I really didn’t want to write this one. I also didn’t want to wait until a good day came along. It’s happening now, so now it’s time to talk.
About three months ago, my world changed. I was about board a plane to Sri Lanka, hanging out by the terminal. All of a sudden, my thoughts went into overdrive. I was imagining the plane crashing, terrible things happening, being trapped in a tin can for hours. The airport started spinning. I couldn’t breathe.
Then all I could think was, I’m not getting on that plane.
After hundreds of flights, this had never happened before in such an extreme way. I tearfully went to the ticket counter and told the woman, um, I need to get on this plane, but I can’t? I’m freaking out? Help?
This angel from British Airways somehow knew exactly what was happening, smiled and told me it’d be alright. She had me take a seat while all the other passengers boarded. She then led me all the way down to the plane and handed me off to the sweetest stewardess, who in turn checked on me every 20 minutes until I settled down with all the free wine I could stomach. Crisis averted, I thought.
Some time later, I found out I had experienced my first panic attack.
The Nightmare Continues
The trip in Sri Lanka went without a hitch though, and life went on. I was even fine on the flight back. Several weeks later, while in the car with my husband and in-laws, I had another one. It manifested in traffic and I was suddenly deathly afraid to be where I was. Pure, primal fear. Can’t breathe, please pull over, panic, so scared.
And this time, those feelings never quite went away.
I thought, alright, I have a weird travel phobia now. Not helpful for my current career as a travel writer, but it’ll be OK. For days I hid in my room waiting for the panic to subside. I went to the doctors, many times, describing my terrible fears and they prescribed me every pill under the sun. Some helped, some made it worse. I had to get on a plane again in several days so I was trying everything. I went back to the states for a visit, completely unhinged. Panic attacks kept happening, I stopped taking care of myself. I didn’t eat, see any friends or barely leave my parents’ house.
Even as I pen all this down, my ears are starting to get hot. I’m losing a little control. I’ve been under lots of stress before but this is a different, blinding fear. Right now, it’s impossible to go a day without thinking the absolute worst will happen, over and over again.
But. I do have hope. One of the biggest lies my mind tells me is this is it and it will be this way forever. I try to realize this every day through yoga, meditation, therapy and simply talking about it. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do but I’m trying.
This is why I’m writing this today. One of the most incredible things that has happened with this terrible anxiety is finding out how many people in my life have gone through the exact. Same. Thing.
I Never Knew
One friend said they spent the better part of grad school thinking they were going clinically insane. Another still battles ongoing, crippling self-doubt and continues to search for the right medication that can help. A friend in London opened up to me after I said I was feeling hopeless that they spent nine months on anti-depressants, unsure how they could go on. Over a meal, a new friend spilled forth their countless fears about the future and how it often left them breathless. An old pal I hadn’t seen for a long time feared dying and felt she had to pretend everything was OK for years until she started therapy. Every one of these people felt completely, utterly alone.
A couple people calmly and patiently tell me they also woke with their heart racing in total panic every morning like I do, but it will pass. Some send me calming music, mantras to live by and simply distract me for a while. Every one of these people has survived. And thrived, despite some bad days and ongoing battles.
Others who haven’t been in this boat have still been incredibly supportive, which blows my mind. My husband is there in the trenches everyday, and many family members check in all the time just to see how things are going. Friends near and far offer unwavering support, which I’m grateful for, even if I’m lost in my head a lot right now.
Until you’ve been there, it’s so hard to understand. I would read articles about people with anxiety and depression disorder with a mild, detached interest or sympathy over the years. I had stress and existential questions like everyone does at times, but it never stopped me from living my life.
That was completely changed, three months ago. I get it.
I don’t want to sugarcoat it and I don’t want to tell you I’m better. I’m not sure if I am, yet. My lying mind tells me I will never be, but I’m working on that. I’m not sure of a lot of things now, but I hope with time, both medical help and self-care things will be clear again. I’m trying out a few smaller trips and larger ones with loved ones, working on my fear and finding my passion again.
I miss the things I love desperately. I want to join the world again.
My final thing to say is please. Please, oh please. Reach out. It all can be so, so scary and so daunting, I get it, but the best thing I did was tell the world about my story. Even Prince William is doing it. It’s not only therapeutic, but it can get you out of your head for a little while. Find all sorts of people – people who are all ponies and rainbows that can make you laugh. People going through the same thing you can cry with. People who have studied these mental health issues for years who can offer help.
And if you can’t fathom seeking help from loved ones, doctors or a therapist, come talk to me. I can’t promise I’ll be much help either, but I can listen and I can hold your hand virtually or in person while you contemplate the next step. Take it day by day, it’s all any of us can do. It will be OK.
It’s an invisible fight, but I have faith it’ll be worth it.