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For anyone who has gone through that which is panic or anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, or one who has experienced an actual panic attack, or anxiety attack, you’ll know that it is something that you wouldn’t wish on anyone. Below is my story, on when my first panic attack hit me, some thoughtful reflection, and the journey to how I got my life back…one step at a time.

Who Am I?

Ok, let’s get started shall we? It was back in early 2000. I was the quality control manager for a production company in Arizona. I had a couple direct reports, but the entire inventory and manufacturing group were listed as my responsibility from a quality control perspective. I reveled in the job as it was in my nature to understand how things work, and to make sure things were as they were supposed to be. As a kid, I always like puzzles, and generally wouldn’t stop until I had it figured out. When parts came in, we had to inspect them to make sure they were within tolerance. When production was running, we did periodic checks on equipment to make sure it was working as it was intended to. And of course, last but not least, after production, we got to play with the products by way of excessive testing, drop testing (which is convenient if you ever accidentally dropped something, you’d just yell, “Drop test!”, and every thing was forgiven. 😉

Anyway, I had an assistant who I had actually brought over from a previous workplace, because she had an awesome work ethic, and helped me in some of my managerial duties there as well. We became close friends, and I quickly thought of her as my kid sister. When I went through my divorce, she came over and helped me after we sold our house, and I was moving the last of our things out of it.

Over the years, not only did my trust for her abilities and capacity expand greatly, but our friendship continued to grow as well. She was/is about 8 years younger than me. And again to clarify, there was nothing romantic about our relationship, I really did think of her, and refer to her as my kid sister. Anyway, because of our close friendship, and my trust in her abilities, I was able to rely on her more, and give her more responsibilities as my duties grew as well.

She was engaged to her high school sweetheart, and he joined the military. Then he was stationed overseas. And while I should’ve seen/expected it, the thought of her leaving never crossed my mind. Pretty obvious in retrospect. Then she told me that she was getting married and then would be moving overseas to be with him. Initially I was ecstatic for her. I had met him on several occasions, and liked him, and them together as a couple

But then later that week, something happened. I got dizzy at work. I wrote it off as being dehydrated. I picked up some Gatorade to replenish my electrolytes, and then thought nothing more of it. After that brief episode, I was fine.

At this time, I was quite the gym rat. I would hit the gym consistently and hard, three or four times a week. My assistant was also a gym rat, and we often worked out together. We were both Type A personalities, and would push each other to help achieve our fitness goals.

Then the day came when she left…

Like I said, at first I was happy for her, and excited for her new adventure. But in retrospect, I think back and now believe that subconsciously, she was a major pillar in my life that was no longer there. Not only did she help me and provide great support through my divorce and moving, she was also a GREAT help in getting my job done at work. And last but not least, she was usually there and providing support at the gym. Interesting eh? When looking back on things, sometimes you can put your finger on potential sources for anxious feelings.

The following weeks went by without issue. With the exception that I wanted to find a new assistant, because I was at full capacity at work, if not more. And while I interviewed several, not were at her level, and so my search kept on.

About a month after this, I went to the gym on a Sunday. And was doing a weightlifting technique of “going to failure”. Where you do a certain exercise, say bench press or curling, and you continue going until your muscles fail, and you can no longer lift the weight. Not something you should do often, but periodically, you could do that to help increase muscle mass. Don’t know what the current position of technique for weight training today, but…that’s what many of us did, “back in the day”.

So after this workout, I knew I had really given it my all, when my arms were shaking a little as I went to unlock my locker. I had felt this in the past, and just knew that it was a sign that I did the technique as I intended. I loved my post workout routine. It was a big gym with all the amenities. So after my workout, I’d change into my swim trunks, rinse off in the shower, then go hit the hot tub. The hot water and water jets, were a welcome massage to tired and sore muscles. After about 10 minutes, I would get up, and the had showers by the hot tub, so I would rinse off with cool water, to bring my body core temperature back down. Then I would hit the steam room. My absolute favorite! I would sit in the steam room also for about 10 minutes, and then come out and cool off with a shower rinse again. Then last but not least, I would hit the dry sauna. I didn’t like it as much as the steam room, but I still liked how it felt. But in the dry sauna, I would only stay in for about 3 to 5 minutes.

