Last June we drove out to Colorado to visit my son and his family. I was very nervous about leaving home, that’s what happens when you suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, you fear being out of your comfort zone. Instead of feeling excited like I used to before traveling, the days leading up to leaving left me feeling exhausted, shaky and moody. It was hard to motivate myself to pack our bags, something I used to do without giving it a second thought because I was pumped to get going. I wanted the merry go round in my mind to stop.
All the anxious feelings I had prior to leaving left me as soon as we jumped in the car. I suddenly felt free! The sun was shining, I turned up the volume on the radio, my husband and I both purchased lattes for the road and we were off. The highway looked so welcoming and I found myself singing to the music in the car… as my husband would glance over at me with a grin. No, he wasn’t grinning because I can sing like a rock star, just grinning because I like to sing. We both felt a sense of freedom once we hit the road. I remember thinking to myself, “why did you worry so much?” As if I had control over it.
We took our time heading out to Colorado. It was a 1600 mile trip one way, so we decided to take our time going down. My husband and I went at our own pace, there was no stress, we were so relaxed. I knew once we arrived at my son’s home that would change, we would be on their families schedule, not mine, or at least the the one I felt I had control over. I tried so hard to focus on all the positives- spending time my grandsons, sitting together as a family because we don’t get to do that often and feeling fortunate to see the beauty of Colorado. The first 3–4 days were great!
On or about day five I woke up feeling exhausted, I felt as though I was in a deep fog. I was hoping the feeling would leave me once I had my first cup of coffee and showered. Not only did I feel like I was enveloped in fog, I felt as though I was having an out of body experience and panic began to set in. I had medicine with me in case I did have break through anxiety so I took a pill. I began to feel a bit better and we left the hotel to head over to the kids house.
I wasn’t getting enough sleep and for what ever reasons when I’m sleep deprived I am much more prone to having a panic attack. When we walked in to the house it felt like everyone’s voices were echoing, I was spinning from the dizziness that overcame me and all I could think was, “Dammit, this has to stop, I can’t have a panic attack in front of my grandsons!” I grabbed some water and sat down for a bit. When we all got into the car it seemed that my panic attack had settled down and I was excited about the day, finally. We were headed to Estes Colorado and I was excited.
My son parked the car and we all jumped out. I took photos of the river that ran through the town of Estes and I was truly enjoying the scenery. My mind wasn’t on myself, I was mesmerized by the beauty that surrounded us. I felt at peace.
Once I was done shooting photos and the kids were done playing on the playground near by we were ready to walk and see more sights. We weren’t even a minute into walking when I suddenly felt extreme nausea, vertigo, my heart began to race, and I thought I was going to pass out. I fell behind everyone and ended up having to sit on a bench because I literally thought I was going to faint. My daughter in law saw me and sat down next to me. She asked if I was Okay? I told her, “I think I’m having a panic attack.” She yelled to the guys to slow down as we sat together on the bench. I remember telling her I need to get some food and something cold to drink. I’m not sure why but when I have a panic attack, a cold 7-Up helps as I sip through a straw.
I felt so defeated, embarrassed and ANGRY
When a panic attack hits you, your mind can’t think clearly. I remember my daughter in law pointing out different places we could stop to eat at while showing me on a map. I think I became a bit belligerent and told her to stop showing me a map because my head was spinning! My thoughts become a bit irrational when I’m in the midst of having a panic attack. Almost as soon as I basically bit her head off I caught myself and tried to pull it together a bit. I apologized to her and began crying hysterically.
I cried out of frustration, I cried out of embarrassment and I cried because I didn’t want my grandsons to see me like this, how would I explain this to them?!!
My daughter in law went around the corner and bought a soda for me to sip on. I told the kids I needed to eat and I felt a bit queasy but it would pass as soon as we got something to eat. Luckily, as soon as I mentioned food, the boys said they were hungry too. I felt a sense of relief that they had no idea what was going on. There was a nice Mexican Restaurant just across the street from where we were sitting and we headed over. I still felt shaky and dizzy but my husband held my hand and that helped me to feel a sense of calm and more balanced, literally.
After we had a nice lunch, the rest of the day was awesome. However, once you’ve had a panic attack and it doesn’t matter how frequent you have them or not, you get pre-anticipatory anxiety when it comes to doing something that is outside of your control (or comfort zone) again. The pre-anticipatory anxiety begins as soon as you plan your next ‘move.’ Sadly, I had one more major panic attack the day before we left Colorado when we were out on our own with my grandsons, a day that was filled with fun. Again, the boys never knew I had a panic attack but at some point if there isn’t a cure in my lifetime for this disorder, I will have to find a way to tell them what I suffer from when they grow old enough to understand. It’s very hard to hide a panic attack.
I practice meditation and mindfulness but this is not a cure for Anxiety Disorder or Panic attacks. If it were that simple, no one would be suffering from Anxiety and/or Panic Disorder. I’m very thankful that I have a family who loves me unconditionally and seems to understand that this is a real illness. Not everyone is that lucky, there are many people who suffer and their loved ones get angry with them, tell them to suck it up or just don’t seem to care enough to become better educated because too many people still view this form of Mental Illness as a weakness.
If you know of someone or have a loved one who suffers from Anxiety Disorder, please take it seriously. If you don’t want to read up on it- go to a few Doctor appointments with your loved one to get a better understanding of this illness, it will also empower YOU. Those of us that suffer from Anxiety Disorder understand that it takes a toll on those who love us. If you are a friend, don’t walk away, ask questions and let your friend know you are there for them. People who suffer from anxiety disorder can go long periods of time without having a panic attack and they also have big hearts… they will go out of their way to be there for you when you need them as well.
You can’t control Anxiety or a Panic attack anymore than you can control the tides of the Ocean.
Sometimes you just need to learn to ride the waves and try to remember they stop at the shore.