pan·ic at·tack : a sudden feeling of acute and disabling anxiety.
I’ve been having regular panic attacks for several years now, and every time I have one…it never gets easier. I always feel helpless, stuck, and like I’m going to die.
I had one once in college – in a room full of sorority girls – and I was pretty sure I was going to die right there in front of all of them, the laughing stock of the whole university. Fortunately I didn’t, and I lived to have a panic attack during a psychology class, in a piercing studio, laying in my bed at night, during a church service, and many (MANY) times while traveling in a car. Phew, lucky me.
You could say I’m a pro at this whole having-a-panic-attack thing. Unfortunately for me, I am trying really hard not to let my kids see me during one.
I don’t go all crazy when I have one or anything. I actually get really still and quiet, and many times close my eyes (unless I’m the one driving, of course). But it scares me TO DEATH at the thought of either of my kids being prone to anxiety because of me.
I remember a pretty recent trip to the zoo with my family where we instantly hit traffic, like as soon as we hopped on interstate. I immediately started feeling the onset of a panic, so I started taking deep breaths and trying NOT to focus on the line of cars leading up to the bridge tunnel. I knew there was no where to go, we had to sit through the traffic in order to get to the other side and make it to the zoo. The panic attack hit, I started sweating, and it was like a radar went off in my kids to start asking me any question they could think of that, ultimately I couldn’t answer because I was in a trance.
I quickly snapped at my husband to please answer the kids’ questions so I could focus, but I could tell by my daughter’s voice that she was concerned and knew I wasn’t ok. I tried to snap myself out of it, and slightly turned myself around to look at her, and reached my hand back. We held hands until we finished driving through the tunnel, and like that – I was ok.
Part of me felt so guilty for having a panic attack again, especially one that kept me from being available to my kids. On the other hand, I kept it from completely crippling me and so maybe that was a victory to celebrate. But I had tried to hide it from my daughter…and failed.
I explained to my daughter that Mommy just wasn’t feeling good for those few minutes, and so I needed to stay quiet. That was a simple enough explanation at the time, but she won’t always be 3 years old and naive. What will I do when she’s 10 and sees me have a panic attack? Will they be worse by then? Will she be struggling with anxiety too by that time? Or, will my struggle with anxiety make her concerned that it’s inevitable that she will struggle with this in the future too?
There was a time not too long ago that I kept to myself and just stayed home. Triggers didn’t often present themselves at home, so for the most part I was safe – I didn’t have to worry about hiding anything from my kids there. But, on the flip side, I was isolated and away from friends, which wasn’t healthy for me in other ways too.
I can only pray that my kids see my struggle and take from it that it’s possible to live with anxiety and not let the fear that comes with it cripple you. I can only hope to set an example for them as someone who has been at their worst, but steadily tries to rise above that. In my experience, it’s going to be impossible for me to completely hide this struggle from them…but maybe I don’t have to. Maybe, just maybe, I can trust them to love me anyway.