So on this day, I did my complete post-workout routine, with one exception. I got caught up in conversation with another gym rat, and we were talking about scuba diving. Something that was very intriguing to me at the time. And true to my nature, I had lots of questions. I was very engaged in the conversation, when I felt very dizzy. And my brain was saying, get the hell out of there. I knew I had went well past my normal 3 to 5 minutes, and when I stepped out of the sauna, the cool air that met me was a welcomed relief. I paused for a minute and the guy I was talking to, came out and asked me if I was alright. Told him that I was, and that I just overdid it in the sauna. I went to the showers and took a cool shower to try and cool myself down.

After my shower, I felt terrible shaky, and sat in front of my locker. One of the other gym rats saw me, and asked me if I was alright as well. I told him that I think I got dehydrated. He took off to go get me something to drink. The bar gym was closed on Sunday’s, and so he ran to a store just next to the gym, and bought me a large Coke. When he came back and gave it to me, I felt a little better, and the coolness felt good going inside me. I thanked him profusely, and did feel a little better. My parents live close that gym, and so I figured, I would just go over there, drink some water and lie down for a bit, before going home.

So on the way to their house, my first full blow panic attack happened. I was driving when I felt sensations I had never felt before. I felt almost buzzy in my head, and I turned up the radio loud to try and work through it. I remember I had Korn on, and I was trying to get into the song to get me through whatever was going on. My heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest, and my fingers and arms started feeling numb. I started talking to myself, “Come on man…almost there. Just need to get there.” I felt frantic and a shortness of breath. When I pulled up to their house, I quickly got out and tried to unlock the door with my key, but was stumbling around with it. My Mom must’ve been close by, because I remember her opening the door, taking one look at me and saying, “Mijo (son in spanish), are you ok?” And I responded, “No. Call 911.” Which freaked my Mom out, because I NEVER am the one to say…yes, something is wrong. I’ve always said something to the effect of, “No, I’m fine. I’m good. I’m OK.” So she knew it was serious for me to say that immediately.

I remember sitting on their couch and my Mom bringing me a glass of water, and the concerned look on their faces. The panic attack was subsiding, but at the time, I didn’t know I had just had a panic attack. I just knew I didn’t feel as bad as I did moments ago, and just tried to stay still and sip on water until the paramedics arrived.

They did quickly, as there is a fire station very close to their house.

They came in and did vitals, and I remember thinking, well…there’s a good chance that I’m not going to die now, with these guys here. They were awesome, they asked me what I was doing, when I felt this, what I felt, etc. And were very patient with my slow response, because I didn’t want to feel another episode like that again. So I was very thoughtful in taking breaths between talking.

The main paramedic, quickly surmised that I had gotten overheated AND dehydrated and they had already started an IV on me. I remember him saying, “You’re going to feel ALOT better after we get some liquids in you.” And I remember feeling quite relived. As there was a solid explanation for what just happened. When they brought in the stretcher to take me to the hospital, I told them, “No, I think I’m good now.” But they said it would be best to run some additional tests, to just check everything else out. Plus my Mom and Dad weren’t having it about me NOT going to the hospital. LOL

So I went…they ran tests, and it was determined that I had gotten overheated and dehydrated, and my body was reacting to that. But they never mentioned a panic or anxiety attack.

In looking back on this, I’m sure that getting overheated and dehydrated were certain the catalyst of that episode. But what I came to learn, was that in my case, (and for many others), it didn’t matter HOW it came about. Once you have a panic or anxiety attack, the brain gets very suspicious of just about any otherwise normal feeling in your body. But more on that later. Let’s continue on this timeline.

Fast forward about a week. I was going to work, the gym (although taking things lighter, AND carrying a water bottle around with me…hmmm…maybe ~I~ started that trend? 🤔😅. Work was going good, and things were back to normal. Until one day at lunch, I went to a grocery store, and when I got to the back of the store, out of the freaking blue…Panic attack number TWO! I felt the immediate need to GET OUT OF THE STORE. I put down the couple of things I was going to buy, and quickly got to my care, when I felt the feelings start to wane. I felt better sitting in my car, but was sitting in confusion, thinking…what the hell just happened?

I knew I was staying hydrated after my first incident. I wasn’t lifting weights or doing anything strenuous. So why did this happen again?

It is here that I started down my long and winding road to recovery. Upon looking at symptoms I first read about what a panic or anxiety attack was, and it perfectly described what I had experienced in my first two. At the time, there was more of a stigma attached with having such a disorder. It certainly wasn’t as openly “accepted” as it is today. That is a great thing, and something to keep in mind, if you are working through this disorder, as I think that this simple fact, takes a little pressure off of having to “hide” it.

