Anxiety Attacks

Today kicks off the Writers of Kern Fall Blog Challenge. I’ve chosen to go with a theme of A-Z posts.


Panic 2This is probably the hardest post I’ve ever written. I’ve composed this countless times in my head, but that’s as far as it went. I’ve never shared my challenges with anxiety publicly because, for so long, I was terrified of what others might think of me. Until now, only a few close friends knew how much I’ve struggled, and still do struggle with panic anxiety.

It started with a panic attack during a college class in the summer of 1985. It was warm and the air had shut off in the small room. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath or stay in the room another second. I walked out, but when I went back inside it happened again. I left the class and got in my car. Driving home that night, my heart pounded and I didn’t know if I was dying or going crazy. Although neither of those came true, I felt like my world had closed in around me.

After EKGs and doctor visits they figured out I was suffering from panic anxiety. “No you won’t die, but it might feel like it during an attack.” No shit. I stopped doing anything that might bring on an attack to the point where I could barely leave my house and walk around the block. I had just gone through a divorce and my kids were only four and six. I started therapy, taking them with me to distract me when I drove to avoid the dreaded attacks.

After a few years things got better. I began to lead a normal life again, driving everywhere – even taking on the treacherous Los Angeles freeways during a church trip to Mexico in 1991. After a stressful second marriage and divorce, my attacks began to resurface. Sometimes I only felt an increased heart rate or sweaty palms when I was stuck in traffic or rode an elevator. And other times I was not able to attempt anything that made me feel like I couldn’t escape – which included driving a car or being up in a room full of people. I stopped living what most people would consider a ‘normal’ life and avoided anything that might trigger an attack – anything that made me feel claustrophobic.

Although I’d made great progress, last fall I started having health challenges. The only way to get better was a total hysterectomy, which terrified me.  As I had learned from past experiences, extreme stress would trigger the attacks and I started having them again. Mentally and emotionally, I was really hard on myself, knowing that I wasn’t able to be the person I wanted to be. The attacks got worse as the surgery date drew closer. This time they became so debilitating I had a hard time going anywhere, even if someone else drove me.  Thank goodness I had a few trusted family members who would help me get where I needed to go around town, but sometimes it was a struggle just to leave the house. In April, I mustered up the courage for my hospital stay, which wasn’t easy. When I was released, less than 24 hours after my surgery, I obtained permission to walk down the flight of stairs instead of riding the elevator. Yep, I’m stubborn and will do ANYTHING to avoid an elevator!

Since April, I’ve been struggling and started seeing a therapist. She’s helped me reframe my negative thoughts about myself. Instead of beating myself up emotionally (like I usually did) I remind myself of all the things I can do, compared to the things I can’t do right now. For instance, I just earned my B.A. degree by attending college online, plus I’m continuing my education in the Master’s program. I serve as President of our local writer’s club, Writers of Kern, and I really enjoy being up in front of the room of 40+ people each month. I write, and have been published many times online and in print media.

As I continue to see myself as “can do” instead of “can’t do” I see myself as a winner. Celebrating my victories has made a difference in my attitude and has also given me the courage to share my struggles. I’ve come to realize I don’t have to fit into someone else’s definition of normal to be happy and successful. After all, I can define my own brand of normal, I’m a writer.

Normal 2



18 thoughts on “Anxiety Attacks

  1. Limeade Gal says:

    Hi Joan!
    Thanks for being open in writing about this topic. I know a few people that suffer from panic attacks, it is not a fun experience for anyone.

    Your accomplishments are awesome! You go girl!

    Have a beautiful week 🙂

  2. Brava! You’re not only a “winner” dear Joan, you are a CHAMPION! I admire your courage in writing this honest and revealing post — and in navigating your everyday living. You’ve illustrated for us that we may never have an inkling of what others have to deal with in their lives. I’m grateful to be your friend. xoA

  3. Knowing that you accomplish so much in spite of full blown panic attacks shows how courageous you truly are, Joan.

    This inspires me because panic attacks interrupt so much of my life too (especially in social situations!). Seeing that you persevere so well, even to presenting in front of so many people each month, is even more inspiring.

    Here’s to you!

  4. Joan, it takes courage to seek help, get a counselor/therapist! in 2005 I fell into a deep depression and was fortunate to have a wise doctor who introduced me to an antidepressant. I take my antidepressant 2 x a day. A very good therapist then helped me through the difficult journey of the next year. I remember calculating how much energy it would take to go somewhere and often deciding I had too few gallons in my mind to go. Crowds take so much energy! I have danced with that harlot Depression too many times to count. For those who do not understand, they do not see; I have no patience for those who simply say, “get some exercise, get over it.”
    Every person who stands and says I am dealing with a mental illness makes the world better for all the others who are suffering. From the depths of my heart, I thank you for sharing.

    • Joan says:

      Terry, I’m sorry that you’ve had challenges with depression but thrilled that you’ve been able to seek help. I understand that sometimes one has to choose between healing and going out and being with people because of how much strength it takes. Yes, those people that think it’s “only in your head” or “exercise will make you better” don’t really understand at all. I appreciate your encouraging words.

  5. I’very come to the belief that most people are struggling…with something…some burden of depression or anxiety or fear that they cannot easily share. It takes a great deal of courage to bring those issues to light, more to actually do something about it. Your post is brave…and an affirmation for anyone struggling…no one is alone and challenges can be overcome.

    • Joan says:

      Anna, I find more and more people are struggling with something, but most keep it inside. From this post I realize talking about it brings comfort and encouragement from others. I am grateful for each positive comment more than words can express.

  6. My Joan (yes, you’re mine and one of my all-time favorite friend),
    I applaud you for exposing your flaws. You are beautiful, courageous and so much more than the anxiety that chases you. I am so proud of you, you did it! It’s out there. Welcome the support and ignore the critics,


  7. This is such an inspiring post. It takes a lot of strength and courage to step outside your comfort zone, and overcome such difficult boundaries as anxiety, but you still have done it beautifully and achieved so much. Also, looking at things in terms of how far you have come, and how much you CAN do, is amazing advice. Thank you so much for sharing this. 🙂

  8. Joan,

    I admire and celebrate the courage it took to write this post. Writing is one of the the best ways to “reframe” our thoughts, especially the negative ones. As writers we get to rewrite the scripts we’ve been given by others and define our own lives and destinies. You’re an inspiration, Joan, and I am pleased to be considered a friend.

    • Joan says:

      As much as I stressed over posting about something so personal, afterward I felt the release of negative thoughts you’ve mentioned. Sometimes I don’t think I realize how much power I have to be able to rewrite my own destiny. I’m glad you’re my friend also.

  9. (Joan, I’m sorry to be so late chiming in. We were traveling last week.)

    What a powerful beginning to this year’s blog challenge! Thank you for being so open and willing to share this part of your life. I’m glad to hear that you are receiving professional help, and I hope the support of your friends is a help, as well! Dennis is correct…I believe that writing is a powerful tool for dealing with big issues and for better understanding ourselves.

    • Joan says:

      No problem on the lateness, Joan. I’ve been enjoying your travel blog. Thanks for your encouragement. Writing about it really helped, plus everyone’s kind words. Thanks for reading.

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