For the first time ever, I had a panic attack at work.
I don’t typically write about my job here, but I think you have probably inferred that I work with children most of the time. LUCKILY, I was in an office type environment during my panic attack. Feeling completely out of control and on the brink of death while working was a brand new experience, one I think is worth sharing.
It all started with someone else being sick, as most of my panic attacks start. I won’t go into details, for fear of panicking someone else, but a co-worker of mine has been very ill recently, and I had the misfortune of being caught in a conversation of hearing every detail. Anytime I get caught in similar conversations I want to say, “Oh, I’d really not like to hear about your sick friend because I’m afraid it will make me anxious.” The truth is I’m more afraid of sounding like a heartless bitch or crazy person, so I just sit silently and try very hard to nod and secretly ignore every detail.
I never do though…forget every detail. I usually remember each sign and symptom, dwell on them, look for them, and eventually convince myself that I too have each symptom. One symptom from this particular situation was fainting. This particular symptom was the one that stuck with me.
While working, I was convinced I was blacking out, I felt hot, weak, dizzy, and absolutely positive I was going to pass out at any moment. I was ready to tell my co-worker to call 911, and prepared to describe my symptoms in detail to the EMT. My obsessive thoughts worsened, became impossible to stop, and when I didn’t faint, I began to panic in its place.
The worst part about having a panic attack is losing all sense of logic. Logically, I know I am just having a panic attack, I know I will survive, and I know how to stop it. In that exact moment though, logic is out the window, and all I can think to do is call Husband.
Poor Husband…I hate hate hate depending on him to bring me to my senses. I feel a sense of guilt and humiliation anytime I use him as my remedy. All I needed was for him to remind me that I AM okay, that I am NOT dying, and that it’s JUST a panic attack. After this, logic started to slowly find it’s way back to me, and I could finally begin the magical steps that force the panic monster to leave.
Step 1: Breathe. I literally remind myself to breath, deep breaths, in and out. Deep breaths actually force your heart rate to slow down and your body will begin to relax.
Step 2: Reminders. I tell myself it is a panic attack, it is not death, it will end, and keep breathing.
Step 3: Allow only positive thoughts: This is by far the hardest step. After all, negative thinking is what brought me here in the first place. I typically repeatedly think, I am healthy, I am alive, I am breathing….over and over.. It’s all about changing that negative scroll rolling through my brain.
Step 4: Acceptance. I am very hard on myself after having a panic attack. I feel embarrassed, angry, exhausted, depressed, and shameful. It’s important to remind myself that my feelings were real. The panic attack was real, and it’s okay that it happened. I used to try to quickly forget it happened, toss the blame to something unrelated, and brush it all under the table. Now, I’ve learned that these attacks have roots, and my job is to find the roots, dig them up, and expose them. Validating my emotions is all part of the healing.
After all this breathing, thinking, and healing, I was left slightly broken and very tired. I realized that I panicked because I’d been dwelling on the sick co-worker, which is probably why it happened at work, and I was ready to get out of there.
Thankfully, returning to work has not been difficult. People who have panic attacks often have trouble returning to a place where they had an attack. A couple years ago, this would have been worse, but recognizing my emotions and pinpointing the root of the situation has been incredibly helpful.
Hopefully, this was a first and a last for me. I don’t think there is a good place to have a panic attack, but work is definitely one of the worst places to have one.
I am healthy, I am alive, I am breathing….