I went through some pretty tough times when I had my first full-blown panic attack.
I was rushed to the hospital, but my blood work and EKGs came back normal. I was released with a diagnosis of panic disorder, which ran in my family. Then I got worse, and I pretty much became afraid of my own shadow. I also had burning sensations in my chest, weakness all over, and I felt so fatigued I couldn’t even stand. My anxiety was so terrible I couldn’t eat; I just shook. Three times in one week I went to the doctor complaining of dizziness and hot flashes. The doctor said everything was normal and that I just had to relax and take deep breaths.
Most shocking to me was that my anxiety would never fully go away, although I could recover and learn to live with it. I kept asking, “why me?” Depression set in and I got worse. I realized it was time to see someone.
I saw a social worker, who became my mentor and hero. When I went to her office, my mom waited outside because I wouldn’t dare drive myself, and I remember crying and thinking I truly was going to die. She said that I must love and accept myself in order to recover. Among the things she suggested were to watch “The Secret” and write down my feelings in a journal, which had a lot of despair, things like, “Why can’t I enjoy the holidays without feeling sick? Why can’t I just be normal? Am I going to die? Why does it feel like I’m choking?”
By my third visit we started using emotional freedom techniques of rhythmically tapping on the body’s pressure points to get my brain to redirect negative thoughts into positive ones. When we looked through my journal, she pointed out that every single thought was negative. She asked me how to change these negative thoughts into something to accept about myself. We started with my choking sensation. We tapped on pressure points saying “I love and accept myself even though my throat feels tight.” After a few times of saying this we moved on to “I am proud of my change in thought and I truly love and accept myself.”
Every negative thought was turned positive in some way. So I started thinking positively and I set goals like walking to the mailbox or driving to the gas station and going out to lunch or driving to my friend’s house. I celebrated every goal I accomplished no matter how tiny because they were real milestones—like driving to my appointments on my own. Since my recovery I drive over bridges, take trains and planes, and I even flew out to appear on “Oprah” to talk about my anxiety.
My disorder and getting help have made me a different person. I used to cry and live in fear, thinking that my life was over. But now I know my life is just beginning to unfold. So if your heart is beating fast or you feel a little dizzy, remember that it will pass. You, too, can get help. Life is beautiful. Enjoy everything it has to offer and remember to think positively.