I can’t remember my first panic attack. Previous to having them at all, I had the occasional emotional breakdown or angry outburst. Perhaps I had one beforehand, but I think I was in Cork the first time I had the scary experience of hyperventilation, fear and uncontrollable panic. Particularly in the first six months of recovery, my panic attacks were a regular occurrence.
Unsurprisingly, they were often triggered by food. The first time I went to a restaurant after leaving UCC, I spent an hour poring over the menu on the internet beforehand trying to figure out what I could eat, enveloped in the fear that I would binge, and at the meal, proceeded to spend half the time in the bathroom getting sick, not from bulimic compulsions, but because my stomach couldn’t handle the volume of food or the stress related to it.
I remember panicking and proceeding to burst into tears when my mom told me that my dad had planned on making stuffed mushrooms whose primary ingredient was cheese. I was so overwhelmed that he made me something different because I wasn’t emotionally able for the meal.
During this time, I got stage fright for the first time in my life as I sat at the side of a stage with the rest of my choir, stared at my thighs and decided that they were too fat. And that every member of the audience wouldn’t care how I sang because any talent was superseded by my fat thighs. It was not a fun performance.
My last panic attack in this period of time occurred on the bus to town. I was heading in and noticed some secondary school kids, uniform-free in the middle of the day, and realised it was the UL open day. This revelation brought me back to two years previous when I had first met himself which led me to the break up which led me back to my ED. Hyperventilating at the back of the bus whilst all these thought processes filled my brain.
The time on the bus was the first time I had been able to stop a panic attack by myself (which is no easy feat.) Five minutes into the attack, something clicked and I focused on the seat in front of me. I just kept repeating to myself: That is the seat. This is the bus. My hands are on the seat on the bus. My feet are on the floor of the bus. I kept repeating to myself the things that I saw, the facts that I knew, and silly as it sounds, I calmed down and got off the bus in a far more settled manner than I had been in. After that, due to a heady combination of meds, therapy and new found confidence in my ability to cope, my panic attacks stopped.
I have had three panic attacks in the last two weeks for various reasons. And I haven’t dealt with them well. This morning’s most recent attack was based off the fact that I am going to a work banquet later which serves a five course meal. This familiar territory of freaking out over possible meals scares me even more than the concept of the meal itself. I am becoming increasingly aware of patterns emerging, stresses repeating themselves and the possible triggers of something self destructive.
I started writing this post with a general idea of what I wanted to write about but until I started writing about the bus, I had forgotten how I had dealt in the past. Now I remember and now I am aware. And that is something that I didn’t have back then. I didn’t know I could fight and I didn’t know I could win. I don’t feel confident and I don’t feel strong. But I know I can be. And maybe that’s enough for now.