A typical Sunday for me in my twenties was to take a shower, hear mass and spend the rest of the day with my family and friends. I always look forward to Sundays when my mom would cook special meals for us and when surprise visits from relatives or friends take place. But there was one Sunday that I can never forget. A surprise visit that I wish never came.
It was the most cruel Sunday visitor.
I woke up one Sunday morning in October with a headache. Not the throbbing kind that I would usually get when I’m at work or when I would have to beat so many deadlines in one day. It was a dull, steady pain that I couldn’t tell where it’s coming from. The day went by and the headache didn’t go away. When it was time to call it a night, as soon as I laid down the bed, it happened.
I was breathing but it felt like there was no air coming in or out of my lungs. Then my heart started to race and I felt a chill spreading down to my arms and legs. My last conscious effort was spent in getting up from the bed, grabbing my work ID, purse, and heading to my mom’s room to ask for her help. The rest, as they say, was history.
I had an attack, an episode, a moment – whatever they call it.
So, how do I feel when I’m having an episode? Everything that the books say about Panic Disorder— pounding heart, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, light-headedness, nausea, trembling, hot and cold flashes, paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations) – all of that, checked. While my body deals with these symptoms, fearful thoughts of losing control or “going crazy”, and impending death plays inside my head over and over again like a broken record. “The body’s natural reaction, the fight or flight response, tells you you need to do something because you’re in danger, but I think in our modern world, even when we aren’t in danger, you might get that same reaction like it’s a life or death situation,” says psychologist Amy Morin.
I read that people can have a panic attack once in their lifetime. I say they’re lucky. On bad days, I get several episodes. They come in waves—I start feeling the symptoms all over again just when I’d think I’m about to overcome a concluding attack. It’s crippling. It’s traumatic. It’s something you wouldn’t even wish on your worst enemy.
“When a panic attack arises, having the tools to handle it is the most important thing.” Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, suggested. It’s all about managing and coping with help, mainly self-help.
I’ve managed to lead a close-to-normal life with the help of medicines and therapy. My family, though they’re always around, I can see from their faces the cluelessness to what I am going through. I can see how helpless they are when I am suffering from an episode. Then I noticed how alone I was with this condition. I put my best effort to conform to the norms, but when panic sets in, triggered or random, there is no one else who can help me but me. And as I age, the condition becomes more horrible – more pronounced symptoms and less resiliency to the condition.
This is what I realized.
If there is one thing I wanted to share, it’s the fact that loving myself became a mixture of good and not-so-good changes. I started to listen to my needs more than anyone else’s. I learned to put myself first before others – something that I would never do had I been a normal person, knowing that I love giving. I set expectations bearing in mind that I MUST reach them while I also deal with my panic disorder. It may not be reasonable for the people around me, but I didn’t set these for them. It’s for me and my self-worth that was badly hit when I became “less functional”. I don’t force myself to make others happy at the expense of my mental health. I do things my way when I have to.
This is how I really feel.
I die every time I get a panic episode, but I don’t want to die because that would be a defeat on my part. So I find ways to live over and over again. I don’t expect everybody to understand why I am what I am. At the end of the day, it’s these changes that have put me in a better place.
“Panic attacks cause people to become fearful of future panic attacks, this is known as the Fear of Fear.” Russell Hunter, Psy.D., LCP says.