That title probably grabbed your attention didn’t it? We all have many “firsts” in life, our first steps, our first day of school, our first love and our first heartbreak. We remember some of the firsts and there are those we can’t recall. I wish I didn’t recall this first of mine. I wish I didn’t know any of it. This is about the first panic attack I ever recall having, but I didn’t know until I was much older what it was.
Papaw had been diagnosed with cancer when I was around 10 years old, to this day I still don’t know what kind of cancer he had as it was kept from me. He had been gone from home a long time, in the hospital either having chemo treatments or possibly surgery as well, I’m not certain. I’ll be asking those questions of someone who knew what was happening as I dive into writing about being surrounded by illness as a child in forthcoming posts, Lord willing.
As Papaw was recovering at home in his hospital bed he was changed. His once slick black and silver hair was gone and in its place was this baby soft, cotton like white as snow hair, thin and just growing in. I can’t tell you how long Papaw had been back home when this panic attack happened, but he was in and out of reality much of the time and this altered state left him almost like a baby. I’m assuming he was being given some sort of high powered pain pill or even receiving morphine shots as there were nurses that came and went from our home. I could tell he was in a great deal of pain as he would not only cry out in agony, but he was rarely awake and he was in need of round the clock care.
Mamaw’s nephew’s were all mostly good, kind men who would take night about staying at our house to help if Papaw had an episode at night or needed to get up and down to use his potty. This time lasted for awhile, nurses in and out, people staying the night, me emptying and cleaning his potty chair and helping him eat. this cancer and treatment really changed him, it weakened him terribly, he would never be the same. Papaw had previously endured many surgeries, but this was the one that broke him and the one where I realized I was losing him.
One sun shiny day Papaw was resting in his hospital bed and I was inside cleaning the back side of the living room near the porch. It was midday, bright outside and warm so I’m assuming the time of year was either summer break or it was the weekend near summer. I was dusting and heard a loud bang around the corner. I ran quickly to find Papaw lying on the floor between the bedroom door and little nook where the telephone sat. He was curled up in a fetal position and his head was bleeding profusely. He had attempted to get out of bed and walk, being so weak he didn’t have the strength to do so, but something compelled him to try that day. His forehead had been filleted open on the corner of the door and the skin was laying peeled back, a deep wound, that had blood pouring from it. I was terrified.
I ran as quickly as I could to find help. I don’t recall how I got help to him, but there were people surrounding him quickly and I stayed, frozen for awhile, watching neighbors in and around the house. The ambulance finally arrived and I found myself sitting alone under a small red apple tree below the backside of the house. I don’t know how long I had been sitting there, but Mamaw’s niece by marriage, Barb, came walking toward me. She sat with me and I just broke. Before that moment I had not had the ability to cry, I must have been in shock. I really don’t know. Barb must have realized something was wrong and came to my aid. Her mother and Uncle lived just below Papaw and Mamaw’s in a rental home they owned that sat near the apple tree. I don’t know if anyone would have even thought to check on me had Barb not seen me. They were all very concerned with the fact that Papaw was bleeding so badly and had taken a terrible fall, they didn’t have time to worry about me.
God put Barb there that day, I believe this, as He has kept watch over me in times of great need. She happened to be visiting at just the right moment. I remember breaking down and almost not knowing where I was or what was going on. I thought I was going to be alone, with no home. That thought just kept swirling round and round in my mind like a bumble bee caught in a jar with no escape. I was going to be all alone, with nowhere to go, no home, no one to care for me. I knew Barb was there next to me. I heard her telling me she would take care of me, I knew I asked if she would be my Mommy, but everything else is a blur.
Somewhere between me sitting under the apple tree and Barb coming to my side I had either walked or she had carried me or drove me to Uncle Mack and Aunt Jenny’s. I kind of awoke is the only way I can explain it. I came to realize where I was and what was going on. It’s as if I had left reality myself, kind of like Papaw did when he would call out for his sister or mother during his illness. He couldn’t help it, his mind was somewhere else, controlled by something else. I couldn’t help it either, I was the same. I just knew I had been one place, crying and scared of being abandoned and I came to be somewhere else.
I recall a feeling of embarrassment coming over me. I was ashamed that I had cried so hard, ashamed that anyone had seen me and ashamed that I had to be tended to. I was old enough to manage on my own. That’s probably why no one had bothered to check on me. I had always been self reliant, responsible, the one who watched everyone’s children when I was still a child. So this moment of weakness that I was caught up in felt horrible. I still have no idea how I got to Uncle Mack’s house. I know that Aunt Jenny was lovingly there trying to aid me. When I came to I was sitting on the couch that was always the first one you come to when you walked through Aunt Jenny’s happy doors. But the panic attack had divided me from reality as they still do at times.
