On one hot summer day, I bought the most perfectly plump watermelon I could find at the grocery store. I hurried home, ready to slice the sucker up for a refreshing treat. The blade of my chef’s knife sliced smoothly through the glossy green rind. Suddenly, I felt my heart begin to race.
Intense pain radiated throughout my chest and my throat began to tighten. As much as I tried, it was like my lungs were unwilling to fill up with air – it felt like I was trying to suck air through the tiniest straw. Dizziness overcame me and my body began to feel weak. I started to feel like I was experiencing an out-of-body experience – is this a dream? What was I doing? Why am I holding this knife?
The knife slipped from my hand and clanged as it hit the floor, shattering the handle. Startled, I left the mess of black seeds and half-cut watermelon on the counter, and immediately laid down in bed. I had no idea what was happening to me. Is this a heart attack? Should I call 911? Am I dying?? My cat crawled up on me, sniffed my sticky watermelon hands, and parked on my chest, purring away. It’s almost as if she – Dr. Cat – knew exactly what was happening, and how to calm me. She stayed there for an hour, consoling me.
I scheduled an appointment with my primary care provider. After reviewing my clear EKG, she stated this was simply heartburn, and that I should begin taking antacid medication and reduce certain foods in my diet. I remember thinking, “Wow, heartburn sucks if that’s what it feels like every time!”
Two years of recurring symptoms passed with no relief from antacids. The symptoms were occurring more frequently, and I couldn’t track any reasonable cause. The symptoms occurred while exercising, grocery shopping, cooking dinner, lying in bed, and during Netflix binges.
I finally decided to see a psychiatrist. “You just described the classic textbook panic attack,” she said within the first fifteen minutes of my first session.
What?! How did I not know these were panic attacks? After talking with her further, she referred me to a therapist to talk about different techniques I could use to help myself reconnect with reality and calm myself during these attacks. We discussed medication options and set a follow up appointment. Which was great, but all the same, I wish I would have seen her much sooner. All that time, I’d been living in fear of when it would hit and incapacitate me next – would it be during a work meeting? In front of my family? While I’m on a date? At the mall?
It’s been six months since my first appointment. I’ve been diagnosed with panic disorder. We had to try a few medications, but I’m finally on medication that reduces my panic attack frequency and helps me live a more normal life.
This is truly an example of real value in real mental healthcare – seeing a mental healthcare specialist who focuses solely on the brain, not just a general practitioner who treats the endless issues of the entire human body. I hope that sharing my story has been helpful to someone. If you feel like you might be suffering from a mental illness, see a specialist as soon as possible to start the process of healing and overcoming it! The pathway to long-term help is just a phone call away!