Archives for Panic Attack Story

A Panic Attack On Live TV? ABC News Anchor Dan Harris Reflects

[Warning: this video might (obviously) be triggering for those of you with panic disorder. It definitely put me a bit on edge. It does end on a happy note, if that's of any consolation.]

Have you ever had a panic attack in front of a large audience?

I've had my (unfairly large) share of panic attacks -- but most of them were only in front of small audiences, like the gaggle of shoppers who were behind me in line at CVS when I doubled over in dizziness at checkout.

(The moments between that first scanned item and that final step of swiping my payment card is akin to being stuck on an elevator between floors. After the first "beep" of the UPC scanner, I am trapped. I no longer have an easy excuse to run out of the store, if needed. I have to have to have to keep it cool and stay non-panicky, dammit, until that receipt is in my hand, right? I mean, otherwise...I'd look like a complete ass running out of there.)

And, oh, the marketing meeting at my former job in a stuffy, sardine-can-of-a conference room! I'll never forget that panic attack.
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What Does A Panic Attack Look Like? Watch This Young Woman’s Honest Video

To the outsider, panic is often invisible.

You can't see the tachycardia or palpitations. You can't see the adrenaline, the air hunger, or the dizziness.

But just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.

Popular culture (or at least this Google image search) seems to suggest that panic is this super-detectable experience that causes sufferers to pull their hair, widen their eyes, and clutch their fists or faces.

Maybe that's true for some -- but surely not for all. Panic can easily go undetected, and I sure know from experience: just recently, I had a panic attack while in line at my local CVS store. As I laid out my purchases on the counter, I felt dizzy, hot and sweaty, nauseated, lightheaded, and my heart was probably beating around 120 bpm.

"Do you have an ExtraCare card?" the cashier asked.

"Oh, yep -- let me get it out. Here you go."



She scanned my items none the wiser. I was panicking and she had no idea.
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Withdrawing From Celexa: Keep Calm And Carry Vegetables (Part 1)

A few months ago, I started tapering down my dosage of Celexa.

I'd swallowed 30 mg each and every day for at least a year and a half, but not long ago, I decided it was time to stop. And it wasn't because my anxiety was letting up -- not in the least -- but it was because I wanted to try and get pregnant before I ended up stealing one of the  many adorable babies that my close friends seem to be popping out these days.

Tick, tick, tock.


Earlier, I wrote about my first dosage cuts. Cutting down to 25 mg and then to 20 mg resulted in some withdrawal side effects, but they were mostly tolerable. Nothing to write home about, really.

I had high hopes.

I remained on 20 mg for a longer-than-usual period of time. Part of it was fear of the next dosage cut's inevitable side effects -- years ago, when I withdrew from a nasty little SSRI called Paxil, I quickly learned that the withdrawal effects became more pronounced the closer I got to zero milligrams.

Two Sundays ago, I decided to make the next cut -- from 20 mg to 15 mg. I would have preferred a brief hiatus at 17.5 mg, but measuring out seven-eighths of a pinky nail-sized pill would be, frankly, a pain in the ass.
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How Can I Treat Anxiety-Related Nausea?

I went camping this past weekend -- a feat in itself, essentially. Thanks to our awesomely large tent and my penchant for over-packing, I felt safe. I had my anxiety meds. I had enough clothing. I had food and I had water and I had plenty of blankets.

And, thankfully, I also had my "nausea bag".

Because nausea is one of my most difficult-to-handle anxiety symptoms, I lug around a big black bag of Every Nausea Remedy Known To Man whenever I travel.

I don't get carsick, exactly -- I've never actually puked on the side of the road or anything. But no matter: my stomach does flips, I start to sweat, I feel the impulse to dry heave, my mouth gets all spitty, and I sit whining in the passenger seat with my head between my knees.


Does the nausea cause the anxiety, or does the anxiety (of traveling) cause the nausea? Framing such a question in an either/or fashion answers nothing. I'm certain it's a little bit of both. I'm emetophobic, so I'm afraid to puke (and afraid of feeling nausiated in general). And, I'm agoraphobic -- so I'm afraid to go out and travel by car.

When nausea and anxiety combine, they form a powerful boss.

And, as we were leaving the campsite on Sunday, my anxiety began to kick in. We collapsed the tent and, immediately, my symbolic safe space had been rolled up into a bag.
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The End Of The Trifecta: How The Worst Panic Attack Of My Life Ended

(If you missed the first three parts of this story, click here, then here , and then here.)

The scene: a small road off of a two-lane state highway in the woods. The cell phone coverage: first none, then a single bar. My panic state: full blown.

I was laying down in my car, following the EMT-in-training's instructions to avoid sitting up or moving around, and I was scared nearly to death. I shook, I gasped for air, and I palpitated.

I hated every single second that slowly and dreadfully crawled by. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't even conjure up the energy or the clarity of mind to reach for my Ten Rules for Coping With Panic worksheet that lives in my wallet. I was in the middle of nowhere, I was stuck, and I couldn't escape without help. Not only was I about to receive medical help, but I'd had to call my husband and ask him to drive 40 miles to be with me.

Ugh. Failure.

The word kept repeating in my head: failure failure failure.
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The Trifecta Of Fail: Man Calls Ambulance While I Continue to Panic

(If you missed the first two chunks of this story, click here first and here second.)

