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Why I Actually Love My Panic Attacks

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I have slept in LAX more times than I would like. One year, I spent 15 different trips in Chicago midway but have only seen Chicago once. I stayed at a motel where there was a murder the morning I arrived. I have met a world-famous cat photographer, got sex advice from a porn star, and have spotted Snoop Dogg twice; I’m hoping there will be a third time and I will be close enough to fangirl out on him. I have spent countless days in random coffee shops working, I’ve met people who instantly became my best friends and others who were not for me. For 12 hours I was stuck in an airport that did not have any heat and had to share a blanket with a stranger. I’ve never loved someone so much as I did that night. After a snowstorm that caused flights to be canceled at a small airport in Idaho, a dance party broke out and the bar gave everyone free drinks. One time, I watched a football game in a hotel bar, and even though I do not like football, I had made so many new friends that I had to cheer along because they were my family for one night.

My life sounds adventurous and I sound like I am a free-spirited person. I am not, though. For more than half of my life, I was terrified of the world. My life has been a series of panic attacks. It was not until I was 29 that I realized my whole childhood and most of my adult life had been affected by anxiety. Fear ruled my life. I did not sleep, I was afraid to be alone and was convinced everyone I loved would die. The thought of traveling by myself, let alone as a career, sounded like my version of Hell. 

I have come to love and accept my panic attacks. I have also learned to how to tell when my body is going to get one. I get symptoms two or three days before I have a panic attack. It starts with a pit in my stomach, like I’ve done something wrong, and then moves on to my eating habits. I either eat everything in sight or nothing at all. I stop sleeping. I’ll fall asleep for an hour then wake feeling like I am going to throw up. Then at some point, after a few days, I’ll have a panic attack. My most recent one hit while bringing in groceries. I have no warning, I get a lump in my throat, and my entire body goes numb. It lasts anywhere between 1-3 minutes. My heart rate gets ridiculously high, I end up on the floor gasping for air, and I have to remind myself over and over that I am not dying. It sounds dramatic, and at the moment it is, but once it is over I get up, wash my hands and face and continue doing whatever I was doing.

That is the thing about panic attacks. They come, and they go. It is the worst fear you can imagine. It feels like the whole world crashes in on you. It physically and mentally hurts so bad. I survive it, though. That is why I will always embrace them. It took 29 years to realize what I was experiencing was a panic attack. I used to try and ignore them or push through them. Now I let them happen. When I stopped fighting and just let them be, my entire world changed. The common anxiety I had been experiencing is no longer holding me back. Making friends with a stranger in a hotel bar is not scary anymore. A flight delay or spending the night in the airport is not the end of the world. Panic attacks have taught me to embrace life as an experience. Sometimes it is scary, but it always passes. Life keeps moving. When you are focusing on taking one moment at a time, focus on just taking a breath and experiencing whatever situation you happen to be in, you realize you have the ability to live a life of adventure too. I would never have started traveling or had any of the above experiences if I did not take a lesson from my panic attacks and learn to love them.

Everyone has a different way of handling panic attacks, and there is no right way to deal with it. I had spent so much of my life fighting them that the only way to deal was to accept and embrace them. Sure they are inconvenient, but for me, they are necessary to keep things in perspective. They come on fewer and fewer these days, but when they do come, it is because I have forgotten to live from a place of love and have given into fear.

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Originally published: May 2, 2017
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