I don’t even know how to begin this. I guess I can start with what happened: while leaving work back one day in February I felt this horrible pinching/pressure in my chest. Figuring that it may just be my bag being too heavy, I shrugged it off and continued across the parking lot to my car.
The pain hadn’t subsided after sitting in the car for a few minutes, so I texted my fiancé asking him how he knew when his chest pain was heart related. He suffers with some heart conditions (that I don’t know how to spell so please don’t ask what they’re called), so I figured he’d be a good sounding board to calm me down.
While driving I started to feel flutters in my chest as if my heart was vibrating. Panicking, I called Cam to talk to him and try to calm down. All of a sudden I felt this horrible squeeze, as if someone had grabbed my heart and gripped with all their strength. I couldn’t breathe, and I felt a “whoosh” of blood rush once the squeeze went away. At this point I reached full out panic mode, told Cam I was hanging up to call an ambulance, pulled off the road and called 911. This was all within five minutes of leaving work.
In the ambulance I was convinced I was dying. I was dizzy, kept having the pains, and I was cold and shaky. It felt like I was going to pass out but I did everything in my power not to because I was convinced if I did I would never wake up. Heart attack, heart failure, blood clot…all of these scenarios were running through my brain with the worst-case possibilities seeming to be the most likely.
In the ER they monitored my heart rate, and I watched as it once more went up to 136 bpm and I felt everything all over again – the pain, the shakes, the cold.
I really thought it I was a goner.
After ruling out other possibilities with an x-ray and some blood-tests, I was still a little shocked when I was told I had most likely just had a panic attack. I’ve had an anxiety attack twice before, neither time being so bad that I thought my life was ending. Never during those first two attacks – one in college and one about three years ago – did I feel any severe chest pain. I was almost convinced they had missed something or made some kind of mistake.
Since the initial incident I have been to the emergency room two more times. I have also seen a cardiologist to rule out any possibility of heart conditions. I have even met with a therapist to try to get to the root of why all of a sudden I’m in full panic mode. The good news: my cardiologist says I have a perfectly healthy heart and can with great confidence say that it should remain that way for forty or so years. You thinks this news would bring me such joy and peace and calm, and I’m so sad to admit that it doesn’t. While I am glad to hear I don’t have a heart condition, my mind has decided to move on to other possible illnesses.
So what does this make me? Crazy? No. Well, maybe a little.
My type of anxiety can be classified as “Illness anxiety disorder”. I am constantly convinced something is wrong with me and I am dying. A harmless pop in my chest becomes a busted blood vessel in my mind. Pain in my shoulders are chest are obviously a heart attack, even if I did go to the gym recently. Even at times where I think I am at peace and I can live normally, my brain is running constantly in the background scanning my body for issues. The slightest twinge or twitch sends me back down this horrible spiral.
Until that first panic attack, I was never like this. Illness anxiety disorder can surface in anyone. It can come about due to major stressors in life (such as planning a wedding, and buying a house, and a whole bunch of other stuff all at the same time). Symptoms of illness anxiety disorder can include:
- Constantly worrying about having or getting a serious disease or health condition
- Thinking that minor bodily functions and actions are due to a severe illness
- Being easily alarmed regarding health
- Finding little or no reassurance after doctor’s visits end with a clean bill of health, because you’re convinced that they missed something or that you may have forgotten to mention an important symptom
- Frequently searching online for symptoms and possible related illnesses (we are all guilty of this for sure)
For me, I know this started because of that first panic attack. And I know that first panic attack was caused by my stress over finances for everything going on in my life right now (house, wedding, etc). But despite the doctors’ claims, I still have that nagging voice in the back of my mind saying no, it’s a heart attack. It’s cancer. I’m dying. The thoughts never end, no matter how hard I try to keep them at bay.
I know I’ll get past this. I know that the cold weather isn’t helping and that spring will help clear my mind and make me feel more alive. I know that if I put more effort toward exercising and making my body stronger my mind will become stronger as well. I know that I’m going to be okay. I just have to continually convince myself that that’s the case. And that’s okay.
Anxiety is an unbelievably common issue. Kevin Love’s recent story with his personal bout with anxiety surfaced and brought to light this issue that so many of us face but don’t necessarily understand or discuss. It is a brutal thing, and it is comforting to know that you aren’t alone and that you aren’t indeed crazy, thank you very much. If you struggle with depression or anxiety (or both), I strongly encourage reaching out to someone. Having someone beside you who can understand and support you through it all is so helpful. I’m unbelievably blessed to have an understanding fiancé and family and friends. If you aren’t struggling but you know someone who is, find out how you can help. Talk with specialists to learn how to handle anxiety and depression and be there for your friend or family member. Be there for them when they just need a shoulder to lean on while they sort through everything in their brains.
Take each day one step at a time. I tell this to myself every morning. One hour, one minute, step by step I can get through this day. Focus on one thing at a time: your work, a puzzle, coloring, reading a book. Don’t multitask everything by looking at your phone while doing something else. Take time to live in those moments. It’ll help slow things down and make the day more manageable. At least, it does for me.