Suddenly, something shifted. I felt my blood move. I became conscious of my breathing, which felt increasingly labored, and my heartbeat, which was getting faster by the minute.
I thought I was dying.
I called my husband, my best friend, and my OB, trying desperately to stay centered. The OB counseled the emergency room, and minutes later I was speeding away in the back of an ambulance, my husband headed up to meet me at the hospital.
Tests, and more tests. And then the doctor’s conclusion: lady trouble.
Those weren’t his words. He said that what I had experienced was hormonal, brought on by the pregnancy. What I heard, of course, was a doctor dismissing my very real symptoms as hysteria.
That was my first panic attack.
The second one came at a supermarket. It had been a hard month, and my dad had been on a respirator for the last week. But there, in the freezer section, I had finally gotten to speak to him again. Happiness. Relief. And then, my world came crashing in.
Dizziness, shortness of breath, heart racing. My husband rushed me home and I held onto him for dear life through one of the longest nights of my life. I did not sleep.
That was my second panic attack. Within a week my OB had me medicated. The first time I popped that pill I felt like Alice in Wonderland.
The next days and weeks were harrowing. As anyone with a panic disorder can tell you, the only thing you have to fear is fear itself. And I did, so much so that I could barely walk down the street without my heart racing.
I spent a lot of time talking myself down. If you feel like you can’t breathe for 30 minutes you’re probably getting enough air. If you’re dizzy for a day without passing out, you’re probably not in any immediate danger. I made it through today, so I’ll probably make it through tomorrow. I lived, for those first few weeks, from pill to pill.
I wondered, would I be like this forever?
But I wasn’t. The medicine kicked in, my hormones evened out, and by my third trimester I had crawled out of my pit of despair and even managed to enjoy the last months of my pregnancy.
They kept me on the meds for a few months after the birth (people with anxiety disorders are at higher risk for post-partum depression) but before long I was drug-free and perfectly fine. It really had been hormonal and pregnancy-induced. I wasn’t mentally ill.
I waited four years to have my next child. I was scared stiff to become pregnant again. I didn’t think I could make it through another pregnancy like the first. Eventually, I finally took the leap. And wonder of wonders, I made it through unscathed.
Today those dark months are just a strange memory. And yet, they stay with me, nipping at my heels. With every period of high stress, every slight elevation in my heart rate, the fear of fear looms. And I fight it. With everything I’ve got.