Panic Attacks Made Me Quit My Job
It was the end of March last year. I was about to make myself a salad for lunch when it hit me out of nowhere. My chest felt so heavy as if an elephant was just sitting on it. Breathing was almost impossible and I felt dizzy. And then the adrenaline kicked in. “Am I having a heart attack?!,” “Am I just going to drop dead?!” Those were some of the thoughts that rushed through my head. Because I was living alone and didn’t want to lose my conscience without anyone noticing, I left my apartment. Almost apathetically, I stumbled into a nearby pharmacy and said: “My chest is so heavy and I feel like it’s difficult to breathe.” The female pharmacist with big, round glasses looked at me and gave me cough drops––COUGH DROPS.
Back at my apartment, it only got worse. I was pacing through my bedroom, living room, and kitchen like a lion hunting for prey. When I couldn’t deal with the symptoms anymore, I called an Uber to a nearby hospital. There, the diagnosis was: Nothing. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me. No heart attack; no lung collapse; no nothing. Was I going crazy? After leaving the emergency room, my inner voice started asking: Why the hell am I feeling so miserable?
The same attacks appeared five more times within two months. One night, when an ambulance had to rush to my apartment at around 11 p.m., the first responder kindly asked me: “Are you currently under a lot of stress? Or did you experience something stressful?”
As he left through my front door and walked down the stairs, he yelled: “Google ‘Panic or Anxiety Attacks’.”
Panic attacks?! That’s when it hit me. I was a full-time entertainment journalist, working for one of Europe’s biggest-selling newspapers. I was able to travel to the Cannes Film Festival, the Academy Awards, and the Golden Globes. What sounds like a dream job, actually didn't fulfill me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved what I was doing, but I couldn’t handle the exhaustion caused by a toxic environment at the office. I also wasn't located in the city that truly made me happy. My boyfriend was living in New York, and we both dreamt of a life together in Los Angeles.
But it all seemed too far away. How could I leave a well-paid job and move to another country? Where does this relationship go? Am I already stuck in a job position at the age of 23? So many questions rushed through my head repeatedly. I’m not the best at expressing my emotions. Instead, I tend to deal with my problems without bothering others. But this time, it probably was just too much. I was anxious and I was depressed. I felt alone. It felt like I was stuck in a foggy room, and I couldn’t find the exit. For the first time, I didn’t know how to help myself out of misery.
Before having my first panic attack, I never would’ve thought that my brain was so powerful and strong — and could easily overrule my body. I never thought I could feel symptoms so clearly, so aggressively, so real, without any obvious medical proof.
It felt like my body was tricking me, and was screaming with every panic attack: “WAKE UP. You need to change something NOW.”
For weeks, I was desperately looking for a psychotherapist. I called almost 100 offices all around my hometown, and the most common answer was: “We have a free appointment in a year.” Wow. I almost wanted to give up and accept the fact that I had to ignore my panic attacks. But I got lucky and found a life coach, specialized in mental health issues that are job-related.
Before we started our weekly FaceTime sessions, my coach sent me an interesting questionnaire. On it, I read questions like: “In working with a coach, what are the top 3 things you want to accomplish?,” “What is your biggest motivation for having a coach?,” and “What would be the best outcome from coaching?” It forced me to dig deep and get to know my true motivations and dreams.
During our coaching calls, I didn’t get much advice. Instead, I had to answer a ton of questions––and was forced to speak up. It was grueling at times because it can get uncomfortable to be put on the spot and share your deepest longings and feelings. Since I was a child, I always tried to please everyone and didn’t let out all my emotions. Well, bottling up only worked for a short amount of time. In hindsight, the 25 coaching sessions were eye-opening because I realized that it’s my life and I have to make my choices.
All the pressure that I was feeling was created by me.
And my dream (living in Los Angeles) was an active choice I could make, without feeling bad and without feeling regret.
Only then, I started visualizing my dream more and more and started planning towards the future. My coach simply asked one day: “What would be Natascha’s ideal situation in a year?” Suddenly, it all seemed so easy. And, long story short, I quit my full-time job to be a UCLA Journalism student in Los Angeles, and I couldn’t be happier.
But still, from time to time, my chest feels heavy again. My throat feels like it’s tied up. And I can feel the anxiety creeping back up again. How did I learn not to fall into old habits of calling the ambulance? As simple as it sounds, I’m taking deep, deep breaths. My coach recommended that I should start meditating daily — and do yoga. At first, I didn’t believe it could work. But especially meditating brought me a new sense of calmness, and I learned how to breathe correctly, to avoid panicking and hyperventilating.
So, instead of focusing on completely getting rid of my occasional panic and anxiety attacks, I learned to accept and acknowledge them. I try to look at it more rationally, instead of emotionally. And when it happens, I’m not fearing my death, but rather evaluating what emotions and thoughts might cause the symptoms.
It might sound crazy, but thinking back, I thank my body and mind every day. Because who knows:
Without the panic attacks, would I have felt the urgent need to change something ASAP?
Would I have had the guts to be “selfish” and decide what’s best for me? Sometimes I even feel like my panic attacks were the best thing that could’ve happened to me.