'Celebrating' World Mental Health Day With a Panic AttackAh, yes. It’s World Mental Health Day.

And what better way to celebrate than to have a full-fledged panic attack at 12:30 pm while driving home from the coffee shop?

Sigh. I honestly didn’t want my “Blog Party” post to be so, uh, negative — but I need to accept each day honestly, authentically, and for what it is.

I teach a marketing course at a local college. When I walked into the front lobby of the building where I teach, I was happy to see a nice display of mental health-related brochures and pamphlets in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week. I grabbed the “Panic Attacks” brochure (in part because the corny image of a frantic woman on the front really annoyed me) and headed off to class.

Can I teach in front of a class full of students?


Can I leave, grade papers at the local coffee shop, and chat with the other regulars?


Can I drive home from the coffee shop?

Apparently not. That’s where the panic began.


It’s not like I overloaded on caffeine or anything, but I do suspect my blood sugar was a little low. (Yes — low blood sugar can trigger anxiety!) I knew I ought to eat, so I packed up my half-graded papers and walked out onto the sidewalk. Then, I saw the orange ticket on my windshield.

Dammit. My meter had run out. Time to make a donation to the City of Williamsport. Again.

Their parking ticket system is set up like this: a parking violation costs $10. But, if you pay within 24 hours of receiving a ticket, you only need to pay $5. And, if you pay in person at the Parking Authority, they give you 4 parking tokens good for an hour’s worth of parking. An in-person visit, on the day you receive the ticket, yields you a 60% savings.

Off to the Parking Authority I went — but because their office is located in a busy downtown area, I couldn’t find — to my amusement — anywhere to park. Anywhere close enough, that is. I started feeling a bit weak by this point. Was it the low blood sugar? The anxiety over getting the ticket? The thought of having to walk a considerable distance between my car and the lady who takes my “donation”?

I started to shake as I rounded the corner in a maze of downtown one-way streets. Not good. Then, I started to sweat.

I can’t panic now, I thought. I want to pay this ticket. I have a hair cut appointment in a half hour. Then, I need to grade some more papers. I’ve got shit to do. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.

I pulled up to a red light. My chest felt heavy. I felt the impending doom.

Everything started to spin. I couldn’t breathe.

I tried turning right, but my car jerked and heaved forward because my right ankle couldn’t bear any weight. It was vibrating in fits and starts. I used both my left and right foot to hold down the gas pedal so I could pull over my car into the safety of a small parking lot.

And there I sat, shaking.


I’m home now: safe, warm, and comfortable. I’m heating up some convenience food in the microwave and I’ve re-scheduled my hair cut appointment. I still have a few papers to grade…and now that I look around my living room, I have a few things to tidy up, too.

A year ago, a panic attack like today’s would have taken me down to much greater depths. But thanks to a few months of cognitive behavioral therapy, I view today’s attack as more of an inconvenience than anything. It doesn’t mean that I’ll start panicking daily again. It doesn’t mean my agoraphobia is going to flare up. It doesn’t mean, well, anything.

Searching for meaning in panic is exhausting, after awhile, and doesn’t yield fruitful results. Once you understand your triggers, the Law of Diminishing Returns comes into play: further analysis doesn’t gain you much. It costs time and mental energy, and only gives you a tiny slice of insight in return.

So, remember this: life has its ups and downs. We continually surf a sine wave as we progress through our days. And if, at the bottom of the sine-wave bowl, a panic attack emerges, it doesn’t come bearing meaning. It’s simply there, and it’s transient. Just like everything else in life.

And with that: it’s World Mental Health Day, but you’re not a failure if you don’t feel particularly healthy at the moment. It’s okay. The day will be what the day will be.

And sometimes accepting that fact is healthier than fighting it.

I blog for World Mental Health Day