10 years. For just about 10 years, I have been struggling with panic attacks. It’s hard to believe it has been that long since my first attack because I remember it like it was 10 minutes ago. Short description: I wanted to die. It felt like I was going to die, screaming to god to do something. Pounding on my chest, tears pouring down my face, shaking, pacing. It was the scariest thing that I think I have ever been through, mostly because it was something I had never felt before. Then it happened again… and again.
I don’t know what the trigger was or why my body just up and decided to start having panic attacks, but it does. We all have our things and this just so happens to be mine. Honestly, I didn’t know how I was going to pull myself out of what I consider now the hardest couple of years so far in my life. But I did, and here is how.
I forced myself to accept it and I forced myself to continue to live with it. I could have easily hid from life, but I didn’t see that as living. You see, living with fear is one thing, but not living because of fear was something I never wanted to happen. I remember constantly going online to forums, discussions, and articles written by people like me who suffered with panic attacks. One girl even scratched her chest to the point of blood during a panic attack, something that I had done as well. I could never have imagined someone out there in the world who felt exactly how I felt. It made me realize, I am not alone. I can do this.
After high school graduation, (the peak of my panic attacks) I forced myself to leave. I didn’t move far, as my family and friends were my core support system, but I left. I moved into a college apartment with 3 girls I had never met before. I got a new job, made new friends, and experienced college as fully as I could. An experience I am so grateful for, still to this day.
After college graduation, I packed my car up and moved to a different state, a state I had never even been to before. I was no longer a quick drive up the 15 freeway to my parents house, but a 2-hour flight. Honestly, it was the best decision I have ever made.
I have traveled in a big red van across the entire country; worked weird, in-between jobs that end horribly; dated some pretty spectacular people and some pretty horrible people. I have stayed up all night with strangers, I have danced, I have cried, I have loved and I have had my heart broken. And guess what? Life just keeps getting sweeter.
I feel more alive than I have ever felt before. I am open about my attacks, and those who are closest to me accept them with open arms, open hearts, and open minds. I have scared some friends, family, and lovers with my panic attacks on more than a couple different occasions but luckily they never leave, and even more luckily, they never look at me differently.
This is the most sacred thing to me and here is why. When I first started having my attacks, I looked at myself differently. I was my harshest critic. I slowly started to believe that these panic attacks were going to be who I was. Luckily, I had people in my life to smack me straight and remind me that this wasn’t true.
Now, I know that I am not my panic attacks. On a day to day basis I am as free as a bird. I laugh too loud and dance in the middle of the street. I practice yoga, cry during almost every movie I watch, read books based on the covers, and eat chocolate just about every day. I am not my panic attacks. They may come every once in a while (yes, I still have them) but I no longer let them define me. They are unwelcome guests, absolutely, but only come for a short time and when they leave, I go back to my life. I go back to who I really am: a girl with tangled hair and a bare face, a girl who squeezes front row to every concert she goes to. A girl who meets strangers on dance floors to ‘Fill me Up Buttercup.’ A girl who loves. A girl who lives.
I don’t know where this girl goes when a panic attack comes in. She vanishes into thin air. But, she always comes back swinging. And that… that is the only thing that matters.
I am not my panic attacks.