It wasn’t long after my first panic attack that I had a second one that sent me to the emergency room. I was about to write a biology exam, when I felt my stomach drop. I thought, oh no, not again.
For the first few minutes of the exam, I was in a state of paralysis. Lifting the pencil to my hand felt funny, reading the questions, impossible. Nothing made sense. I was like an alien in my own body, in my own mind. I wanted to run. I wanted to leap up and run like I had the first time. But in this situation, things were different. I knew I had to stay there. I had to stay put. I knew I had to write this test. Or that’s what I thought. What would I look like if I got up and left the lecture hall. People would stare. Right away I had to pee, which is another thing that happens to those of us who have anxiety. But I studied for this exam. I knew this material. I took a couple deep breaths. I was just moving through the pages, reading through all these questions. I was trapped. I was trapped there in that desk. Like a caged animal. One wrong move, one wrong answer, and I felt as though I would die.
I handed in my exam. I left that lecture hall. And the moment I passed in that exam, this huge weight lifted itself off my chest. My pounding heart, my sweaty hands, everything went back to pretty well, normal. I wrote that test. I got an A. An 87%.
But that lecture hall was also where I took psychology. That lecture hall became another trigger. The next time I entered that room I felt again, another sharp pain in my stomach. I told a friend I had met in that first class that I felt like I was going to pass out and I needed to leave. I needed to leave. And I needed to leave NOW. You know, she came with me. She walked me to my car. She asked if I needed a lift. I told her I just needed to get home and get some sleep. But on that drive home. The red stoplights were everywhere. I just needed to keep moving. GOD! I needed to move. But they were there. And they were trapping me. A caged animal, in this little red haundi accent.
I thought I was dying. I thought of my friends that had passed away in high school and I convinced myself that I, too, was on my way to wherever they were. Instead of taking a left into Beauford Street where I lived at that time, I continued to my Aunts house. My uncle was home. I was screeching.
I was completely detached from reality. I told my uncle that I was sure I was dying. That I had a brain tumor. I was hyperventilating. He drove me to the emergency room after he called my parents. My dad told me he was going to fly in. I thought, I’d be dead by the time he arrived. During that drive I told my uncle that I felt like I wasn’t even here. Like I was floating somehow. My body didn’t belong to me. I was completely disassociated from everything. It was by far the scariest experience in my entire life. I told him that I was sure I was dying.
When I made it to emerge, I was crying and screaming. I told the triage nurse that I felt disconnected from reality, that I couldn’t breathe, that my heart was pounding, that I was sure I was walking the fine line between life and death.
You know what she told me? She told me that I needed to calm down, I was having a panic attack.
My response out loud, and it was very loud at that, and you can mark my words, “I’m Mandy Halbot, and Mandy Halbot does not have panic attacks!” I can only imagine what she thought about that.
Mandy Halbot or Mother Theresa. It didn’t matter who I was. It didn’t matter where I came from. It didn’t matter whether I was rich, or famous, or beautiful, or totally confident. It didn’t matter whether I was brilliant. It didn’t matter.
I was Mandy Halbot, and I was, in fact, having a panic attack. The first attack that landed me in the emergency room.
What had happened and was happenening to me had been given a name. A label. A panic attack? What the fuck?
whay does that even mean?