Tag Archives: panic attacks

Reflections on Freshman Year

1496_40445941937_6690_nThis is a hard one for me to talk about but sometimes revisiting a hard past helps in present healing.

In junior and senior high school I would have an anxiety attack every time I would travel away from my hometown. These attacks got worse if I wasn’t around my one of my closest friends and my parents. A ski trip to North Carolina almost got ruined by my anxieties except for having two good friends who helped me refocus on the skiing, one of my favorite things to do. A dance competition to New Orleans the following year was pure torture as I had no friends on the trip and no “trusted” adults.

So imagine me going off to college by myself fall of 1993. The happy picture of me above was taken at Troy State University winter quarter of 1994. I started fall semester at Montevallo University in North Central Alabama. A teeny tiny liberal arts college about 30 minutes outside of Birmingham, AL and about 4 hours away from home.

No friends. No one I was close to. Just me and some of my stuff. No car, just a phone and some stamps (yeah, this is pre-internet/pre-email). I found myself knocking on the door of our residence assistant’s dorm room one too many evenings. I was having panic attacks and not knowing what they heck they were. Really horrible panic attacks. I could barely leave my dorm room much less do much of anything else like getting involved with campus activities. I actually had a panic attack for a new friend because she and her sorority sisters were going to the beach – a three hour drive from school – as part of a welcome to the new sorority sisters.

My parents came to see me a few times and I would beg them to let me come home. I was truly afraid of living at Montevallo. I just knew something horrible was going to happen to me and I was going to die in that backwoods teeny town that was so small it didn’t even have a Wal-Mart. What small Alabama town doesn’t have a Wal-Mart? And if it didn’t have a Wal-Mart it sure as heck didn’t have a hospital, much less a doctor that might understand what in the world was going on with me. The college nurse would give me cough syrup and allergy medicine. It didn’t matter what I would say but panic attacks were just not something that anyone thought of.

The part about mental illness that makes things worse for the person who is sick is the part where we feel ashamed for causing everybody so much trouble. Every time I had a panic attack I relied on other people to help me feel better. I didn’t have a single tool to help myself – I hadn’t been taught them yet – and my sanity depended on other people. The constant crying, the panic attacks, the dependency wears not just on the person with the illness but on the people around her as well. There is a lot of shame associated with having a mental illness especially if it’s undiagnosed and untreated.

I ended up leaving after finals. I transferred to another school closer to home. Being able to be close to the people I trusted helped me feel safe. I was able to enjoy being a college student, to enjoy life away from home. I learned independence. I had my safety – my family were close by in case of emergencies, but I had also gotten well enough to create a new family with the theater students.

This is an unpopular opinion. Not everyone needs to or is ready to go to college upon graduation. Our society forces it – go to college or you won’t get a good job. Go to college or you’re not socially accepted. Much like trade high schools, trade schools, schools close to home, places where the 18, 19-year-old student can feel comfortable stepping out into the world for the first time should be just as accepted as the kids who run off to school half way around the country.

There are so many students I’ve met who are just not ready to be in school but yet they have been told they HAVE to be in school. Have to be. Who says? Is there a law? Sometimes students or college aged people need to just work for awhile, figure out who they are before going to college.

If your student is struggling and is asking to come home just listen to them. Listen to their worries and help them find a place where they can find the strength to get up and get out on their own. Don’t force it on them. And don’t tell them, “This is what you said you wanted.” Don’t make them anymore ashamed than they already are or feel. Find a professional therapist to help too. They can teach everyone – the student and the parents – the tools they need to grow.



Being Rude for My Sanity

how-to-get-through-a-panic-attack‘Tis true. Please do not tell me to calm down if I am having a panic attack. I’ll probably hit you or cry. Probably both. You’ve been warned.

I know what I need to do to get me through a panic attack. And that might just mean that I have to walk away from you, not attend your party, go into a dark room and come out when I’m ready.

In other words, sometimes my illness makes me seem rude. But if I don’t follow what I know to get me through my panic attack (and to lesser extent, an anxiety attack) the hurt will rain down on me.

No one likes a friend/co-worker dry-heaving in the car/office.

I’ve been fortunate enough (I guess…some days it doesn’t feel very fortunate) that my co-workers feel comfortable coming to me and chatting about their lives. A co-worker mentioned recently that I should have “therapist” added to my job description. Sometimes a secretary is a lot of like a bartender-type therapist. You come to us because you think we know where everything is (usually we do *wink*) and then that leads to some belief that we will also listen to your life stories.

But being so approachable has drawbacks. The big one for me: If you have a stomach ache and feel sick to your stomach and tell me about it I’m probably going to lose my shit. I have Emetophobia: “a fear of vomiting. Most people don’t know that this fear is common enough to have its own name. Yet vomit phobia can be a disabling condition which severely limits the lives of those who struggle with it.”

