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Why I Won’t Apologize for Having a Panic Attack in Public

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I love to travel and explore new places, despite being someone who has generalized anxiety disorder. So I was so excited when my boyfriend and I decided to visit one of his friends in St. Louis.

One of the places we wanted to check out while we were there was the City Museum, a unique, stunning and interactive museum that has a giant, metal jungle gym attached to it that is mostly suspended in the air. I was equally terrified and thrilled to get climbing when we got there.

We made our way through an old bus that was securely hanging halfway off the roof of the building. I was completely fine since I love activities that get my adrenaline pumping. What triggered my panic attack was something that paled in comparison.

One way to get down from the course was to slide down a 10 foot tall wall — imagine a smaller version of one of the huge walls from “Ninja Warriors.” I was terrified of hurting my back or falling because I’d previously injured my back and I’m only 5 foot 2 inches, so the wall was pretty much double my height.

What didn’t help the situation was feeling “chicken” while watching little kids slide down the wall with ease, and sensing that I was having one of my panic attacks. I was in a large, open, outdoor space, but felt like walls were closing in on me. I begrudgingly took the seemingly endless path to get back down to where the group I was with was, and immediately started hyperventilating and bawling.

When I have a panic attack in public, which isn’t very often since I’ve been able to keep my anxiety under control for the most part, I seek refuge in public restrooms. Not the cleanest place, but to me, it’s my safe place. I told everyone that I just needed to go to the bathroom and was able to calm myself in a few minutes thanks to years of therapy and knowing how to talk myself through a panic attack.

I typically have “emotional hangovers” after panic attacks because they leave me physically and mentally exhausted for a while, but this time, I felt empowered because I was able to help myself. When everyone asked me if I was OK once I left the bathroom, I nonchalantly replied, “I had a panic attack. It happens­­.” My boyfriend checked in with my as we carried on with our day, and I reassured him that I was genuinely OK because I utilized the coping skills I have in my arsenal.

How was I so calm about explaining to strangers that I had a panic attack — something I used to get completely embarrassed about? I was so over having to make excuses or apologize for what I experience. Having anxiety is not my fault, so why should I feel the need to take the blame for it? And even though my conditions may be inconvenient for others, it’s not like what I deal with is a walk in the park for me either.

It’s not abnormal to feel bad at first when these situations occur because we should all care about how our actions impact others. But I hope one day that no one feels guilty for situations out of their control that result from health conditions.

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Lead image via contributor 

Originally published: August 8, 2017
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