When My Panic Attack Unexpectedly Sparked a Beautiful Friendship
I have panic attacks.
They started happening on a regular basis nine and a half years ago. Some attacks are worse than others. Regardless of the severity, it is often a difficult, painful experience. It helps when the people around me during an attack are nonjudgmental, kind and understanding.
I want to share one such experience:
It was the winter of 2012. I had just moved out of state from my family and started a new job. I hadn’t shared my panic disorder with my boss or any coworkers yet. Early one morning, a severe panic attack began right at the beginning of our work day. Despite the snowy weather, I dashed outside. In my own experience, I find it very difficult to breathe during a panic attack and being outside is helpful for me.
It was only a minute or two before my boss found me slouched behind a wall, sobbing and trying to steady my breathing. Rather than being upset that I hadn’t shared my condition with her, my boss kindly wrapped the jacket off her back around my shoulders. Then, this wonderful woman sat on the snowy ground with me and encouraged me to talk with her about my panic attack. My boss wasn’t asking me about it out of personal curiosity or judgment — human to human, she sincerely wanted to hear what I had to say.
After I shared a few things with her, my body started to relax. My heart beat slowed down, the tremors in my hands ended and my breathing became more even. Once the attack subsided, my supervisor shared with me about the time in her life when she really struggled with her own mental health. What started out as an awful morning, quickly turned into a beautiful experience. Not only did my boss listen attentively to my story without any agenda, she also shared a personal anecdote from her life to reassure me that mental health struggles are nothing to be ashamed of.
Even though this experience was nearly six years ago, I have absolutely never forgotten it. My supervisor and I became very good friends after that cold, snowy morning; although I no longer work with her and live in another region, we have stayed in contact. Each time I have asked her to provide a letter of reference for me, she includes that she would rehire me at her company. Ultimately, what started out as a very painful, stressful morning gave way to a beautiful friendship.
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Unsplash photo via Andrew Robles