Then, for work, I had to go to China to check on some manufacturing plants supplying us with parts. I was initially excited at the thought, as I had never been to China. I flew from Phoenix to San Francisco, then changed planes and got on a China Airlines flight. The flight from Phoenix to San Francisco was delayed due to fog, and so I barely made the connecting flight – READ: running through the airport to get to the China Airlines flight. I made it, but my heart was a pumping! I pulled out my Walkman DVD player (yes, I’m THAT old), and was listening to some music, trying to keep the anxious feelings at bay. But shortly after lift off, I had panic attack number three! The flight from San Francisco to Ningbo, was 13 hours long. Just knowing that, somehow made my anxiety worse. BUT…I learned a very important lesson, that I am happy to share with you…

Panic Attacks or Anxiety Attacks – CAN’T and WON’T LAST FOREVER.

In fact they don’t generally last that long. If you think about that, and know it to be true, you know that you will feel better shortly. Later on I adopted the phrase “This too shall pass.” Which had a nice calming effect on my, as I knew it to be true. And even though I hadn’t fully mastered that concept for this trip, the facts remained that I only had a few smaller anxiety attacks while in China that week. Most of the time, I actually enjoyed myself and did some cool sight seeing.

When I got back from China, it was then that I started down my long and winding road to recovery. Upon looking at symptoms I first read about what a panic or anxiety attack was, and it perfectly described what I had experienced in my first two. At the time, there was more of a stigma attached with having such a disorder. It certainly wasn’t as openly “accepted” as it is today. That is a great thing, and something to keep in mind, if you are working through this disorder, as I think that this simple fact, takes a little pressure off of having to “hide” it.

I looked up what info I could find online, bought books, cassette tapes, went to various psychologists, and a couple psychiatrists. Trying to figure out a way out of this. The psychologists were friendly, but not very helpful. Most, if not all of the techniques and material that gave to me, was stuff I had already read. The main practice was CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and there was also desensitizing yourself (which means putting yourself in anxiety triggering situations to work through the anxiety attack – fun stuff eh?), breathing exercises (actually very helpful), and something newer (at the time), called EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). This last one sounds a little crazy at first, but when you’re dealing with anxiety and/or panic, you’re desperate to try anything and everything to get some relief. After reading more about it, and trying it, I found some decent success with it as PART of my overall recovery. The Psychiatrists that I went to talked a little about CBT, but were immediately pulling out their script pad to get me some medicine. I had already read about the latest and greatest meds for anxiety, along with the side effects, and did NOT want to go down that road. So I told them no.

After some time had passed, and after practicing and employing a combination of the above mentioned techniques – I would have periods of time where I didn’t NOT have anxiety, and felt somewhat normal. But then…OUT OF THE BLUE…boom one would hit. 🙁 It was very disheartening. And after one hits, your brain renews its subscription to nervousness daily.

After a while I found what turned out to be my GODSEND. I had read about people taking Alprazolam on a as needed basis. Alprazolam is the generic for Xanax which was patented in 1976 and FDA approved in 1981. I read about how tolerable it was, and that there weren’t as many side effects as taking some of the newer medications. I also learned that you could take it sublingual (under your tongue), and the calming effects would happen much faster than just ingesting it.

What happened next was amazing. I was at home and I felt a little nervous, and felt it getting a little stronger. I remember thinking, “I should try one of these here at home for the first time, so that I know how it will affect me, and how it will feel.” So I put it under my tongue and remember the bitter taste, but I didn’t care. I was cautiously optimistic and waited as I worked on my breathing and some tapping techniques. After about 8 to 10 minutes. I felt a soothing calm. And then, for the first time in a LONG time…I felt normal. Like my old normal self. I was relaxed, and calm, and there was no anxiety or panic symptoms at all. It was AMAZING. I think it is important to state…I didn’t feel drugged, I didn’t feel buzzed…I FELT NORMAL. Now granted you have to have the right dosage for you, but it was a wonderful glimpse into how I used to feel.

I remember nodding off on the couch after a while, and while some could argue that it was the benzo effect on me, I still contend that I had been holding a certain amount of tension within my body and mind, for some time now, that I was able to relax and let that all go, which allowed me to drift off into a nice little nap.

It became a paramount PIECE of my recovery puzzle. But is is IMPORTANT to note…it was just a PIECE of my recovery puzzle.