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Anxiety

I Had a Panic Attack–And My Toddler Knew What to Say

jeep

I’m anxious about a lot of things, most of which are transportation related. I take Ativan to fly in an airplane, I drive only on the tiny island where I live, and I don’t even ride a bicycle with any confidence or enjoyment. So when my mother-in-law suggested a Pink Jeep tour as part of our family vacation in Sedona, I was a little dubious.

“How about a mild tour, with no elevation changes?” I suggested, looking at the website. “I’m not sure about ‘off road acrobatics.’”

She went ahead and booked a tour anyway, and my husband, our 3-year-old daughter Penrose, and his family eagerly boarded the Pink Jeep.

You can imagine what happened next. “Welcome to Broken Arrow! This is our most extreme tour!” our guide said with a wink as I climbed in next to the carseat in the back. My stomach lurched in anticipation. “Deep breaths,” I told myself, wishing I’d brought my Ativan with me.

We cruised down the highway and onto the trail. The jeep lurched and swayed as the guide expertly drove it up and over the iconic red rocks.

“Wheeee! Fun!” Penrose yelled as she jostled side to side in her carseat. We stopped to learn about the mesquite plant and then kept climbing. We perched at a 45-degree angle and then drove too quickly towards the edge of a precipice, slamming to a stop.

My heart raced, and my breathing was shallow. While my husband, child and in-laws were enjoying the gorgeous views, knowledgeable guide and exciting ride, I had descended from merely nervous to full-on panic attack.

I looked at my husband, afraid I would burst into tears. “I’m having a panic attack,” I whispered. “I have to go.”

He called up to the driver and let him know what was happening, while I started to cry as quietly as I could. Penrose looked at me.

“Are you scared, mama? Can I help by holding your hand?” I reached over to her tiny hand, amazed through my fear at how calm she was—and how she knew how to help me.

We held hands tightly as the driver turned the Jeep around (I offered to hike back down, but he wasn’t allowed to leave passengers behind), and I braced myself between my husband and my child as we crept back down the same rocks and dirt slides, and headed back on the highway.

When the Jeep parked at the station I was almost unable to stand up and climb out of the truck. I collapsed on a bench and began to sob. Penrose draped herself over me. She murmured, “You were scared when it was bumpy, but it’s done now. It’s OK. I’m here,” as I cried out the adrenaline that had built up over the last hour. My husband put an arm around me, and my mother-in-law patted my shoulder and apologized.

When I felt steadier, I went with Penrose to the bathroom to wash my face. She continued to hold my hand, and leaned against my leg while I got a paper towel and cold water. I felt for a moment that she was the adult and I was the child.

“Mom? I had fun when it was bumpy. But you didn’t. So we went back. You don’t have to be scared now, right?”

I smiled for the first time since we’d first climbed into the Jeep.

“That’s right. And you helped me so much. Thank you. I don’t feel scared now at all, because you helped me.”

We took hands again and walked back up the steps to where the rest of our family was waiting. My husband and his father, brother and sister-in-law rescheduled the tour and would get to enjoy it the next day. But for me, that was it. I was relieved that I could enjoy the red rocks on foot on the hiking trails, and that I had a daughter who was compassionate and calm in my time of need.

This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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