressants & sedatives. I knew nothing about what was happening to me. The Emerg seemed like a second home. I lost count of the times I was taken there thinking I was having a heart attack, dying. My world was turned upside down.

For the next 5-6 years, panic & anxiety lived in my body, my mind, my soul. It felt like death. Death was coming for me. It was only a matter of time. Fear owned me, consumed me, devoured me. Its fingers gripped me physically, psychologically & emotionally. It was ‘impending doom’. Not a doctor on the planet could convince me otherwise. I didn’t want to go anywhere, do anything, see anyone. I just wanted to disappear, to vanish into thin air. That was the depression side of it.

All while living in this secret hell, I still had to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother and work a full-time job!!! And I did it ….  Everyday! But I was lost. I was lost for many years, just an empty shell taking up space, consuming oxygen, lacking substance. Not many people in my life understood it. I was told by some to “just forget about it…don’t think about it … stop dwelling on it”, like I had the power to will it all away. Some of my family and friends didn’t know what to say, so they said nothing. There was one person who stood out to me though, my dad. He didn’t know it at the time but he became my saint, my savior! It was his touch, his words, that lifted me up . Yet I knew he was dying inside watching me struggle. My dad was the person who held my head up when I could not, who said “everything is going to be ok”, even though he may not of believed it himself. He was wise enough to know it was what I so needed to hear.

After many years passed I realized I wasn’t dying. I wasn’t going to have a heart attack and keel over. I learned that anxiety can be managed with acceptance, knowledge & support. And yes …medication!  I learned to let go of pain and fear, to stop blaming myself, others … for my life’s issues.  I learned to take responsibility for my health, my choices, my actions, and how I treated people, how I wanted to be treated. I chose to take responsibility of my life.   I started walking, a lot. Forrest Gump like walking. I craved fresh air. Music. Going out. Getting dolled up. Socializing. Traveling. I started to live again.

I also decided to stop hiding it. Just got tired of people looking at me and saying or thinking “she’s so smart” … “she’s so beautiful” … “she’s got it all”.  Nothing could have been further from the truth. I didn’t feel like I had it all. You see … material things mean nothing to me.  I could care less about brand name this and brand name that, $150 hair do’s, fake nails, fancy clothes & purses, diets and gyms. I just wanted inner strength, peace and calm because without it the material things were useless. I just wanted normalcy.

I will say this – Many people who have a mental disorder don’t know they have one or if they do choose to do nothing about it. They live in fear of what others think. One must overcome this ideology (obstacle) to earn the key that opens the door to recovery … ‘Knowledge’, ‘Acceptance’  and ‘Choice’. Knowing what you have … Accepting it … and Choosing to do something about it! All necessary tools that will ultimately lead to healthier living. Not to say that family, friends, co-workers, neighbours, support groups, doctors and professionals don’t play a major role because they are essential. And I should not forget the dreaded “M” word …. Medication. You see, medication saved me, once I accepted I needed it, and that did not happen overnight. Ironically, taking medication came with a huge paradox for me. When I took it, I felt better. When I felt better, I thought I didn’t need it anymore. Then I would stop taking it.  My doctor was always weary of my resistance. She would say “you’re feeling better because of the medication”.  She was right.

I was my own roadblock for many years. I can remember thinking I was a lesser person for being ‘on meds’ (meant for others, not me). During a 6 year period I came off medication 4 or 5 times, I was ready to make it on my own. But some unforeseen event would happen in my life, death of a friend(s), a failed marriage … would always see me back on medication again. I thought I was a failure.  I was wrong.

Looking back now, medication gave me time. Time to learn, to accept, to grow … time to heal.  I just wasn’t strong enough to push through everything on my own.  I am strong now.

Panic and Anxiety is a mental disorder. I HAVE A MENTAL DISORDER. There are no exemptions for the educated, the professional, the successful, the rich, the famous. There are no exemptions for the uneducated, the unemployed, the destitute, the lonely.  ‘We’ are everywhere. ‘We’ walk among you every day.

Have you ever said …. “well… I almost had a panic attack!”…? Of course you have. Everyone has experienced short term anxiety and panic at some point in their life.  A good fright sends any normal person into ‘fight or flight’ mode, it’s the body’s natural defense mechanism in response to fear, it protects us from danger and we need it in order to survive as humans.  But, debilitating long term panic and anxiety is deeper, it embeds in you, paralyzes you, it can last for days, weeks, years. It disconnects you from reality. It doesn’t turn off because it’s bedtime, or it’s Christmas and everyone around you is happy, happy, happy. I recall many a night sleeping, but getting no rest. Sleeping, shaking, trembling … like holding onto a jack-hammer all night. I remember waking up in the morning completely exhausted after 8 hours of sleep. I remember getting a shower, putting on my pretty face and going to work every day …as if I were normal. I remember not caving in.

So …. do I still experience Anxiety and Panic? Yes. It lurks behind me like a shadow. But I choose not to look at it anymore. If it comes … panic, anxiety, depression, I let it have its little moment then I take over, do a mental ‘talk down’ until I level off back to good. I have come to terms with it, met it half way. It no longer owns me, I own it.

I’m happier now, more than I’ve ever been. Can I still make improvements in my life? Absolutely! Do I have all the answers? No. But that’s ok. I’m not meant to know everything. Am I normal? No. But that’s ok too. I don’t think ‘normal’ is who I am supposed to be.

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