My First Public Panic Attack and How I Managed
I’m not sure which was worse, feeling embarrassed or the fear of dying.
Years ago I went with a friend and my daughter to Equine Affaire in Columbus Ohio. My daughter owned a horse and participated in horse shows with her Morgan horse- Nate: AKA Dumars Detonator. Nate was a former Stallion and had enough ‘piss and vinegar’ to help my daughter win quite a few ribbons. We decided to attend the Equine Affair to see the many different breeds of horses and watch a few shows. One show in particular, was with a Trainer named John Lyons. John Lyons put on a fantastic show. He had a 2 year old Wild Mustang with him who had been in training. If you know anything about horses- 2 year old horses are very green, spook easy and can be very unpredictable. He was able to ride this horse bareback, cantor on him and without using a lead rope he was also able to guide the horse up a ramp onto a trailer. This was a spectacular event if you are a horse lover.
Now, I digress… we decided to walk into a large indoor area that was set up like a store. There were so many vendors and people shopping; it was unbelievable. We were in the middle of this large store when suddenly my heart began to race, the noise level seemed amplified and I suddenly felt as though I was going to pass out.
My daughter and my friend were in the aisle with me. We WERE enjoying ourselves. When the feeling of passing out came over me I literally panicked. I told my friend I felt as though I was going to pass out and had to get out of there. I think I began to sprint! My friend said, “You’re as white as a ghost- you don’t look well?” I told her I felt like I was going to pass out. She told me to kneel and lower my head. I think I yelled “NO, I need to get out of here!” I felt as though the walls were closing in on me, and had a feeling of impending death. Another thought that went through my head was- I will be mortified if I pass out in front of others. Why that thought went through my head I’m not sure. I’ve heard other people say they had the same fear.
My friend grabbed my daughter and followed me to the entrance. I told her I just needed some fresh air and a cold sprite might help. The temperature that day was in the 30’s, but it felt like it was 90 degrees when I first stepped outside.
I was holding back tears. I felt frustrated, scared and bewildered. I felt as though I let my daughter down too. Fortunately, my friend took my daughter back inside at my request.
I had just experienced my first PUBLIC panic attack. I felt as though everyone noticed and thought I was acting like a nut. Part of me wanted to keep running all the way to the car.
Luckily I did have medicine with me. The thought never occurred to me that I may experience a panic attack outside of my home. I had just recently been diagnosed with panic disorder and wasn’t very educated about it. I naively thought as long as I was out doing something I loved, I would not have a panic attack.
Panic attacks come without warning. There is no rhyme or reason as to why they seem to occur quite suddenly. When they occur in public (say a grocery store as an example), people may begin to avoid the place or places they encountered the attack. Avoidance of going to certain places can lead to agoraphobia. Once a person has experienced an attack in public they may develop pre anticipatory anxiety as a result; which becomes a vicious cycle if you do not seek professional help.
I was lucky that day because the cold weather, my medication and sipping on the cold sprite diminished the panic and I was able to go back inside. I have to admit- I was shaking when I walked back through the door.
My doctor gave me a few suggestions because I admitted I was becoming fearful of leaving the home. I had another panic attack within a week at a department store. He told me to always carry my medication with me ( I didn’t have it when I went to the Department store). He said just knowing it’s in my purse can have a placebo effect. He also told me to grab a cart when I entered a store. The cart helps you to focus and also gives a sense of stability if you become dizzy. The last piece of advice he gave me was to not give up on going into large places. The more you practice non-avoidance you will find the brain becomes conditioned.
Panic attacks are very scary. They can control your life if you don’t seek proper care and treatment. Please don’t lose hope if you have been experiencing similar symptoms of panic. The advice my Doctor gave me has helped tremendously.
Having people in my life that do not judge me, and understand that this is a medical condition has been vital to my well being.
I would love for others to share their personal stories if you’re not embarrassed to do so. It’s time to end the stigma surrounding medical issues that affect our brain.
If you find this topic relevant, please share so we can collectively let others know they are not alone and Panic Disorder is an illness.