I’ve been hesitant for a while to talk about it. Since I know many people face it, and some cases are way more severe than I feel mine is, I didn’t feel like I had a right to use the word.
Maybe it’s just worry. Maybe I’m just a high-level worrywart. I mean, it doesn’t affect my life, right? I can still function, albeit I can’t exactly do the things I want to do, like join a book club or get involved at my church. But that’s just because I’m shy, not anything serious.
In November, I had my first panic attack. It happened around 2am one morning, waking me up from broken sleep. My breathing was ragged, my body hot, and my thoughts swirling. Is this what death feels like? Slow down, Steph, just breathe. You’re OK. You’re OK. You’re OK.
I didn’t mention it to anyone. I thought there was something medically wrong with me, asthma or some such, so I kept it a secret. I had no idea what it was but it went away the next day so I pretended things were normal.
In December, I had another one. It happened again in the middle of the night. I couldn’t catch my breath. It felt like I had run a million miles at top speed. My body was hot, my body was cold. My mind again racing. What was wrong with me? Do I need to go to the ER? Why does this crap always happen to me? I really can’t breathe! Jesus, I need your help. Just help me breathe. Jesus, just help me breathe.
I ended up Google-ing my symptoms the next day and realizing it could have been an anxiety attack. I even went and talked to my grandma, who has had severe attacks in the past, and she confirmed it. Since that night, I’ve carried this problem with me. I’m so hesitant to put a name on what I’m facing because it feels so final. And what if I’m wrong? What if all I’m experiencing is high-grade worry?
I’ve been talking to the ever-lovely Kyla Roma about this very issue, and she put it this way: “I think the biggest thing to know is that if it’s an anxiety disorder vs. if it’s not is really subjective, and it really comes down to one question: Does it interfere with your life?’”
Does it interfere with my life? In a word, yes.
Stay tuned for Part II and III – where I talk about how anxiety affects my life and what I’m doing to combat it.