Decemeber 9th, 2014 – 10 PM
My son is exactly two months old. He sleeps in his swing while I surf facebook and binge on Netflix. My husband has been out in the field for almost a week. It’s just Richard and I, enjoying a quiet night as usual. As I mindlessly scroll down my news feed a terrifying sensation washes over me. A giant fist suddenly has an iron grip on my abdomen. I twist and turn, looking for an escape. My laptop finds itself on the floor as I flee towards the bathroom, hoping for relief. But it doesn’t come. Instead my fingers and toes begin to tingle. A weight is dropped on my chest. My legs feel like liquid as my hands shake and my heart races. I can’t think. I can’t think. I can’t think. I’m dying.
I rush to the neighbors. Bare feet, tank top, sweats, and hair that hasn’t been washed in days. Doesn’t matter. Something’s wrong. Something’s very wrong. I ring their doorbell incessantly, desperate for help. By the time they answer, the tremors have spread from my hands to my arms and legs. I stutter a plea for help between gasps. My mouth has gone dry. I can’t stop dry heaving. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I’m dying.
I sit down on the pavement as they run around gathering my son, gathering the car, gathering me. I whisper a prayer, “God it’s okay. It’s okay. If it’s time, it’s okay,” and it’s almost as though I’m free of myself for a moment. The world stops feeling real. I stop feeling real. None of this is really happening. I’m in a sick dreamlike state. And I’m dying. And it’s okay. It’s okay.
I come back to Earth in the ER. A million questions and I can’t focus on a single one. The giant fist is back and it squeezes without restraint every few minutes. I thrash back and forth, curling in and out. No, I’m not in pain. They don’t understand. I’m trying to get away. I have to get away, but I can’t. Because, oh God I can’t breathe. IV, blood draws, EKG and then a magic pill:
Five minutes later I felt nothing but a bone deep fatigue. Diagnosis: panic attack.
My reaction? No. Freaking. Way.
I refused to believe it.
The panic came back during my second day in the hospital, and I was actually hopeful when the doctor said it might be a pulmonary embolism. I secretly wanted them to find an abnormality during my 24 holter monitor. I begged for my body to fail the stress test, or the lung function test – please show something’s off on the ultrasound! I was disappointed to discover that I was perfectly healthy. No, worse than that. I felt embarrassed and ashamed.
My husband was rushed out of the field when I was admitted, his whole troop under the impression that something serious had happened. I felt humiliated knowing that he had to tell them the truth. I felt small.
In some way, I had failed.
That first trip to the ER marked the beginning of my battle with postpartum anxiety and panic disorder.
It’s been exactly two months today, and up until this point, I could count on my fingers the number of people I’ve shared my battle with. Even fewer know that I’ve been rushed to the hospital twice or that my anxieties reached such a height that I was afraid to drive, afraid to eat, even afraid to sleep. Why? Because some part of me still feels ashamed.
I feel like I’ve wasted so much energy. Even on my best days, I still have a tendency to obsess over the tightness in my neck or the buzzing under my skin. And on my bad, it takes every ounce of willpower to stay out of the emergency room and not fall victim to catastrophic thinking.
I’m used to putting up a front, even at my worst. I didn’t want the stigma associated with mental illnesses, so like millions of others, I’ve kept silent – emptying my struggles on only a select, trusted few. But I don’t want to be quiet about it anymore. Being ashamed of my disorder only reinforces the stigma. I don’t want pity, and this is not an act of bravery. It’s a simple statement of fact and acceptance. My name is Amber and I have panic disorder.
I’m on a fantastic road to recovery, and there’s been beauty hidden in the battle – a body of support who has loved me through my worst, an incredible husband who coaches me when the attacks take over, and the realization that I am stronger than this.
The first time I managed to stop a severe panic attack in its tracks, I felt powerful. I gushed to my husband for hours. I messaged those close to me to let them know my success. I was brimming with joy!
It’s just proven that panic may be part of me, but it is not me and it will not get the final say.
My love goes out to anyone who suffers through their anxiety in silence. You are not alone. You are not crazy. It is not all in your head. And you can beat this.