In Gloria Steinem’s book “My Life On The Road” there’s a chapter in which she talks about how everyone has before and after moments in their life. They’re an event or instance that you come to define your life by before and after they occurred. For her, it was being a part of the Women’s Conference. For me, it was the day I was diagnosed with a panic disorder and started my anti-anxiety medicine.
This was the day I finally took control of my life, the day I finally understood who I am and why I feel the way I do. This is the story of how I got to that point and why going on anti-anxiety medicine has made every day after feel like a new life.
What it was like growing up with an undiagnosed panic disorder.
I’m in tenth grade, it’s around midnight on a Saturday and my friend has fallen fast asleep, breathing deeply. Then there’s me, laying across a mattress on the floor, wide awake, heart beating so fast I can’t believe the sound of it hasn’t woken her up. I can barely breathe and it’s as if a dark blanket has wrapped itself around my brain, enveloping it with the worst thoughts it could fathom. I have no idea what is happening, my only thought is that I must be dying.
It wouldn’t be for seven more years until I would come to learn that what I had experienced that night, and many other times in my life was a panic attack.
It came to a head the summer after spending my junior year of college living abroad. I was staying with family on the west coast and I could feel my anxiety had been getting worse. It was becoming increasingly harder to eat, something I had previously experienced when my anxiety flared up. My throat closed up and, no matter how hungry I was, refused to open back up and swallow anything.
At the same time, I had begun to seriously experience dissociation. Psychiatry.org defines dissociation as “a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of who he or she is.” I felt as if nothing was real, I was simply floating around, unable to feel grounded in one place.
One night I made the mistake of looking up how I was feeling, finding chat rooms filled with people describing their symptoms. That triggered me and I ended up having the worst panic attack I’d ever had. Again, still at the point in my life where I didn’t understand what a panic attack was. All I knew was that it felt as if my body was going to die, a feeling that lasted for almost three hours until my mind mercifully fell asleep.
– Sarah Fielding
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