My first panic attack happened in a Blockbuster about 14 or 15 years ago. I was high-school age and trying to spend a gift card I’d won in a library reading program. I hadn’t been in there before and new places made me nervous, but I’d planned exactly what I was looking for and my mom and sister were with me so it was going to be fine. Then the DVD wasn’t there. And I can’t make up my mind what to do, my mom wants me to hurry up because we’re running late, my sister says just make a decision already, and suddenly I can’t breath so I grab a DVD march up to the counter, and get out. Then my family asks why I was rude to the cashier and seem so angry.
It didn’t feel like anger. My heart was racing, hands shaking, breathing shallow. I felt hot all over and my skin seemed too small. But other than embarrassing, I didn’t know what it was. And then it happened again months later in a Hobby Lobby. I’d worked up the courage to ask about a price that seemed too high, which lead to a confrontation with the manager and the realization that I was the one who’d read the sign wrong. Again the tightness in my chest, the shallow breathing, the shaking, and too-warm feeling. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
College didn’t make things any better. After I spent most of my first quarter hiding or in tears, I found myself in the Dewey Decimal 155.2 (Individual Psychology) section of a library’s bookshelves. Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Won’t Stop Talking* and Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You* were literal life-changers. I recommend them to people more often than any other non-fiction book except the Bible. I finally understood why so many things that other people treated as normal seemed overwhelming to me. But they still didn’t explain everything.
- *please note that these are affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I’ll receive a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase.
Realizing I Had Anxiety
I’m not sure exactly when I began to suspect I was dealing with an anxiety disorder. In June of 2013 I wrote on this blog, “I’m not very good at letting go of my anxiety.” But I was still thinking of it more in the sense of “I worry too much” rather than “a psychologist would say I have anxiety.” I started feeling guilty for thinking of myself as anxious, especially when people who knew they had anxiety started following my blog and I realized mine didn’t seem as bad as theirs. Maybe I was just a wimp who was overeating to normal, everyday worries. Read more