On Sunday June 10th I was driving all the way across town to pick up my wife Kate from the airport. Kate had been in NY for the weekend for an awesome bachelorette party with the old crew and I had our 16-month-old Max all to myself for the first time. My weekend was fantastic and filled with a plethora of hugs, cuddles, swimming, and of course my fair share of diaper changes and children’s tears. However, it was a very pleasant weekend and filled me with a feeling of joy at knowing not only could I take my son (alone) for the weekend…I wanted more 1-on-1 time with him. All the crap he does that I hate stopped…like constantly clinging to Mommy, “Mommy’s in New York doing tequila shots, dancing, and enjoying not having you cling to her.” He didn’t understand this but quickly realized Daddy was the caregiver and a little affection goes a long way with me…because I hadn’t had it in so long from him. He’s 16 months…he wants Mommy.
The weekend was perfect except for one pestering issue…and constant migraine that was building each day. I get them from time to time but this one was epic and could not be lessened by any medication. Oh well, no time to cry about it…Max is on the move and I was chasing. Sunday night we had dinner with the grandparents, cocktails after, and a special treat…a late night swim! The plan had been to take Max home and put him to bed after dinner with a sitter while I picked up Kate from the airport…but Kate really missed him and he was in such a good mood. So I cancelled the sitter and kept Max up 2 hours past his bedtime as we swam in the pool at night. His tiny face lit up with glee as he splashed around the shallow end and watched the surface of the water flicker with sparkles from the underwater lights. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.
A little after 9pm Max and I toweled off and began the 30 minute drive to the airport to get Mommy. He was like a broken record in the back seat, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy…” It was cute…and slightly annoying…and really making my migraine feel like my right eyeball was going to swell up and pop. I massaged my temple…and then it happened…my life changed. I had a panic attack. Now, I’ve had plenty of panic attacks in the past and am no stranger to how they feel so this was not shocking. However, it is a panic attack nonetheless. My chest tightened, I gasped for air, my vision tunneled, my head spun with dizziness, and irrational thoughts of death flooded my mind. I felt, as I always do, that I was going to die. While I am familiar with having an attack I had been used to infrequently having less than 10 a year until fall of 2011 when they started occurring more frequently…I was then having maybe 10 a month. By winter I was having 10 a week and now it seems I am having 5-10 small ones per day. I was also avoiding certain areas, people, and social interactions that I feared would induce another attack. All that panicking makes it hard to do my coping techniques and this panic attack…this damn panic attack in the car with my son after a gorgeous weekend…this was the one that I lost control of.
I can’t breathe…I can’t breathe…I CAN’T BREATHE! Breathe! Breathe! Bre……Oh God I’m dying! I’m having a heart attack! Oh God! Max! Max! Max! I have to pull over! I have to pull OVER NOW!!! No! Stop it! You fucking pussy this is just a panic attack and you are on a major highway! Just breathe! No! I’m dying! Oh fuck! Oh fuck! I’m pulling over.
I pulled off into downtown Wichita and looked for a place to stop and get out of the car.
If you get out of this car you will never get back in! You must keep driving! This is only a panic attack you stupid pussy. Breathe! Drive.
I drove straight through the downtown streets and onto the on ramp for the highway.
Nope! No! This isn’t working. Something isn’t right! Something is very wrong! I must get off this highway! I am going to die!
I pulled into the breakdown lane.
You can’t pull over on a highway with a baby! What are you going to do? Leave him here? Take him with you for help? Just keep driving to the next exit and then pull over.
I pulled back onto the highway.
I’M GOING TO DIE!!! I’M DYING!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING???!!! WHY HAS THIS NOT ENDED?!!!
I pulled off at the next exit.
This is not a good neighborhood. Take a breath. You have not died yet. At this point the airport is closer than home and you should suck it up and just drive there. Go. GO! GO!!!!!!!
I forced myself to drive to the airport, all the while freaking out. I pulled off on every off ramp and then back on at every on ramp. Leap-frogging my way to the airport as my fear ebbed and flowed as I entered and exited the elevated concrete path to hell. As I pulled into short-term parking I felt myself relax a little…I’d made it. Max was in the back seat mimicking my breathing. “Shhhhhh! Shhhhh! Shhhhh!” Clearly I had been hyperventilating for the past 15 minutes. Max thought this was all very hysterical.
