When I was in high school, I experienced my first panic attack ever. I had just returned home from baby-sitting, and as I was brushing my teeth before bed, a wave of absolute fear washed over me. Paralyzed with fear, I stared at myself in the mirror with toothbrush half-raised and wondered what was happening to me.
Why did I feel like I was dying?
Why was my heart racing?
Why did I think I was going to have a heart attack?
Where did these feelings come from?
After suffering quietly with this for several years (including sleeping during the day and staying awake at night during college—to make sure I wouldn’t die in my sleep), I finally broke down to my mom in a sleep-deprived state and told her what was happening to me.
I went to a doctor who immediately told me I had textbook Panic Disorder and Anxiety.
For several years I tried different medications. It took care of the panic attacks, but the side effects became too much for me, and I decided to tackle this on my own.
After knowing a certain handsome guy in college for awhile (who I would later marry!), I explained to him how I suffered with panic attacks and anxiety.
“Imagine you’re standing on railroad tracks, perfectly happy, when suddenly there is a train bearing down on you, and you’re not able to move—that’s what a panic attack feels like,” I tried explaining to him.
Since he’s a pretty great guy, he didn’t write me off as crazy and take off running.
He stuck around, we got married, and then he was REALLY introduced into my anxiety-ridden world.
I mean, what other guy gets to walk into his house 15 minutes late due to traffic and have his wife in tears because she just KNOWS he was killed in a car accident and has been frantically flipping through the channels trying to find the wreck footage?
My husband has also called me before and said, “Just wanted to say, ‘I love you,’” which would make ANY wife beam with happiness, right? My lucky husband has no idea that his wife hangs up the phone and immediately starts thinking, “What if an armed gunman just walked into his office, and he wanted to call and just tell me he loved me before hanging up?!” while she frantically flips through the channels trying to find the armed gunman footage on the news.
When we had children, it just intensified.
A 3 month-old baby cries for a few minutes when I put him down in his crib for the night. When he suddenly stops crying, I’m the mom who immediately thinks, “What if he has gotten caught between the crib and mattress and is now fighting to breathe?!” I quietly bust down his door to check on him, waking him up, and I return to a less-than-pleased husband. (By the way—video baby monitors have been LIFE-CHANGING this time around!)
Anxiety through the roof. Panic attacks out of control.
I’ve dealt with these panic attacks and anxiety for almost 14 years now, and here are a few things I’ve realized:
1.) Caffeine can intensify the panic attacks. Whenever I’ve had a lot of mocha frappucinos or chocolate, I can guarantee I’m going to deal with some major panic attacks. (Does that keep me from drinking homemade mocha frappucinos? Uh, no—I like them too much.)
2.) You’re not crazy. Panic Disorder and Anxiety are the result of a chemical inbalance in your brain, and it can be hereditary. It does not mean you’re crazy—even if you ARE up at 3:00 in the morning, pacing the floors, worrying about that family vacation you decided to go on…a year from now.
3.) Our Lady and St. Dymphna are two of the best allies you can have. The Blessed Virgin is the absolute best example of someone staying cool, calm, and collected. When the Archangel Gabriel appears to her and announces she’s going to have a Son, she doesn’t lose her cool, start pacing, and wondering what horrible things this will bring. Confused? Yes. But she calmly replies with her Fiat. St. Dymphna is the patron saint for people afflicted with mental issues. She has come through for me time after time again with her prayers when I’m in the middle of an attack.
4.) Communication. There are plenty of times I’m having an attack, and my husband has no idea because outwardly, I look pretty normal. I have to stop and tell him what’s happening, and he does an amazing job of talking to me about something random and silly that gets me laughing through the panic attack. I know he doesn’t know what it feels like to have an attack, but he knows me well enough to know it IS serious, and I certainly am in mental anguish.
5.) It does not mean I’m a bad Catholic. When I’m having a panic attack, I’m always afraid I’m going to die. Whether it be that my lungs just quit working suddenly (irrational, I know) or that I’m going to have a heart attack in my sleep, I’m always afraid death is certain. As a Catholic, we know death is a fact of life—we’re even reminded of it every Ash Wednesday! Being afraid of something so–you know–deadly does not make me a bad Catholic. It just means I’ve been given this cross for a reason.
6.) Don’t be afraid to talk about it. I’ve randomly said something about having panic attacks in MANY a conversation and learned that the person I’m talking to suffers from the exact same thing–and they’re generally suffering in silence because they’re too ashamed to talk about it.
St. Dymphna, ora pro nobis.
St. Dymphna, ora pro nobis.
Delena blogs about life as a Catholic stay-at-home mom at http://itsonmyto-dolist.blogspot.com.