It started when I was about 7 or 8 years old and back then there wasn't a name for it. I was just a high strung kid, afraid of her own shadow. I so clearly remember my fears really coming to light. I didn't know what the fears were specifically but I felt fear. I would get nervous with my stomach in knots. My mom had to pick me up from school so many times that eventually she refused and told them that she would not come and to send me back to my classroom. I guess I can't blame her for that. It had to be frustrating as hell. Here I was, absolutely fine whenever I was at home. But when I had to go to school I suddenly became a mass of nerves so tight that sometimes I even threw up from the stress of it.
Eventually I grew out of it. And it didn't come back again until I was an adult. My first adult panic attack happened in 1993 when I was planning my wedding. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, I was driving to work when all of a sudden it hit. Well I take that back, kind of. Nothing happened at that moment but my mom was giving me a lot of grief during the planning. She hated my dress, she hated the things I wanted (not a mass, a ceremony), she was mad I didn't ask my sister to be my maid of honor. Was it really such a problem that I wanted a rip away dress and mosh pit at my wedding? I promised to not get that going until all the old Italians left. It went on and on, everything was a problem and I didn't realize how much it was all getting to me until that one day, driving to work. It had been so long since I had a panic attack that I didn't even know I was having one. I thought I was having a heart attack or a stroke. I detoured myself from driving to work and instead went to my parents house and they rushed me to the ER, where we found out what was really going on. Then it all clicked into place. This is what was happening to me as a kid. Panic attacks!
Knowing what it is was kind of a relief. After that one in '93, they stopped again. It would be years before I would have another. And that happened in 2006. I had been thinking a lot about how my parents were aging. How things were going to change. How my grandma was not going to be around forever. How a lot of their care would fall on me. And it hit. It hit like a ton of bricks. Fear, panic. What would I do? How would I handle it? What's going to happen? Why was I in this alone even though I have two brothers and a sister? But I would be, pretty much. One brother lives in Florida, my sister lives in Alabama. My other brother is local but he and his wife both work and they have two kids, so my reliance on them for help was going to be minimal. I will say however, that when it's really really counted, he's been there.
It was only a year later that the shit really hit the fan and I was put to the test. My father became ill. And through it all not once did I have a panic attack. I fell right into control mode. I took over and did what had to be done. I took care of my mother while my father was laid up in a hospital in a strange city in a far away state for weeks and weeks. I questioned the doctors about everything while my mom remained in kind of semi-shock. I took notes on every single thing every doctor said. I was at that hospital day and night. I put cold compresses on his brow when he was feeling anxious himself. And when his anxiety really kicked about all that was happening to him, I got the doctor to give him the same medication I use (Ativan, the wonder drug). And when they moved him to a horrible facility for his rehab, I got him out and had him placed somewhere better. And it felt natural to me to be in this role because I am such a control freak.
Generally speaking there is no rhyme or reason anymore, at least for me, as to when one will hit. It's these two strange aspects to my make up that I don't understand and maybe never will. How can the thought, whether conscious or unconscious about something terrible happening send me into physical panic but the actual event taking place does not. It's times like that the weakness I feel for having panic attacks morphs into a strength I never new I had.