I can trace back my first panic attack to a week after my mom died in 2009. I decided I needed to get away after dropping everything in my life (including my job) to take care of her for a year while she battled her second round of breast cancer. It was my first trip alone, and it was going well until I decided to take a taxi into Playa, Mexico to do some shopping. Something told me it was too dangerous to do alone. As I waited for the taxi, I started to sweat and immediately felt so queasy, like I was going to throw up. I assumed it was something I'd eaten, or maybe I accidentally drank the wrong Mexican water.
I didn’t experience this again until I started traveling heavily for work in 2011 and 2012. Almost every time I went away, I ended up getting “sick” in my hotel or while navigating the ridiculous turnpikes in New Jersey. I had to fly home early from Florida once and decided I needed to figure out what was going on.
I had every test done through my gastroenterologist, and all they could tell me was that I had a leaky gut and some inflammation in my stomach. They promptly gave me acid reflux medication and sent me on my way.
I tried every single holistic method to control my anxiety. I did deep breathing exercises, drank tea and tried meditation. I even went to a place that hooks your brain up to a computer for an hour trying to change your patterns. I took every supplement that supposedly helped with anxiety. I went to an acupuncturist, a naturopathic doctor, therapy and many other places to seek help. I changed my diet drastically as well.
From there, I was okay through Christmas, but in January everything started to unravel. I was getting nervous and sick at my house, which was my safe haven. It wouldn’t stop. I was in a constant state of panic and couldn’t sleep, eat or even function.
I went to the ER more times than I care to admit, thinking I was having a heart attack or dying. They really couldn’t help me, but would give me an IV and some Ativan and send me home.
Over the next three months my weight got so low that I had to go in for IV fluids since my anxiety was so high that I couldn’t eat. I had to spend the night in the hospital once in order to get my nourishment back to somewhere near normal. I was terrified and didn’t want to admit that I had a problem that had nothing to do with anything physical. How do you admit to yourself that it’s your brain causing all these horrific physical ailments?
My mother-in-law showed up one Saturday at our house and freaked out when she saw me. My hip bones were sticking out and I just looked incredibly unhealthy and sick. My very supportive husband and I decided that we had to do something to get me we
That night I made the difficult decision to check myself into a psychiatric hospital, where I spent the next week focusing on myself. I was so against taking medication, but I finally admitted it was my only option at that point.
At the hospital I was able to see that I wasn’t “broken” and that I wasn’t alone. I had an instant support group of people who were going through some of the exact same things I was. We were able to learn from each other and help encourage each other.
After leaving the hospital, I completed five weeks of out-patient Dialectical Behavior Therapy, where I learned to deal with my brain’s “false signals” of danger. I learned so much about myself and my triggers. I started seeing a new psychiatrist who is much more in line with my needs and beliefs. I also go to my Life Coach who has been amazing in helping me move forward and face my fears.
Thinking back, it’s no wonder I hit rock bottom, considering the stress and pressure of dealing with parents who died young of cancer, custody battles with my ex-husband, a heavy travel schedule for work, going to school, and more duties than I can count. I just couldn’t handle it all. Since then, I've learned to put myself first; when I don’t, I'm no use to anyone around me.
Here's how I did it:
I spoke to my boss and cut out the travel aspect of my job. I'm now home with my family every night.
I set small goals. I was 10 weeks behind in my schoolwork, so I set a goal to do two hours daily until I caught up. Sticking to my plan and goals allowed me to catch up with ease.
I get a pedicure or a massage at least once a month. These are treats for me that allow me to disconnect from everything, if only for an hour.
I use essential oils that are calming and relaxing, as well as some that help me focus better during my work day.
I started my health coaching business very slowly and am working up from there. I now understand that slowly growing my business is better than a rapid growth that I couldn’t manage.
I walk my dog more and ride bikes with my daughter.
I fall asleep every night listening to a guided meditation that I downloaded on my phone.
This entire experience has been a blessing in many ways. I have learned so much about myself and what is really important in life. I still have to be cautious daily to not go back down the anxiety road, but if it happens, I now have the skills and knowledge to keep myself healthy.