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How Getting a Panic Disorder Diagnosis Changed My Life

One year ago today, I had wires protruding from my body and trailing out of my shirt to connect to a machine on my hip. Due to my symptoms of heart palpitations, chest pain and vertigo, the cardiologist I visited recommended I wear a 24 hour EKG machine to map my heart patterns. I remember the hope that accompanied wearing the machine. Maybe, finally, they will discover what is wrong with me so I can get the help I need.

I also remember the shame, embarrassment and fear at having to wear this obvious machine to work. I put on the bravest face I could and tried to stand confidently at my cashier post. It was barely an hour into my shift when I began feeling the chest pain and racing heart that had been plaguing me for months.

Over the next several hours, the left side of my arm and face went numb. I was confused and did not know what I was doing or why I was standing with cash in my hand. Electric shocks ran up and down the left side of my spine, ending with bright bursts at the back of my head. I felt the blood drain from my face and my body felt like it was in an ice chest. My arms and the left side of my face twitched, seemingly controlled by an invisible finger that was poking the left side of my head with force.

My thoughts were on loop. I must be dying. What is happening to me? Is the monitor getting all of this? I’m dying and nobody is noticing.

One year ago today, I was still a month away from being diagnosed with a panic disorder. It took hundreds of dollars, an obscene amount of doctors and countless desperate moments to get to the diagnosis.

I never want to forget the darkness and hopelessness that occupied my day last March 29th. A year out, the difference between then and now is like night and day. I need people to know if they are in a place of desperation and fear I was in last year, there is healing for them.

The journey of therapy and medication that led me to where I am now was, not by any means, easy. The path is rough—a parabola of hills rather than a straight incline toward health. Between then and now, I had to get a leave of absence from work. There were days when I was too dizzy or too nauseas to leave my bathroom floor. There was a month when I simply could not eat. My throat constricted at the introduction of food and I lost weight that left me feeling frail and breakable.

But today, this March 29th is a day I am celebrating with depths of joy. I no longer experience panic attacks. I no longer loathe my body for its confusing and debilitating physical symptoms. If I do experience anxiety, therapy has taught me to locate my triggers and how I can healthily respond to my physical reactions.

Today I am celebrating because I have been given a new life. My chains of anxiety and fear are broken and I have the privilege of looking back on last year with a completely new perspective. I have learned to love my body and what it teaches me about my internal emotional state. There is healing for you. The path is hard and you may get discouraged, but there is a possibility of a life without panic attacks.

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Thinkstock photo via Olarty.