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.

Time to drive home, down the same 60-mile backwoods road from whence I came. Easy, right? After all, two days prior, I’d driven it IN THE DARK. WITHOUT PANICKING.

I set off around 9 a.m. with all sorts of goodies in tow — my overnight bag, my “nausea” bag (which is filled with Pepto-Bismol, saltines, Tums, ginger candy, and Dramamine), my purse (with its supply of Xanax), and a pretty glass hummingbird feeder my dad had given me. (Despite hanging it outside in his backyard for a year, he never got any hummingbirds. So, instead of letting it continue to hang uselessly in his basement, I offered to take it off of his hands.)

I felt confident.

Ten minutes into the drive: all is well.

Twenty minutes into the drive: yep, still doing well. Rocking out to some Modest Mouse and eating a peanut butter cup I’d bought at Sheetz. (I try to avoid sweets, but when I’m successfully kicking agoraphobia in the rear, I treat myself.)

Thirty minutes: feeling a little nauseated. Is it the candy? Is it the potholes? Are my shocks bad? I pulled over into a state park parking lot as a slushy rain began to fall. I called my husband (with what little reception I had) for some comfort and encouragement. I dug into my nausea bag and popped some candied ginger into my mouth. I reminded myself that a little nausea isn’t going to hurt me, and I pulled back out onto the road.

Thirty-two minutes: uh-oh. Feeling a little lightheaded.

Thirty-two minutes and two seconds: I’m getting shaky. Why is my heart racing?

Thirty-two minutes and three seconds: I’m probably going to pass out. And die.

Well, that escalated quickly.


I pulled a quick left onto Schoolhouse Road, a small country lane ironically devoid of schoolhouses. But, I reasoned, there were two houses flanking the road, and, if I were to pass out in a slushy puddle of mud while circling my car in a panic, surely someone would come out to rescue me. (In other words, it was a “safe-ish” place to panic.)

And panic I did. I pulled to the side of the road, put on my hazard lights, and reached with a shaking hand into my purse to grab my phone to call my husband again. (His words and his voice settle my nerves in a way that no one else’s can.)

I dialed. I hit “send”.

Then, nothing.

I had zero bars of service. And I was alone. And I felt so lightheaded that I couldn’t even get out of the driver’s seat to get help.

Cue one of the worst full-fledged panic attacks of my life.

(Check back tomorrow to find out how I got out of this miserable mess.)

Photo: Doug Kerr


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