I had my first panic attack at the age of 28. It came on out of the blue, in the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday at work. I drove myself to the hospital thinking I was having a heart attack. I had never been admitted to a hospital before. Once the intake nurse took my blood pressure and determined that I wasn’t dying, she hooked me up to IV and I laid there quietly for about an hour.
A doctor came in, and she was exactly my age. She told me that what had happened to me was not ‘nothing.’ It was a cardiac event, but it was brought on by anxiety, not heart disease. She guessed, correctly, that I was about 30, single, and working in a demanding job where it was hard to keep my work/life balance. She said she saw women in exactly the same condition at least once a week.
I began crying immediately, which didn’t surprise her, until I told her that I was crying from relief, not fear. It felt like after thirty years of striving to look and be perfect, I was convulsing under the pressure, and here was someone telling me that it was normal to feel that way, that it was okay, and that she would help. I could walk out of the hospital and things could never be the same again. I didn’t have to just say, “Hallelujah, I’ve been healed!” and move on. I could acknowledge the challenge as both physical and mental, and use all the resources available—therapy, medication, self-care—to manage and ultimately overcome this.
The doctor prescribed me some anti anxiety medication. I took it several times in the next year or so, maybe before a big meeting when I felt myself getting anxious. At some point I threw the rest away and haven’t needed it since.