It was probably the end of 2015 when I had my first legitimate anxiety attack. I didn’t know that’s what it was then but I do now looking back at it.
My whole body shook as I gripped my knees. Hot tears of humiliation and fear hit the cold tile, and I prayed no one would ever see me crumpled on the floor of the bathroom stall. I tried to muster the strength to pick myself up and get back to work. But each time I thought of standing up, my heart began to race and I would begin to black out. I was shivering cold, but dripping with sweat. Waves of nausea, blurred vision, and dizziness kept me pinned to my safe little corner of the bathroom.
Twenty minutes later I picked myself up off the floor, wiped my eyes, took a few deep breaths, and walked back out to my desk to continue my work day. By the grace of God I made it through the rest of the day. Embarrassed and confused at the mystery of what happened, I chalked it up to dehydration and stress, and tried to forget about it.
But I couldn’t escape the nagging thoughts: is something seriously wrong with me—is this what it feels like to start losing it? Am I dying? What if this happens again? Who will take care of me? I’m scared. Am I going crazy? I just prayed it wouldn’t happen again.
A couple days later it was happening again. I tried to ignore the feeling that my airway seemed completely blocked as I smiled and continued to work as if nothing was bothering me. I started seeing black spots, and then stumbled to the bathroom until I could curl into the fetal position. My heart was pounding as my panic rose, and my only thought was, I can’t breathe…I have to get out of here. Once again I was on a cold tile floor, eyes squeezed shut, praying and trying to breathe.
This time it was worse. The waves of dizziness and nausea were overwhelming, and my heart wouldn’t stop racing. I finally threw up for probably a solid 3 minutes straight. I felt as though I had no control over my body; it was an alien to me. I had no idea whose body this was; there was no way it could be mine. And nothing helped. I lost my appetite and wouldn’t eat for days. I’d force myself to drink maybe a glass or two of water a day so my body at least had something. I would regain enough control to be able to work for a bit, but then I’d have to go back to the bathroom and try to recover.
I was terrified, and couldn’t decide if I was dying or going crazy. The thought never occurred to me that it could be an anxiety attack until maybe halfway through 2016. It wasn’t pretty. I didn’t speak for most of the day on days that this happened, because when I talked the waves would crash over me. I was afraid I might collapse or burst into tears and faint.
Even though I was the only one that knew it was happening at the time, I felt humiliated and exhausted. I felt so weak. Was this my new normal?
After doing some research and talking to some family and friends I realized I was having anxiety attacks. I was infuriated when I read article after article that the symptoms were mostly mental, and could somehow be controlled by the person. Nothing about my experiences felt like I had any control; it felt opposite of that. It made me want to call every person who had ever shared the vulnerable struggle of anxiety with me and tell them that I am so sorry I didn’t fight for them more—that I had no idea how scary it was until I experienced it myself.
This has been happening more often than I care to admit for over a year now and still happens to this day. Some attacks are worse than others but I try to steer clear of the things that trigger the attacks. This is my story of walking into a fire. I had a choice to make: either keep pushing through like I had learned to do so well, or stop, take inventory, and figure out what was going on. The latter would take a lot of work, faith, and letting go of control—I felt much more safe being the one to help others—not being the one that needed help and support. I’ve found some outlets that help me avoid getting to the point of actually having an anxiety attack but I’m still trying to figure out ways out of it when the attacks hit me.
And though fear terrorized and taunted me that I was dying, that I was crazy, and all alone, I have found truth in my fire:
I will die someday, but I am not dying now.
I am not crazy or losing it.
I am never alone. God is with me always. And if I only open my eyes I see that I am surrounded by love, hope, community and support from family and friends.
Sometimes chains are broken only through having painful experiences you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Nothing about my struggle with anxiety attacks has been quick, easy, or appealing. It’s been one of the most difficult and frightening things I’ve walked through in my life. And I’m still on my journey towards freedom. I wanted to share my story in hopes of making maybe even one person feel as if they aren’t crazy and they aren’t alone.