Growing up, I had a very fortunate upbringing. I was raised by two loving parents, received a good education, and stayed out of trouble. Although I was shy, I was very talkative to people once I began to feel comfortable around them. I played sports, had a decent set of friends, and achieved good grades. Life was beautiful, but little did I know that once I turned eighteen, my life was going to undergo a drastic change.
When I experienced my first panic attack, I didn't understand what was going on with me. I was on my morning break at work, and I enjoyed having a walk outside for some fresh air, sunshine, and to get my large cup of coffee. This particular day, however, something unknown and disturbing happened. While I was walking, it suddenly seemed as though time had begun to slow down. Other people around me began to walk slower than usual and it seemed as though I were going through some sort of slow-motion sequence that only happens in movies. I felt as though I was gasping for air. My palms began to sweat and I felt faint and dizzy. I began to feel very afraid that people would not help me. Strangely enough, as quickly as that moment came, it ended. Was I going crazy? I dismissed the event as just 'something that happened'.
I didn't experience another event such as this one for three years. I was now twenty-one years old.
My next panic attack came one day in late June 2009. I remember being home and suddenly feeling as though something horrific was going to happen. I could not shake the feeling. It stayed with me for most of the day. Around 2pm that same day, my chest began to feel severely tightened. I began to shake and sweat beads formed on my forehead. Hyperventilation kicked in and I started the horrible habit of swallowing air. I felt nauseous and detached from my body, as if I were looking at myself through another person's eyes. Once again, this episode ended as quickly as it started. I kept this a secret from my family.
These attacks lasted about two weeks and occurred every single day around the same time. I began to dread the 11am hour. Little did I know that the constant fear over this particular hour was exactly the ammunition my 'attacks' needed. I began hyperventilating so often that I ended up bruising my chest wall, thus fueling more fear. I was for certain I was suffering from some sort of heart attack and began to change my eating habits. I avoided eating anything salty, greasy, fattening, etc. You may not think this is a bad thing, but I absolutely refused to eat over 500mg of salt per day despite the maximum recommended amount being 2,300mg a day for adults. In the end, I cut out everything and began to survive on a diet of mainly oatmeal with hot water, salads that I prepared myself, and fruits. Of course I did eat other things, but quite scarcely and only after reading the food label and determining if this would push me over my daily salt intake. This strange eating fad lasted only three weeks and I was constantly hungry and weak. My weight dropped and my physician began to become concerned.
The panic attacks ravished on every day. I began to dread long car rides and bus rides, things that I once used to love. My attacks would begin the instant the car or bus pulled into the street. I felt sick, crazy, dizzy, and as though I was struggling for air each time. It was horrible. I did not want to sit in any vehicle for long because I knew that there was something about transportation that sent these attacks through the roof. I started cutting myself and wishing that these awful thoughts would stop. I went on to experience sleep paralysis, which on its own is a terrifying experience.
My friends deserted me, dismissing me as 'boring' because I was always making excuses to stay at home and avoided phone calls. I constantly wanted to see my doctor despite her telling me that I am perfectly fine.
I had finally had enough. What was wrong with me? For one week, I paid very close attention to what I was doing when my attacks began. I began to notice a pattern. These attacks usually occurred when I was alone and had time to obsess over them. At my new job, I rarely had time to worry over anything, because my colleagues were excellent people and always up for making me laugh. I had recently gotten with my boyfriend and he was very understanding. He was the first person I confided in about these attacks and he worked with me to keep my stress levels down and distract me from whatever was trying to ruin my day. However, the minute I was alone, I felt the telltale palpitations began to occur.
I never went on any medication for these attacks. The list of possible side effects scared me to death, and I knew that taking these pills would be difficult. Instead, I opted for the natural route. Whenever I felt an attack coming on, I would immediately play my favourite video game if I were at home or play my favourite song if I were out in public. I began to talk to others who were also sufferers and did not feel as though I were completely alone in this world. I gained other valuable tips to combat attacks and learned about stimulants that can trigger attacks such as constant caffeine consumption. I began to set aside time every day that I dedicate solely to doing things that I enjoy such as reading, going for walks, or even rearranging my room.
I still suffer from panic attacks to this day, but they are not as frequent and as harrowing as they used to be. I'm able to recognise them now and quickly work to calm myself down using techniques that yield positive results for me.