The year was 2000. Seven Jeans were invented, Nelly was blasting on the radio, and I was super excited to be a freshman at Texas A&M. College seemed to be all my favorite things in one package: road trips, community service, theme parties, friends. “College is the best time of your life,” they said. I truly believed that statement was true until October 22, 2000- the worst day of my life.
I was hanging out at the Pi Kapp house when I got a call from an old friend. Instead of hearing sarcastic comments or jokes on the other end, I was greeted by barely a whisper. I was informed that my cousin, my best friend in the entire world, my soulmate of a human, was killed in a car accident. And I was the first person in the family to find out. I still remember calling my parents to tell them- I will never forget their voices. Grief hit. It hit hard.
Freshman year was a blurr. My Mom was going through chemotherapy, my best friend was gone too soon, and we had 6 other funerals that year. It was awful, it was too much, and it was taking a toll on my body.
I had my first panic attack in a grocery store. My cart was full of groceries and as I waited in line to pay, I started getting dizzy. My heart was pounding out of my chest and I couldn’t see. Somehow I pushed the cart aside and made it out to my car- sans groceries. I had no idea what had just happened to me but I know it really scared me.
This sensation started happening all the time. I would be standing in line at the coffee shop and would have to turn around without any coffee. I would be walking to class and the noise of people talking would elevate and my head would start spinning. It got so bad that I often asked friends to do things for me, “Hey, I’ll buy you lunch if you’ll go pick up my books for next semester, deal?” I even played “fake- sick” so I could give a presentation while sitting down- I know, genius.
It got to a point where I was having about 25 panic attacks a day. I was miserable but more than that, I was really embarrassed. I needed help to make these episodes stop. I could not go on dealing with these “attacks” on a daily basis. My Mom found a wonderful counselor for me. She explained that any shock, like a tragic death, was enough to change the chemicals in one’s brain. The panic attacks, while awful, were a normal response to a system that was punched in the gut. She recommended that I practice breathing techniques, get massages, and wrote a prescription to fill if I ever needed an extra boost.
Sixteen years later, here I am. I have the funniest husband in the world, two insane yet adorable kids, the cuddliest dog, and a life that is better than I could have ever imagined. Most people would think of me as an incredibly outgoing person. If Britney or Beyonce were to come on, I would be the first one to find a table and dance on top of it. I love to host happy hours, plan events for the kids, and be around people. However, I still carry a little secret around with me. I have panic attacks.
Thankfully, they have become less and less over the years and I mostly can get ahead of them. And while they don’t happen as much as they used to, they still hit and I still struggle. There are the obvious triggers- heat, crowds, headaches, being extra tired- all which seem to bother most non-anxious people too.
Then there are the situations that I am SO embarrassed to admit after all of these years. You see, my panic attacks make me feel as though I am going to faint, so holding onto anything really jacks up my balance. Friends, you’ll notice I never order a cocktail before dinner, as the thought of having to carrying it around a crowded restaurant makes my head spin…well, literally. Weddings? The worst. Close friends would notice me leaning against the wall during cocktail hour, desperately waiting for the lights to go down, to be able to stop worrying and jam out to Michael Jackson with the rest of the crowd. I know, I know, it doesn’t make any sense to me either. I’m happy, I’m confident, and I love people.
And why, after sixteen years, am I writing about this now? Because I know it will help people. And it will help me. After having a family on my own, I truly understand the need for community. In the last month I have talked with two friends as this subject somehow magically slithered its way into our conversation. I could not believe that two friends- two fun, fabulous, hilariously outgoing women were nodding their heads and saying “me too.” What?
And as I chat more and more about this issue, I find that anxiety is something that often appears after having children. So I wanted to share my story to our community of moms in hopes of someone reading it might say, “Oh my gosh, me too.” If that’s the case, then cheers mama. I’ll toast you once we move past the busy crowd, the lights dim, and it’s time to dance.