I was sitting in 7 AM traffic the first time I had a panic attack.
I know, I know. If traffic doesn’t make you panicky and anxious you’re probably not from this planet. But this wasn’t the normal “ohhhmygaaawdGOOOO” anxiety that most of us living in a city that’s legalized marijuana experience.
So there I was, sitting in my car, whom I refer to as Clancy James, probably giggling along to a conversational podcast that made me feel like I had friends, when I pretty much stopped breathing.
Like, the breathing wasn’t happening. At. All.
You know that really nice feeling that comes from taking a big, long, deep breath?
Well my body was like, “We don’t know how to do that anymore. Do short and desperate gasps work for you?”
And I was like no thank you Body, that does not work for me.
But Body did not care. Body could not breathe.
Phase 1: Short, Desperate Gasps
Next up on the panic menu was Air Balloon Head.
You know when you stand up to quick and have that ‘ehh, might pass out, might not, let’s just see where this goes’ moment?
That’s Air Balloon Head and he follows Short, Desperate Gasps everywhere. In fact, they feed off each other.
Phase 2: Air Balloon Head
The shorter my gasps got, the balloonier my head felt which invited the next unannounced visitor…THE SHAKES
I’m talking, giving a presentation to a bunch of people who are clearly not listening shaking. Drank a gallon of coffee and can’t find a bathroom shaking. Mom came home and you forgot to thaw the chicken shaking.
This brings us to, probably the worst part. The Brain.
While SDG, ABH, and The Shakes were crowding my car (Oh ya, remember how I was on the highway when this was happening? LOL!)
The brain kept repeating the phrases, “You’re having a heart attack. You’re having a stroke. This is very, very, very, bad. You shouldn’t have Googled every random thought you’ve ever had, cause no one is gonna clear your history and this is it, sister, you’re dead.”
Oh, also, I’m hysterically crying because I’m not ready to die yet, which, naturally, helps me take nice deep breaths.
So, somehow, I manage to drive myself and all these a-holes to my job (without passing out or dying) and I burst through the door to my coworker’s office and inform her that I am dying.
She tries to calm me down, but I’m pretty much Wreck it Ralph at this point and there is no calming me down. I think I screamed, “DON’T LET ME DIE IN THIS PLACE, TAKE ME TO WHERE THERE ARE DOGS, I WANT TO DIE SURROUNDED BY GOLDEN RETRIEVERS!”
But she does not take me to be with the Golden Retrievers and I cannot, for the life of me, understand why she isn’t calling an ambulance.
She says, “Sarah. You’re having a panic attack.”
No I’m not.
That’s for very stressed out lawyers who work 80 hours a week.
I don’t have panic attacks, I have nothing to panic over. Oh, except the fact that I’M DYING OVER HERE, why aren’t you listening to me?!
This goes on for a while until I realize that I’m not dead. Like, how am I not dead? I KNEW that I was going to die. I just knew it. I was going to ask my coworker if she could put in a favor and request that Bruno Mars come perform at my funeral.
But then I didn’t die.
And slowly, my heart rate went back to normalish. And Air Balloon Head turned into Somewhat Normal Head and Short and Desperate Gasps turned into Sort of, Kind of, Normal Breaths.
And I didn’t die.
What. The. Fuck. Was. That.
Unfortunately for me, that was the first of MANY panic attacks I was going to have. I think I had at least two a day, at different levels of severity for the next week or so. (One really fun side effect of panic attacks is living in fear of having another one. Which causes another one. So.)
In the midst of one, I went to the doctor, informed her I was dying, Wreck It Ralph Style of course, and she checked my heart, my blood, my lungs—everything. I was totally fine. It really was anxiety. She gave me drugs to use in case of emergency, which I absolutely did, and then I didn’t have another panic attack again for 6 months.
And then I had them every day for a month.
And then I started therapy.