What I Learned Before and After My First Major Panic Attack

Author: Marc Rainey Jr.

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy…" Yeah, I know. Anyone remotely into hip-hop knows these lyrics and where they’re from. These are lyrics I’ve always overlooked and never gave much thought to except that they were the opening lyrics to an Eminem song. I only associated these lyrics with stage fright or other similar situations. Usually followed up with “that wasn’t so bad” sentiment afterwards as you’ve just completed another task you thought you wouldn’t make it through. I’ve had stage fright plenty of times and have somewhat gotten used to the feeling, though it never tends to get any less comfortable.

What I experienced recently for the first time in my life was far more frightening than the usual stage fright. My whole body was sweaty. Every muscle was tense. My head felt like the heaviest thing on my body. My heart literally felt like it was trying to climb out my chest.  My fiancee was attempting to talk to me as we were watching a Dave Chappelle stand-up and I couldn’t take in and process her words, or any of Chappelle’s jokes. I kept pacing and opening and closing the front door as she was asking me was I okay.

“I think I need to step out for some fresh air,” I said. It was probably about 9 degrees outside. I somehow was able to realize how silly that sounded so I just shut the door and ran to the bathroom. I was in the mirror talking to myself, saying I needed to go out there and let her know she needs to be ready to take me to the hospital. I was THAT sure I was going to pass out from the stress. I had just experienced my first panic attack.

I came out of the bathroom and my fiancee again, casually asked if I was okay. I attempted earlier to explain earlier in the day I was stressing out over work and she simply told me not to and to enjoy the weekend. She wasn’t understanding exactly what was happening and that added to everything I was feeling. I felt like I had no one to run to and that I was alone, a prisoner to my own thoughts and body.

“Yes, I just needed to get up and walk around,” I lied.

Not even five seconds after saying that, I fell to my knees and burst out crying. I don’t remember the last time I’ve done something like that. It was also the first time in our seven years of being together that she’d seen me cry. I explained I couldn’t focus on anything for more than a few seconds without having anxious thoughts. It was without a doubt the most miserable feeling I have ever had and a few days later I’m still trying to fully calm myself.

It was an extremely eye opening moment for me and though I’ve never doubted the seriousness of anxiety, depression or mental health, once you go through the experience yourself it’s a different ball game in how you view it. I have a much higher respect for people that deal with panic attacks and high anxiety more frequently than I do.

After experiencing my first panic attack, I’ve been on a quest to understand more about myself, different anxiety disorders and where it all stems from. After doing research on a couple different sites, the symptoms I personally experienced pointed to General Anxiety Disorder (though I will go to a doctor/therapist to confirm this). In a nutshell, this means you generally have anxiety that is not fixated on any one life event. When life is relaxed, you most likely will be too. When life is stressful your body and mind are more prone to experiencing stress/anxiety that could lead to a panic attack depending on the severity of the situation.

Learning these few basic facts about GAD has sparked a self-evaluation to see how long I’ve been living with this. Though this was my first official panic attack where I thought I needed medical attention, I am continuing to discover I’ve been living with this for years and have been misjudging it as regular stress to regular situations. As I look back I can recall other situations where I was on the verge of a panic attack but didn’t quite go over the edge.

This happened with my last job as well which I did go see a doctor for. All tests came back normal and no physical damage was reported anywhere on my body, so I shrugged it off and figured I just needed to do things to take my mind off the stress. At this time I was experiencing headaches that felt like full blown hangovers when I laid down on my back. This lasted about 2 weeks or so then things seemed to return to normal. I can recall moments almost back to high school where I experienced similar things.

Since the panic attack, I’ve been doing everything I can every day to help deal with this, until I get an actual appointment with a therapist. I’ve downloaded an app called ‘Headspace’ that has great meditation techniques for dealing with stress and anxiety. It contains a lot of breathing exercises and teaches you how to restructure your thoughts when you sense anxious feelings coming on. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a solid, free way to handle stress on your own time. 3-10 minutes a day is all you need.

I’ve also purchased a book called Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks Fast by Barry McDonagh. I HIGHLY recommend this book as well if you are dealing with high stress/anxiety. DARE (unlike what you learned in elementary school about drug use) is an acronym that stands for: Defuse, Allow/Accept, Run To, Engage. This, like Headspace, goes into detail about how to shift your thinking so you can live with anxiety and not have it control your thoughts.

A lot of the advice will sound really counter-intuitive at first, but I assure you it has been helping me since my panic attack. Barry McDonagh has helped a lot of celebrities, athletes and everyday people gain their lives back who have already attempted the therapy/medicine route with no luck. His style is centered on confronting the anxiety and getting your brain on the same page, rather than running from it with regular coping mechanisms.

We are in the day and age of mental health discussions are exploding around the country which is absolutely fantastic. If you decide to download Headspace or purchase Dare,  then you really are doing yourself a big favor and taking those initial first steps towards healing. I’m slowly but surely learning through these tools that the new and upcoming way to battle anxiety is to confront it and learn how to live with it so it doesn’t control you. Something I would have never told myself even just a week ago.

I hope to never experience another panic attack in life. I can simply say “it isn’t fun” but that really does the feeling experienced no justice. It feels like the closest I’ve ever been to death and I consider myself to be a healthy 25 year old with a normal life. I’ve never underestimated the power of taking care of your mind and I realize our generation takes that more seriously than previous generations. Whether someone suffers from anxiety or not, we are generally empathetic to one another when we tell a friend or loved one, “I think I have anxiety.”

If you feel like you do experience anxiety and have never been checked out, do it. If you know you have it and you feel like you are trying to do everything you can to run from it, stop. There are other ways to deal with it that have been clinically proven to work. You are not weak or abnormal for seeking help or confessing to these feelings. Roughly 40 million people in the U.S. have some form of anxiety or depression. You are not alone. Just keep in mind: if your mind isn’t healthy the rest of you isn’t either. It’s best to tackle it as best as you can before there are possible long term health effects.

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  • Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s been a tough road and I had my first panic attack last year and it was absolutely unbearable. I haven’t done enough to manage my anxiety and I’ve vowed to change that in 2018, and you’ve helped me push this along. Again, thank you.

    • Busy Working Mother