This is the story of (one of) the worst panic attacks of my life. It happened in the middle of nowhere on a country road, geographically equidistant between my parents' house and my own apartment. Thirty-five miles both east and west of the closest "safe" place, and I felt both physically and mentally unable to complete the drive in either direction.

I pulled back onto Schoolhouse Road after trying (and failing) to backtrack to the state park parking lot where I'd last had cell reception. I couldn't do it -- I felt lightheaded, the trees and the road and the sky felt cartoonish, and my body was uncontrollably shaking.

I parked on the road between two houses, reclined my seat, and waited. And waited and waited and waited. I periodically checked my phone for service as I tried (unsuccessfully) to quell my symptoms. I managed to find a Xanax in my jacket pocket. I swallowed it with water and, for about a minute, felt a mild improvement thanks to the placebo effect.


Some young kid in a giant white pickup truck rolled up to my window and asked me if I was okay.

"Yeah, I'm fine," I lied. "I'm just waiting for something. Thanks for checking."

He drove off. Had I just missed my only opportunity to get help? My panic level increased.
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The Trifecta of Fail, Continued: Panic In The Middle Of Nowhere

(If you missed the first half of this story, click here first.)

So, there I was: holding my cell phone and sitting in the driver's seat of my car on a small side road in the woods with no reception.



I was shaking like a leaf and I barely had any control over my limbs. What should I do next? I tried to think, but only one thought kept breaking through into my consciousness: you are going to die. You are going to die. You are going to die.

First, because of how lightheaded I felt, I instinctively tugged at the lever that reclines the driver's seat. Wouldn't laying back -- and thus increasing bloodflow to the head -- prevent me from passing out? Yeah, that sounded good. It sounded like a good idea...

...for about three seconds, that is. It sounded like a good idea until the very fact that I was lying down in my car made me all the more aware that I was having a terrible panic attack. It's superstition, I guess: My panic resume boasts some real doozies, many of which involve either driving or being a passenger in a car -- and for the worst of those attacks, I laid back in the seat to keep that light-headed feeling at bay.

The very fact that I was reclining reminded me of other panic attacks, which, in turn, made my panic worse.
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The Trifecta Of Fail: A Desolate Road, A Panic Attack, And An Ambulance

The title alone tells the story...right?

But allow me to fill in the gaps and explain why, over the past week, I've been doing so much mental hopscotch over this incident.

Panic disorder sure has its ups and its downs. And sometimes -- and this is the part that's incredibly confusing and frustrating to both sufferers and their loved ones alike -- those ups and downs are back-to-back events.

Case in point: last Monday, I had a huge "win". I drove 60 miles (by myself!) from my apartment to my parents' house...AT NIGHT. IN THE DAMN DARK.


(This is crucial, people. Absolutely crucial. It's been forever since I've done something of that magnitude in the face of so many triggers [driving, driving at night, being alone while driving, and driving where cell reception is poor].  It's the kind of thing, really, that filled me with so much hope.)

Then, more small wins: I attended a funeral service for a family friend on Tuesday (without panicking!) and joined everyone for lunch afterward (without panicking!). And, afterward, I spent the afternoon and evening with my dad -- I love him to pieces, of course, but we tend to butt heads sometimes -- and my anxiety level remained low for the entire time. Low low low. Like, I-feel-like-I've-taken-Xanax-without-taking-Xanax low.

I was pleased with myself. And with my progress.


Then, enter Wednesday morning.
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My TEDx Talk: Anxiety — Hibernate, Adapt, or Migrate?

Awhile back, I wrote about how nervous I was to speak at my local TEDx event in Williamsport, PA.

I was pretty scared. Would I get lightheaded? Would I pass out? What if I couldn't remember anything I wanted to talk about?

I wanted to talk about panic attacks. I wanted to talk about how hard it was to work in a call center while dealing with panic disorder. I wanted to talk about those dreadful "inspirational" posters on workplace walls and I wanted to...
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Panic After Dark: Can You Manage Panic By Yourself?

The other day, I wrote about how I woke up in the middle of the night at about 3:50 am. My left leg was completely numb -- and, amusingly, the full-blown panic attack that followed did not begin as I was limping around my living room with a pins-and-needles leg. The panic only started after my leg had returned to normal.

In my last post, I explained how the panic rose (and so did my subjective temperature!). I left off here: there I lay, on my kitchen floor, with cold and clammy skin and a paralyzing fear of losing consciousness. Was it low blood sugar? Was it some other frightening medical problem? Or was it just panic?

Just thinking about the prospect of possibly passing out after not being able to bring my blood sugar up (and was it even blood sugar problem? I'll never know; it was only a guess, anyway) convinced me to run to the bathroom, full speed, in case of vomit. I collapsed on the bathroom floor, shaking, feeling only mildly safer to be positioned in front of an acceptable vomit-receptacle. You know, just in case. Just in case.

But of course, I'd left my ice pack in the kitchen...and, the baseboard heater was chugging along, right next to the toilet. The heat was unbearable. It took all my strength to lift myself off of the floor, burst into the bedroom, fall onto the bed, and ask my husband for help.

Why didn't I ask for help to begin with? Well, see, that's the thing about panic attacks: I want to be able to "come down" from them myself. If I always rely on my husband, or a friend, or someone else, then what happens when I'm driving in my car all alone on a country road and begin to panic in an area with no cell phone reception? If I'm used to relying on someone else to calm me down, I'm screwed.

If I can rely on myself, then I can probably cope no matter what the circumstance. Right?

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