Panic Pixie Dream Girl
Carly Tennes

I started having panic attacks a couple years after my boyfriend died of a heart attack at age 20. The fact that a seemingly healthy YOUNG person could just die like that unlocked a latent tendency that grew into a full-blown disorder. What you’re describing here sounds similar in a lot of ways, and I would offer that you’re not so much a hypochondriac as you are a panic sufferer. But labels and diagnoses aren’t nearly as important as coping and (eventually) healing, so maybe the “what” is a moot point, anyway.

Zoloft came into my life after seven years of unmedicated panic attacks. Seven years of fear and avoidance of panic-inducing situations — like concerts, the subway, airplanes, movie theaters, the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle, my wedding rehearsal dinner… Fearing a panic attack can be worse than actually having one when it prevents you from living your life. And that’s really what was happening to me.

Medication was a tool that I needed to get back to place from which I could begin to heal. Each panic attack creates a mini-trauma (or not so mini, depending on how severe), and I’m pretty sure I had reached a point at which I was dealing with panic attacks, generalized anxiety, and PTSD from all the panic attacks. I was a mess. The medication helped me get a little less messy.

I’m not saying it’s the right answer for you necessarily — only you can know that. But I will say that the increased anxiety in the beginning, and even the crazy mood shifts as I was tapering off, were well worth it. I stayed on Zoloft for eight years — through two pregnancies, years of breastfeeding, and making the move out of New York City — until I felt, in a very wise part of my Self, that I was ready to find out who I was without it.

No matter what you decide to do, be kind and loving and oh-so-gentle with yourself. There is a young, fragile, Girl Scout version of you who is very scared and thinks she’s helping out by being hyper-vigilant. Let her know that you appreciate her and understand her fear, but you’re going to take over now. Strong, wise, 19-year-old you is in charge. The Girl Scout can finally rest.

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