Yeah, disabling doesn’t even cover the panic attacks I used to have. A large and belly-full belch could incite gagging in me. Seeing someone chew their food with their mouths open would create a panic attack. Emetephobia is a real thing. “Some are afraid that they will vomit. Others are afraid of seeing others vomit. Most have trouble describing what they fear will happen if they vomit, or see others vomit, but vaguely fear some terrible loss of control, a catastrophe from which they won’t recover. They fear insanity, death, endless vomiting, and so on. Most times they can recognize that these catastrophes aren’t really going to result from vomiting. But when they feel that vomiting may occur, then they don’t feel so sure.”

So, please, please don’t take offense if I ask you to stop talking to me about your stomach ache and upset tummy. I don’t want to be rude but at the same time I don’t want to have a panic attack. A co-worker today was quite ill. I don’t know what happened, thank God, but after seeing my co-worker leaving the office looking horrible I started to get those feelings of panic. I was taught how to rationalize what is obviously an irrational fear, but I needed sometime by myself to do it. Which I couldn’t get. So I had a conversation with another co-worker, who luckily did all the talking while I talked to myself in my head, and was able to calm down. I did my best not to run in fear (which I’ve done) when I saw my other co-worker. Later I was able to offer a ginger ale. I keep a stash of them in my desk drawer if I should feel queasy for any reason.

Maybe some day I won’t immediately freak out, even if just in my head, when someone isn’t feeling well.


“Overcome Emetophobia: Fear of Vomiting.” Overcome Emetophobia: Fear of Vomiting. Anxiety Coach, 5 Aug. 2014. Web. 4 Sept. 2014.

Bi-Annual Panic Attack Celebration!

I hadn’t realized until just this evening that I was due for my Bi-Annual Panic Attack Celebration! As soon as I remembered it was high time to celebrate my agoraphobia I put on my party hat and let myself have a whale of a time panicking.

Good times!

I don’t schedule these celebrations. It’s so much more fun to celebrate panic unawares ahead of time then plan for it. Granted, it doesn’t give me much time to decorate or prepare some good eats, but, honestly, when panicking food and decorations is the last thing on my mind. I guess I could look at my on the spot panic attack celebrations as a fantastic money-saving tip.

The only downside to these celebrations is the real panic attack. I guess I should have realized, and probably knew one was on the way, that a panic attack was headed my way. Things have been rough, to say the least; and I’m about to undertake an adventure that I would never have been able to do 12 years ago. Scratch that…an adventure I could not do Fall 2011, which may have even cost me my then job in the long run.

My best friend, Sarah, lives in Philadelphia. Mike and I visited her once in 2011. We had a really wonderful time. It was my first long road trip since my agoraphobia diagnosis in 2001. We had a rough trip to South Carolina in 2009*. But we had one really nice trip to Virginia in 2010*. Our long road trip to Pennsylvania to visit Sarah and my family for Christmas 2011 was really, really good. Not a single panic attack. Not even an anxiety attack. The trip was really wonderful. I road public transportation. Spent a full day wandering around with Sarah and Mike around Philly. Took a mini-road trip with just Sarah from Philly to Williamsport. And then Mike and I had the return trip from Williamsport back to Florida. The whole trip was wonderful. In fact, it was the best I had felt both physically and mentally in a really long time.

Since then we have taken mini-road trips to Savannah to see my parents. I’ve even been able to drive good portions of the way without succumbing to my road-narcalepsy. Each trip I venture out further from my parent’s house bit by bit enjoying the freedom of being agoraphobia free without even realizing that I am at that moment agoraphobic.

But even though I have all these major successes I still have at least one major panic attack every six months. With everything as it is right now my various issues at this time, at that moment came together to create my perfect mental storm.

As the wave of panic flooded through me, the wave of cold sweats and hot flashes through my body, I held on to enough sanity to recognize and evaluate what was happening to me. This is something I’ve only been able to do over the last year. In the midst of the panic I reminded myself of where I was, that I was safe, and that it was actually OKAY to panic right now. I’ve been sick. I’ve had some bad news about my health come up this past week. I have a lot of work to do to get better. I’m about to get on a plane by myself twice! Yeah, lots of stressful things going on. I gave myself the permission to panic, to ride the wave of panic to its end.

In the 10 minutes (maybe even less) from the beginning to end of the attack I nurtured myself. Afterwards, I pampered myself by cooling off with a nice cold rag on my forehead and doing the things I was planning to do before the attack hit.

I’m still going to Philadelphia. As Mike reminded me, there is nothing to be afraid of by going to see the second most trusted person in my life. A couple of weeks ago I admitted to Sarah my fear she simply said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be at the airport.” Mike and Sarah are my heroes. Sarah recently flew to India by herself to see a friend of ours get married. Mike travels a lot for his job.

It’s not just important for me to go to Philadelphia to see my best friend, its important to go as part of the ongoing process of curing the agoraphobia. Sure, I’m “cured” when I’m in my safe place. But to keep getting better I have to move beyond that. So I am going to Philadelphia. I may go under the influence of Clonazepam, but I am getting on that plane to see Sarah and getting back on that plane to come home to see Mike. And I’m going to not only survive this adventure, I’m going to enjoy it!

*Dates might be screwy because of my agoraphobia and depression – each have the tendency to create a Swiss cheese effect in my memory.


Post panic attack – tired and disheveled