That’s scary to admit right there. It’s scary to tell you that I have times that I do not recall what has happened to me. That is a horrible panic attack, that is a mind trying to prevent itself from further harm. I thought I had seen my Papaw die. I thought I was going to be left alone. There was more blood than I had ever seen come from a human running down the face of a man I loved deeply. My mind went into survival mode.
Stephanie, my therapist, taught me that our minds go into three different modes when we feel danger and/or fear. They are flight, fight and freeze. My natural instinct is to run from danger, but my mind at times says FREEZE! When I lived in Alabama from 2005 to 2015 I found myself laying on the couch in the living room unable to move. My body felt heavy, my extremities seized. I had no idea what was happening. Was it diabetes, that runs in my family. Was it something else, some sort of palsy or other genetic ailment? I didn’t know, but it was becoming so frequent and alarming that I visited my doctor. It was at this visit and subsequent visits that I would learn about anxiety and what it could do to a person.
My doctor went through a list of issues, we did blood work, we had my thyroid checked. All seemed well. Then after a few visits he asked “how are things at home?” I began to cry almost instantly when he asked, “how strange,” I recall thinking. I had just lost my aunt to suicide. I expressed to him the stress of this terrible ordeal and the fact that Shawn and I were traveling back and forth to Memphis Tennessee, three hours each way, twice a week so that Shawn could complete his bachelors degree. I was stressed and my body was manifesting the inner illness, the burden that is unseen by the naked eye, but felt deeply by the carrier. Anxiety and depression, boom.…but not just any old depression, catatonia. The big, bad word that sent me almost into a panic attack there. I felt as though I would vomit. What did this mean?
My doctor said that while this is a rare form of anxiety and depression it does happen, even if we see it in movies and laugh about it. It’s very real. He decided a low dose anti-depressant was the best solution. I had never been on any kind of medication, but one other time in my life. That was in Japan when Shawn, my husband, was in the Air Force. It was tough there some days, but not unmanageable, so I tossed the meds, because they made me feel worse. I’ve never liked doctors, hospitals or medication for many reasons. But after hearing what could happen if I didn’t get things under control I elected to begin taking medicine again, but not the stuff that made me feel worse like in Japan. Not a high dosage, just enough to help me and it did and it has. I am thankful for this medication and the doctor who cared enough to help me understand what was ailing me.
I went most of my life with no medication, I’m glad I found something that would help me. I was embarrassed to tell anyone what was going on with me, even though some asked. I just simply said “I’d rather not discuss it.” I tend to keep to myself, plus when people here the words anxiety, depression and medication they oftentimes view the person diagnosed with any of it as crazy and unstable. While this is entirely unfair and wrong, because mental health is just as important as physical well being, it’s a fact. People don’t take to folks “being on nerve pills” as they say. This holds with it the connotation that the person taking medicine is incapable of taking care of themselves or as many proclaim, “not having enough faith.”
I don’t want to be ridiculed, not then and not now. I want to be cared for and respected. I don’t want people to think I’m some kind of faithless pill popper, but there are people who believe anxiety and such the like aren’t real and that those of us who take medication are ridiculous and sinful. This is cruel and this is wrong! People like me simply have faced terrible life circumstances that shaped our minds differently. That combined with the fact that mental illness is common in my family, well you have before you a person who may just need a little help along life’s troublesome way.
If you or someone you know needs help, seek it. I will no longer allow tiny minds to dictate my path, you shouldn’t either. I believe that if you truly suffer that God has given many scientists and doctors the knowledge they need to provide help to the suffering. I believe that God put me with the right doctor and I believe that God answered prayers on my behalf for healing. Perhaps you have prayed for help, for an answer or sign for help with your struggles, could this very writing be your answer?
Medication may not be for everyone and it may be so that many, many out there are capable of overcoming the toils and troubles of life without any type of intervention. I’m glad for those people, but they don’t suffer the same affliction as I do. I lived that way for years and years, without any intervention. I believe that God gave me my therapist Stephanie and my doctor in Alabama to help me out of the hurt. I’m thankful for the medication that I have to help me remain more at ease daily, because I am naturally a person who frets over things. I want everyone to be okay, I know that’s impossible, but as you read this blog you will understand how I became a person who struggles to have confidence that life isn’t going to beat you down at every turn. I am also a person who believes in being proactive, that’s where therapy comes in. I am learning how to overcome the tragedies of life and one day, I pray, I will be equipped with the tools I need to be as strong as I want to be and no longer have to take a bit of medication.