I have always been afraid of dying. Why? Tricky one, because that is the only thing we cannot predict or avoid, but somehow I am terrified of it. According to one of the specialists I saw a couple of years ago, it could it related to losing my youngest uncle unexpectedly when I was a child. The fear of leaving this world before reaching my 99th birthday has hunting me since I was a kid, but back then it was a minor fear only triggered before travelling somewhere, especially if it required flying (I hate flying, I will explain that later on). However, in September 2014, only a month before going back to Colombia for holidays, I had my first panic attack.
I was not in a plane, I was not travelling, nothing had happened. I was watching TV at home by myself after getting back from a business trip to Adelaide. The flight that day was not bad, but as always I was scared. I remembered wanting to call my mum as soon as I landed but given the time difference I didn’t do it right away. I went home feeling a bit agitated. That night, I talked to my mum and although I was feeling very tired I was not expecting what I was about to experience.
I was in bed, with my computer on watching a show. At around 10.30pm I felt an explosion in my chest that spread through all my body, my legs, arms, hands and face. The first thing I thought: I’m having a heart attack. My arms and legs went numb and fear took control over my body. I remember trying to use my phone and not remembering who should I call to. I think I called my boyfriend first, who very calmly said that everything was ok, it was a panic attack and I just needed to take deep breaths. Breathe???? – really??? For all of us who have suffered from panic/anxiety attacks when were are told that it is all about breathing, I want to slap the person on the face! – and although they are right, breathing helps heaps… it takes time to learn how it works and that first time I did not see how breathing could make that feeling of being about to die go away.
I remember calling my mum who was very worried after hearing me cry and feeling like there was nothing she could do from Colombia. She said that if needed I could spend the entire night on the phone with her while the feeling faded away, but I did not feel like that was the solution. I did not want to be alone, I was afraid of having a heart attack and no-one with me to take me to the hospital (I really thought I was having one that night). My boyfriend offered to pay the taxi to his place, but that would have cost at least $150, it was late and I thought that maybe I was exaggerated. After 30 minutes I decided to go and spend the night over my best friend Gloria, who lived close by. While I was in the taxi on my way, I had another attack and the taxi driver was really close to driving me to the hospital instead, at that point I was only thinking about how expensive would it be to go to a hospital (I have a private health cover that only pays like less than 50% of the cost so it wasn’t really a clever option if it was not a real heart attack). When I got to my friend’s place I was really scared but she was not. Since my call, she had research ways of dealing with a panic attack so she made me a herbal tea and we went to bed with me counting from 100 to 1. I did not sleep that night, I was a bit better without the big explosions, but I was feeling anxious and with a permanent feeling something very bad was about to happen.
The next day, other friend took me to the doctor who said I was suffering from an anxiety episode and I needed to take some Valium. I took it as prescribed and rested at my friend’s place until it was time to go home. I did not go to my place, I spent the night at my boyfriend’s place with his family. That night I could sleep alright because of the medication but little I knew about was coming next. The episode was far from over and the following two weeks proved to be the most difficult and scary weeks of my entire life.
To be continued…
Photo credit: PracticalCures.com