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The Lessons I'm Bringing Into the New Year After Having a Panic Attack on Christmas Day

It was Christmas Day.

Following our morning family traditions, I jumped in the shower, ensuring I had more than enough time to put myself together for our evening meal at a family friend’s home. Just as I turned on the water, my body began to tingle. A sensation of lightheadedness overcame me. I gripped onto the shower walls in hope of some kind of support.

My heart began to race. I turned the dial on the shower up, thinking, “Maybe, I just need to find the perfect temperature.” I began to gasp for air, hyperventilating, feeling as though I had just received a massive blow to the chest. My body trembled as chills ran down my spine. Tears flooded my eyes, and I found myself completely consumed by fear.

“No, this can’t be happening,” I told myself.

I crawled out of the shower, believing a more stable surface would somehow help. My entire body responded by completely shutting down. Soaking wet and frantic, I gazed around me for something, anything, to bring me back to reality.

All I could hear was my body and mind screaming, “Please, make it stop.”

What was happening to me?


I knew exactly what was happening to me. Yet, knowing only made the situation more terrifying.

Panic attack.

But, why was this happening to me?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has always been my primary diagnosis, with panic attacks rarely finding themselves on my list of common symptoms. Prior to, I’ve always referred to moments of heightened anxiety as “mini panic attacks.” These were times when I could feel the panic rising, but I was able to quickly bring myself back to reality.

This time was different. I couldn’t bring myself back to the present moment and what normally transpired in five minutes, somehow stretched throughout a period of two hours, well into our Christmas meal. While I have always loved the holidays, this holiday season has made me feel differently. It reminded me how so many of us have a hard time surviving the holiday season.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I was forced to acknowledge all the pain 2016 left behind. All of it at once, on Christmas day. The feelings of shame accompanied with being let go from a job due to a mental illness. The feelings of worthlessness that followed after finding myself trapped in an abusive relationship. The feelings of guilt as I advocated for mental well-being while finding myself in my third mental health relapse. All the while, this little voice in my head continuously reminded me, “You are damaged.”

Heading into this new year, I begin to watch the walls surrounding my pain start to crumble. Slowly, I am allowing myself to feel a new sensation, a feeling of empowerment, one that comes from providing myself both the time and space to simply sit and feel. This is followed by granting ample time to heal and move forward with an understanding that personal growth and discovery should always be a priority.

For me, 2017 is going to be a journey of trial and error. As I open up my little toolbox of skills, all acquired in 2016, it’s time to relearn how to love myself and know my worth.

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Image via Thinkstock.