I have often ruminated on this blog about how trying, and sometimes failing, at all these new things has helped me shake off some of my Type A tendencies. I admit I used to be pretty tightly wound, but I am certainly making strides. But last week I took a step back; a step back into panic.
It’s not easy for me to admit, but I have had four panic attacks in my life. Well, I think they were panic attacks, I felt pretty darn panicy. But for the sake of full disclosure I was never clinically diagnosed with any sort of anxiety disorder, been under a doctor’s care or taken medication. But for me, these were panic attacks. The circumstances surrounding my three previous panic attacks sum me up to a tee: I had two after making mistakes at work and having those mistake show up on TV (one was a misspelling, the other was getting a New York city council person’s first name wrong, disappointing my absolute favorite anchor and friend). The third took hold of me when I was running late for an appointment with a councilor whom I started seeing because I wanted to stop having panic attacks. While the irony of that last statement is not lost on me, it turned out to be helpful for this counselor to see me in the throes of my anxiety.
What do these instances say about me? Basically, I don’t like to be wrong and I don’t like to be late.
Yep, that’s me.
I learned some techniques for calming myself down and leaving the insanely fast pace TV news industry certainly means less acute instances of extreme pressure (although stress was certainly not the reason I left the news business). The world of advertising and PR can be stressful, but it’s not the same as working on the lead story of the 5:00 broadcast, but because the signal from the satellite truck is weak, its 4:58 and you are still waiting for Minton to feed (sorry Tim, I had to say it). As we joke in PR, “We’re not curing cancer here.” And we’re not. We’re also not breaking news.
Last week I left work to head to one of the many Flywheel classes I am attending each week, hopped on the MBTA’s Green Line (yes, I know, that was my first mistake) intending to stay on for just four stops and make it to Flywheel with plenty of time to change, get on my bike and ease into a stress-releasing after work ride. Had I walked, maybe even crawled there from work I probably could have made it faster than that darn subway, but the T stopped between each stop for what seemed like an eternity. As the seconds ticked by, I could feel my blood pressure rising, the muscles in my back tensing and my shoulders inched closer to ears. I started fidgeting trying to release some of the tension that was building up inside me. I felt hot, but also had goose bumps. When the conductor announced he would be letting everyone off the trian one stop before mine, I could feel myself getting hotter and hotter.
I ran off the T, down Dartmouth Street IN HEELS, completely freaking out. I really must have looked as if I were escaping from an insane asylum. By the time I reached Flywheel I was sweating, hyperventilating and nearly crying. The kind and patient staff said they cut off entry to the class five minutes after it starts, so I had to change quickly. In the bathroom I started peeling clothes off my sweaty body as I tried to control my breath, I was cursing myself and my eyes welled with tears to the point I could not see clearly. When I tried to put my belonging in a locker, I froze. I literally could not comprehend the directions printed clearly on the front of the locker. Put in my four digit code? Not once but twice? I use the same bloody code for everything in my life and in that moment I had no idea what it was.
With tears now streaming down my cheeks, I begged a staff member to help me, while admitting, “I can’t work the locker. I think I’m having a panic attack.” Really, ya think? They were so nice, grabbing my stuff to hold behind the front desk and making sure I had water before I headed into the studio. When I got on my bike, the lights had already been dimmed, so luckily no one could tell that I was already sweating, breathing heavy and had tears rolling down my face.
After a few minutes, my erratic, panic-induced breathing pattern was replaced by a hard, yet steady flywheel-induced breathing pattern. I was calming down. After class, I apologized to the Flywheel staff “for acting like a freak.” As I walked home I went over the evening’s events and got upset (and embarrassed) again. I was upset with myself for letting the possibility of being late for a gym class–one that I didn’t even pay for–reduce me to an anxious, sweaty mess. But that’s the thing about panic attacks; you have no control.
Typically, I wouldn’t share this, or any of my other shortcomings with anyone…let along the world wide web. In fact, I would likely not admit that I have any shortcomings period. But over the last week, I have been thinking about this a lot, and I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t share, it would be acknowledgment that a anxiety is a shortcoming, or something to be ashamed of. It’s not. It’s just who I am. The NIH estimates that 4 million Americas have had at least one episode of acute anxiety in their lives. I’ve had four in 30-something years, and that’s ok. I’m ok.
Have others had panic attacks (diagnosed or undiagnosed) and felt embarrassed or ashamed about it? I have to say, I feel much better, and even a little more clam, now that I have shared this with you and the entire interwebs. I’d love to hear from others if you feel comfortable sharing.