When Kate walked out of the terminal she could tell something was wrong and I began telling her about our drive across town. We agreed that it was time to see someone and tomorrow we would setup an appointment…however tomorrow turned out to be the worst day of my life.
As I went through my regular Monday morning routine everything felt fine. It was just another Monday and last night’s attack was a thing of the past. A glug of coffee, a swipe of eggs, a kiss on the cheek and I was out the door for my routine 7 minute drive to the office…but there would be nothing routine about it.
My shirt feels weird. Loafers suck. Remember that panic attack you had last night? I hope that doesn’t happen again since I’m driving. Shit. Now that I’ve thought about it…it will happen. Shit. I feel scared. My shirt really feels weird. I don’t want to wear loafers anymore…I don’t think its safe for me to drive. Oh shit…I’m talking myself into a panic attack aren’t I? Driving is fun! Driving is fun! Driving is fun!
I flipped on the radio.
There. Maroon 5 is happy…you should be too. Why is everyone so in love with Maroon 5 right now? Must be because of The Voice. This shirt sucks…I should go home and change my shirt…and shoes. I shouldn’t be driving. I really shouldn’t be driving.
Then BAM! It hit me again: A shot to the chest, hot flash throughout my body, can’t breathe, blacking out, neck itching like it’s on fire, and that inescapable feeling that I’m dying. I killed the radio, tossed the AC on high, and started hyperventilating! Right then I hit the light at the intersection of Rock and Central…a long light…a major intersection…and that would be as far as I would ever make it.
10 seconds later I was driving in reverse down Central and pulling into the parking lot of a grocery store where I utterly broke down. I called Kate and she talked me down while guiding me home on back streets. By the time I got home I was a wreck. I collapsed into my leather arm-chair figuring I would gather myself and have Kate drive me to work when the tiniest seed in my brain sprouted:
Things will never be the same.
I erupted into tears…and not the “oh poor me” tears but the “holy shit what do I do” tears. I heard sounds of terror that couldn’t be coming from me but I was the only one making noise as Kate held me and Max looked on with confusion. Daddy had reached his breaking point…and broken through. I was not greeted with relief on the other side, I was engulfed with fear. My tears did not make me feel better, they scared me as I seemed to be taking a back seat in my brain. Then…I was hardly there at all. Like a child through a looking-glass I watched paralyzed in horror as I did things and reacted in ways that were not me. I was not me. I watched myself tremble, scream in horror, collapse into a ball, pace frantically, kick inanimate objects, be driven to the doctor’s, speak to a doctor, be driven to a pharmacy, freak out at my family pharmacy, growl at stranger, be driven home, take a pill, and crawl under the covers.
A day and half later I was able to leave that bed for an hour at a time. I had experienced a 6 hour anxiety attack with multiple full-blown panic attacks. 6 hours. For 6 hours I felt as if I were going to die and was convinced I was having a mental breakdown. 6 hours. Imagine the most terrified you have ever been in your life, now amplify that to the point of being convinced you are milliseconds away from death, then maintain that for 6 straight hours. I can’t even write about those 6 hours yet because thinking about them makes me start to relive them.
I know I’m not alone out there, in fact every one of you reading this will have or have had at least 1 panic attack in your life. Many of you know exactly what I’ve experienced and have similar stories. Many of you will luckily have no idea what this feels like. This is why I have not posted in a while…I’ve been a bit under the weather. That seed has grown, Things will never be the same. However, change doesn’t have to be scary…it can be welcomed. I am looking at this as my body’s way of telling me its time to stop coping and hiding – its time to start dealing with and addressing it. So I am…and this is part of it…writing about it to all of you. I have not been out with a stomach flu, I don’t have a call on the other line I need to take, and I don’t have an appointment I’m late for. I’m just scared and my fight or flight trigger is a hair-trigger. Its time to fight though. Things will never be the same…and that starts by not lying:
…and now the next chapter begins.