I had my first panic attack this week. Or at least I think it was a panic attack. Let me describe it.
I was lying in bed at night feeling anxious and thinking of all the different ways my children could die. Not out of the ordinary. This is the normal bedtime ritual my therapist and I are attempting to improve.
What if my son gets distracted and walks in front of the school bus?
What if someone climbs into my daughter’s bedroom and takes her?
What if my son eats nuts, and dies? Suffocates and dies?
What if, what if, what if?
As the waves of fear washed over me – again, totally normal for me at bedtime – I waited for them to ease as they usually do before I could fall asleep and hopefully dream of butterflies and chocolates and fairies. Except it wasn’t happening. It was building and getting worse.
I’ve always be a worrier. For as long as I’ve been a parent, I’ve been anxious about the tragedies that could come my way. But it’s gotten worse since I started treatment a few months ago. Suddenly everything has risen to the surface.
Watch: Mia Freedman discusses how she manages her anxiety. Post continues below.
Something else changed too. My husband who used to alternate between day shift and night shift is now on permanent night shift. Instead of being there to calm me down and distract me from my fears, I feel alone, isolated and dangerously occupied with my very worst thoughts.
On top of all of this, the kids are also going back to school.
My therapist would call it “the perfect storm”.
The other night, as I lay in bed and thought of all the things that could go wrong, suddenly all I could hear was my heart pounding. I could feel it pounding. I was sure that if I looked down at my chest I would see pumping.
I was scared. What was happening? Was I having a heart-attack? Was I having a premonition?
Was a plane flying through my bedroom? No? Then what was that loud, rushing sound?
I looked for my phone and spotted it just out of reach on my bed. I tried to grab it so I could call my husband or text him. Nope. I was also paralysed.
I lay there, sweating, clinging to my pillow, squeezing my eyes shut and praying for it to be over. It seemed like an hour but it was just a few minutes. It did subside.
It scared the shit out of me.
Instead of getting out of bed or texting my husband I lay there, praying for sleep. It came, eventually and the next day after saying, “Good morning” to my husband I added, “I think I had my first panic attack last night.”
“Fuck,” he said, “What was it about?”
“Oh, everything,” I said. I then put the kettle on, a sign which – in our marriage – is a clear signal that I no longer want to talk.
Nice, huh? You’re probably wondering what the next night was like and I’m happy to report that I haven’t had another episode since and with some considered effort on my part and the expert help of my beloved therapist.
I’m 40-years-old for God’s sake, successful, with three children, a beautiful husband and a near-perfect life. And that’s what makes something like this so frustrating.
It took me most of my life to realise that my worries and fears and concerns and negative thoughts were full-blown anxiety. Others recognised it in me before I did and it took a massive panic attack – thankfully at night in bed and not in the middle of the local shops – for me to confront what was actually happening to me.
I accept all parts of myself, the good and the bad, and it’s going to take time to sort through it all, but sort through it I will.
If you know someone dealing with anxiety or other mental health issues please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.