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When I Had a Panic Attack for the First Time

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My heart sped up. A lot. My breathing slowed. I started pacing. My mind was racing.

My hands started trembling, all I could do was try to catch my breath but nothing seemed to matter in this exact moment. The text. What did it say? I must be imagining it.

I went back to the nightstand on his side of the bed. I tore off the towel holding my sopping wet hair and let it fall to the floor. Surely it was covered in dog hair now, I hadn’t vacuumed the upstairs in a couple days. With two dogs now it was impossible to keep up with.

His phone — old phone — sat on the wireless charger, propped up so I could read the old messages still on there from two weeks ago when he had stopped using it. Her name appeared at the top. Just her first name.

Laughing to myself. How didn’t I see this sooner? She even helped him set up the new phone at work because he has the patience of a toddler.

All it took was heart emojis in the last few messages for my body to be sent into this fight response, this panic attack.

I was having a panic attack for the first time in my life. Even writing what it felt like, now seven months later … I can still feel a shortness of breath. Tears. I want tears. Ease the pain, but I’m still shaking … out of my body. This can’t be. All my suspicions … my gut feelings … I was right? My husband of six months … hearts?

I wanted to scream now. Confront him. Maybe this is wrong, right? It has to be. We were in love.

I heard the dial tone next … my phone catching up with my thumbs, starting to dial through the number of my husband. Ha. Husband. Husbands don’t do this. Husbands shouldn’t do this. OK, chill. Hear what he has to say. Maybe, just maybe … you’re wrong.

He answered, I mustered up the courage quickly. Quicker than I expected.
“Hey, I still don’t feel good … I can barely breathe. I can’t stop pacing and I’m shaking. I really don’t feel OK,” I say. He knew I didn’t feel well at 5 a.m. when he was leaving for work. After questioning why I was up so early I had to defend myself — that I was adjusting my schedule so we could spend more time together like he had complained about a week prior. Complete BS, if you ask me.

“Oh, still?”

Please just console me and then tell me I’m dreaming. That’s all I wanted at that moment. To call my best friend after finding these texts. I didn’t have to read through them to know the “friend” that was drinking with him on lunch was … her. To hear him tell me everything would be OK and that I should call into work and just relax if I don’t feel well. The only difference was … my best friend was the one causing these feelings. In this moment I realized, I didn’t actually know my best friend anymore.

I explained again all the symptoms I had. “I think I’m having a panic attack.”
He struggled with many different mental health experiences. Out of anyone close to me, I thought he would relate. Tell me what to do.

I don’t exactly remember what he said next, but I know he was in the middle of the store. He was a manager. A “positive role model.”

He barely acknowledged how his wife was feeling and how much she just wanted to hear his voice.

“I can’t stop thinking about that Twisted Tea can, and I just need to know to put my mind at ease. I’m just going to come out and say it. Are you cheating on me?”

“What? Why would you think that?” He was shocked. Ok that’s good, right?

“I can’t move on with my day if you don’t answer me.”

He was getting heated, his voice echoing now.

He would not talk about this while he was at work. That is actually what he said to me. His wife.

I could picture him walking from the sales floor, past the racks of home improvement materials, down a hall to her office. He was heading to her office.

His office was at the front of the store. No hallway needed. No echo would be heard if he was going to his own office for privacy.

I was hopeful. Heart still racing, I was so naive. Five years. I gave him five years. I know what that meant to me. But to him? We had just adopted a second dog three months prior. We’re buying a home. Our dream home. This all seemed so distant.

He would be home at 5 p.m. We could talk then.

“I still don’t feel well,” I stammered.

Again, he dismissed me and said if I needed something not to call him. Later on he would claim that is not what he said. He remembers the situation as denying it all. Telling me if I needed something that I could call him.

But I know how it happened. You don’t offer to console someone that just asked if you were cheating on them after six months of marriage. Especially when it was true. When you were hiding it. I felt so helpless. Hopeless. So betrayed. Shocked at how he handled it. Furious he said not to call him in my time of need, after addressing this.

I was having a panic attack.

I could barely breathe. The entire experience lasted about 20 minutes. I tried to just focus on breathing. In and out. In and out. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right?

Thinking back on all the tidbits I had heard or seen my dear friend post on how to handle these things. I never really paid attention, because well … I never thought I would have to. I had never experienced a panic attack and had no clue how to handle myself at this moment.

Mental health was not something I ever acknowledged because quite frankly, I never had struggled with it as I did this particular morning. My friend, Kat, she had. She struggled in very serious ways and somehow she came out on top. I had read some articles she wrote on her experience and learned some things she had used to cope with her anxiety and depression. But nothing I had read prepared me for the fight or flight mid-panic attack after finding out my husband of just barely six months had cheated on me.

My next actions sent me spiraling downward. There are days I wish I hadn’t proceeded with this next part … but I can’t go back now. In some ways, reading pages of that text conversation gave me all the ammo I needed to know the truth for myself. Searching for my name in the conversation allowed me to learn how he truly viewed me. How this was going on for months. How they were having this affair all over the store … how they were caught. How they were still doing it all. The truth my husband would never own up to. The truth my husband could never physically tell me. He would never say the words to me. Not even now.

In the days that followed, weeks even. I would experience so many varying levels of anxiety while waiting for my first therapy appointment. Because of the pandemic, many therapists were backed up. I was able to get a virtual appointment but it wasn’t for a month and a half later.

What was a struggle to accept the changes in my life soon became something that shaped my identity every day afterward. I was reminded that we all struggle and cope in different ways. For me, therapy was my saving grace.

Therapy in the form of my dog that I was lucky enough to provide a roof and food for. Therapy in the form of journaling my thoughts to sort out my plans and goals. Therapy in the form of writing my story down to inspire others and share what happened through my eyes. Therapy in the form of talking to someone about what happened on that day, December 7, 2020 and what continues to happen in my life every day since.

Starting to share my story has led to many women — even some men — to reach out and share their experience with being cheated on. Going through divorce. The panic attacks, anxiety and all the rest. It truly made me feel like I wasn’t alone and I would be selfish if I didn’t share this more with others who need to hear it.

Getty image by Demkat

Originally published: October 15, 2021
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