Saturday, September 3, 2011


I have a confession to make.  It might not be a big revelation because I think I've either eluded to it or mentioned it before.  I suffer from anxiety.  It's not crippling.  It's not severe.  But it is enough that I need medication (as needed) for it.

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.

I did not make my First Communion with my class because I was so riddled with fear about it.  As if making it by myself was any better.  No one could figure out what was wrong with me.  They just didn't have a name for it back then.  But I knew when one of these attacks was going to hit.  I could feel it.  It's a tingly sensation in my head, then I'd get really hot and sweaty even if it was freezing.  And then I couldn't think of anything but having to leave.  The words, "I want to go home" were all that would go through my mind.  And once home, I was fine.  Like nothing ever happened.

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.  


  1. Hey Lalia,

    I am so sorry to hear that. Panic can have various reasons and have you identified yours. Sometimes with a little bit of therapy it might be all better.

  2. Poor you! From what you are describing, your attacks seem to be triggered by family events/issues. As for me, changing country was a life saver!

  3. I have a friend that gets panic attacks and I was with her one time when it happened. It was scary, I thought she was having a heart attack.

    After the few years that you've had, I can see why you have experienced them as an adult.


  4. Ah Lalia I empathise with you as I too have struggled on and off with panic attacks. As it turns out my Mother, my Nan, her Sister, and my Father get them. Mine stem from my childhood, and also continued into adulthood, and I too take special little pills that help me out. I am thankful I haven't had one in a whilst as my coping mechanisms are now better - and I guess I actually am stronger then I used to be...

  5. Lalia, what a difficult thing to cope with, especially when it seems to hit out of the blue with no warning. My daughter also suffered with them in college. Isn't it strange how often the thought of something affects us more than the actual event. We seem to get strength to cope with events when they are happening. It is prior to or afterwards we collapse at the thought of what might or what did happen.

  6. I'm very glad I found your blog. I love your honesty. I too have an anxiety disorder (I tend to suffer from shortness of breath, I thought I was asthmatic for a long time.)

    Keep up the writing.

  7. A really good piece about panic/anxiety attacks with real insights into why they happen. Love that last sentence, "the weakness I feel for having panic attacks morphs into a strength I never knew I had." When you tell about your childhood attacks, it makes me wonder how many children suffered from panic attacks that were mistaken for something else.

    I didn't know what panic attacks were though I remember once having one just before a major presentation. I probably mistook them for extreme anxiety that I self-medicated with alcohol. The first time someone told me she suffered from panic attacks, I pooh-poohed them. Then I found out more and also that I was not immune.

    In your case, family or formal functions seemed to trigger them. It sounds like you've faced up to them and learned how to deal with them.

  8. Thank you :) It is amazing how many people seem to suffer from anxiety and don't really know what it is. I used to think it stemmed from religious functions. Really. I did. Well, to be honest I'm not necessary convinced that isn't a trigger. But yes, family worries tend to bring it out, and yet, when the worry is real, the anxiety leaves. Go figure.

  9. I, too, had panic attacks during my late teens to mid 20s. Each time I had to convince myself I wasn't dying. I think you hit the nail on the head: Imagined fears are worst than real ones.