For the last six weeks or so I’ve been telling myself that this panic disorder came out of nowhere and blindsided me. That’s not entirely true, though. In hindsight, it’s been creeping up on my for a long time. I just didn’t know enough to recognize the signs.
About a year and a half ago work suddenly became a whole lot more stressful. We lost a ton of staff and I was suddenly promoted up the ladder without a lot of support. I started doing everyone else’s job as well as my own. Work consumed me. Even when I got sick, I refused to call in sick because there was no one to cover me. I spent a year and a half without taking a single sick day. Almost every day, I would come home angry and frustrated and with an upset stomach. But I kept telling myself everything was alright.
About a year ago, my family fell spectacularly apart. I barely had time to process it, though, because I was so consumed with work. I didn’t want to think about my family, so I didn’t. I thought I had to be the glue that held everything together at work, because without me everything would fall into chaos. At the same time, I interviewed for and didn’t get two different jobs I really wanted. I was devastated, but threw myself more into my job as a distraction. I kept getting colds, and kept going into work anyway instead of slowing down. My husband even commented on how unusual it was for me to get sick, because I am usually so healthy.
Months went by, and work got more and more stressful and my responsibilities piled up. I started experiencing back problems but let it go for weeks because I felt like I could handle it. It finally got so excruciating that I had to see a doctor about it. I felt terrible about taking a few days off work, but at that point I could barely walk. Luckily it healed, but I lived in agony for two weeks.
I took a holiday this past June, and things started feeling good again. At the end of the trip I was happy and relaxed and felt ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, work got even worse when I came back and I quickly became tense, angry and upset again. By July I was starting to feel hopeless and depressed. I remember clearly coming back to work after a long weekend and setting up for a book club meeting, and feeling this wave of hopelessness wash over me, and a sense of unreality. I shook it off though and tried to forget about it.
The day I finally broke was the Saturday after a long, stressful week at the beginning of August. A friend picked me up and we went to have lunch at a vineyard. Sounds wonderful, right? Except I was miserable. On the drive over I started feeling a numbness on the left side of my face. I thought I was having a stroke, but I was too afraid to tell my friend. I couldn’t eat a bite of my meal. I tried to pay attention to what my friend was saying, but I kept running to the bathroom, freaking out that something was terribly wrong with me. Sensing my distress, she offered to drive me home. I smiled and waved as she dropped me off, then I collapsed on the floor in terror and panic, crying. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, so I called my husband at work in tears. He rushed home and asked me if I needed to call an ambulance. Me being me, I felt like I didn’t want to inconvenience anybody so I said I would wait and see what happened. I obsessively googled stroke symptoms but couldn’t make up my mind if what I was experiencing was as dangerous as it felt.
After that, nothing improved. I went to the doctor and she said I’d had a migraine, even though I hadn’t had a headache at all. I felt like my body had been taken over by aliens. Every day I’d experience a new and terrifying symptom. I’d frequently get dizzy spells and once even went home because I felt so faint. The worst was the afternoon I had an argument with my husband, my chest got so tight I could hardly breathe. I was terrified I was having a heart attack.
It took me a long time to figure out that what I was experiencing wasn’t a terrible disease, but was anxiety. How could anxiety possibly make me feel so awful that I felt like I was dying? That didn’t make sense to me. But still, like Sherlock Holmes, I couldn’t deny the evidence. Exhibit A: My symptoms got worse when I thought about something emotional. Exhibit B: My symptoms would change all the time, moving around my body. Exhibit C: Whenever I was distracted by something or surrounded by people in conversation, my symptoms would disappear entirely and return when I was alone with my thoughts again.
I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to recover, or what the future holds. But I plan to take it one day at a time.