A Traumatic Trigger of Panic

“I felt a tingling sensation spread throughout my chest. A sudden fear of death seemed to come from nowhere.”

by Jacob

My name is Jacob. I'm 20 years old and this is my story:

It all started on what seemed like a regular day in my sophomore year of college. I went to all my classes and got back to my dorm room at about 5 p.m. When I checked to see if my roommate was in yet, I found him lying on the floor by his bed. He had died of a heart attack at 20 years old.

I felt as if I had dealt with the stress and grief as well as anyone could have under the circumstances. But months later, as I tried to get to sleep one night, I felt a tingling sensation spread throughout my chest and I thought I was having a heart attack or that my body was shutting down. A sudden fear of death seemed to come from nowhere. This was the first of several panic attacks and anxiety episodes.

Then I started feeling “on edge” and anxious about my own health. I felt like every small pain or ache in my body could be something serious or life-threatening. I would feel smothered and short of breath, or that my heart wasn’t working hard enough to sustain me. So I would check myself in to emergency rooms at 4 a.m., or find a doc-in-a-box to take my vitals and talk to them about my symptoms so I could reassure myself that nothing was wrong. I even lost confidence in myself to do simple things that I used to do, like complete homework or do my job.

I received great support from my friends and family, including my girlfriend being there for me during or after an attack or my parents telling me that all was OK when I would convince myself that a simple pain was a life-threatening illness! I found meditation and breathing exercises to be very helpful at times, especially when I repeated a special mantra that meant something to me (usually song lyrics or an uplifting Bible verse).

For the most part, I feel that I’ve conquered my anxiety, although sometimes I still find myself feeling smothered or short of breath. But I’m able to do things with confidence again and without a fear of anxiety or death.

Now I am able to return to school, even my old dorm where my roommate passed away, and not feel scared or anxious. I haven’t had an attack for awhile, and I don’t expect them to return. I’m not there yet, but my life is finally getting back to normal.