The first panic attack I ever experienced was when I was around 8 years old. I remember feeling my heart rattling in my chest, willing its way to break through the bones. I paced the room, then the hallway, finally settling on the couch next to my dad downstairs when it wouldn’t. I told him it was a bad dream; my intentions hopeful that by labeling it, it would cease to exist.
It didn’t and as I got older, it got worse.
During my sophomore year of college social gatherings seemed unbearable. Noise, light, temperature, people—everything triggered me. I had become accustomed to restricting my food so, soon, even eating in front of people was worthy of panicking. They can smell it on me, I thought. The can smell the worry, the incessant fear.
At the height of my anxiety, I would slip into depressive episodes. At nearly 21 years old I weighed 95 pounds. I became a recluse, barely slept, but I was, unfortunately, skilled at hiding it. If I don’t address the problem, there is no problem…right?
By 24 I was had severe control issues and regular breakdowns. I would ice my eyes nearly every morning to bring down the swelling from previous nights of crying. There was no hiding what was so easily scrawled across my face. It seemed endless and I feared that I would allow my anxiety to hinder everything I planned to do with my life.
I saw a therapist soon after and over the years I’ve learned to remind myself of these things regularly:
- Talk about it and ignore the stigma. Admitting I had anxiety and depression made me aware that so many of my peers do, too. No one is alone in this.
- Breathe. Often times panic attacks cause hyperventilation. Inhale and exhale mindfully.
- Take a walk in the opposite direction of the crowd. Get some space, but stay moving. As I tend to pace, this keeps me from erratically moving through crowds.
There is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. However, with time and help, I managed to find coping mechanisms to regain control over my life.
And let me tell you…what a crazy and wonderful life this is.