Mental Health Matters: Coping with panic attacks

panic attacks, anxiety, ptsd

I’m not a stranger to going to therapy. I saw one from during my time at university after my dad’s death and having a lupus flare. I went to a support group with other fellow students going through tough times. We needed to know that we weren’t alone.

Because access to mental health services was built into my tuition, I took advantage of it. But now that I graduated 4 years ago, finding a therapist was a bit trickier. Most of the ones did not accept any sort of insurance and required you to pay out of pocket.

I’ve been wanting to see a therapist to talk about whatever I was dealing with, especially with how my health issues affected me in multiple facets of my life.

I recently started having panic attacks while I’m driving. There have been a couple of times when I had to pull over and call Cecilio to come get me. I’d be crying and worrying that something terrible could happen to me while on the road. He would take Lyft or Uber to come meet me and we would ride home together.

If I wasn’t having those panic attacks, I would get really nervous and antsy with my heart racing, and on the verge of pulling over, terrified that I could get in an accident and die or something of the sort.

For those of you who are new to my blog, you might need to know that I got in a bad accident last year. Between February-April 2018, I was having horrible lupus flares: chills, fevers, vertigo, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, etc. it was terrifying. One time in early May, I had a doctors appointment in the morning. So I was on the way there, and my brain was just not there. It was pretty inflamed from lupus cerebritis, and I lost consciousness and control while driving. I kept swerving, and I eventually fell 20-30 feet off an overpass and crashed into someone’s backyard fence.

It was a miracle that I was uninjured despite crashing into that fence. I was able to call 911, text Cecilio and my mom. I then texted my bosses that I wasn’t coming in because of the accident.

Everything was completely blurry after that. I was almost in a dreamlike state. 5 days later, I found myself in the hospital waking up from 2 seizures that I had the day after that accident.

I was in that hospital for 11 days. It felt like my own personal Hell. I know the doctors and nurses did everything they could to treat me and get my numbers back to a healthy level before they could release me. 

I was out on medical leave from work for a month and I was only working there for 8 months, so I wasn’t qualified for paid medical leave at the time.

Well, I did come back to work but I had to take Uber and Lyft every morning and have Cecilio pick me up. I was so frustrated with the process of trying to get my license back. I’ve had seizures before and it would take 6-12 months to get my license back, between getting permission from my neurologist for the DMV to evaluate if I am capable of driving. And always, I would get it back.

Actually, I wasn’t able to drive for 3 months. This was my shortest suspension. I had a hearing with the DMV and after a few weeks, they sent me a letter letting me know I was okay to drive. I got my license back and was able to buy a new car. At that point, I started feeling healthier.

I felt alive again while driving. I still was grieving over the incident, but I was doing my best to move on.

Until this past August. I was driving to go to my mom’s house to watch her dogs while she and my stepdad were out of town, and I felt my heart really racing and my fingers tingling. Luckily I was able to pull over at Jack in the Box and call Cecilio.

This wouldn’t be the last time I called him though.

I finally realized enough was enough, and that I needed to get help. I think I might be going through PTSD. 

Cecilio helped me find a therapist in-network with our insurance and I called one of them and left a message. She eventually called me back a few days later and set an appointment.

During my first meeting with her, I just laid everything out. I told her the details of that incident, and how it didn’t make sense that even though I got my license back and have been doing fine, I am all of a sudden a nervous wreck. She said that even though I’m consciously trying to move on, my body doesn’t forget. Because my body is in a flight-or-fight situation while I’m driving, it’s reminding me that I’m in danger based on what happened last year.

I’ve only seen her three times so far, but every time I have, I feel a lot calmer. During our last meeting, to told her that I got a little stressed and scared while I was running errands and driving last Saturday and had to pull over to call Cecilio. He didn’t pick me up this time, but we talked for half an hour. I was able to get out of the car to go to the restroom at the grocery store nearby and buy a few things. Then I made my way home. 

She said that it was good that I was able to get out off the car so that I could get away from the thoughts that were making me anxious. And she wants me to redirect my thoughts when my anxiety levels are at a 3-4 rather than waiting until they are a 9. 

I feel like I’ve been making small progress since seeing a therapist. But there were times that I relapsed. In fact, I had a bad panic attack driving on the freeway last night on my way home from my workout class. It’s already scary enough to have one when you’re on the side roads, but at least you can pull over at a parking lot or bike lane. I had to pull over on the right shoulder and call 911. I called Cecilio crying and hoping that he wasn’t mad at me. And he wasn’t, it’s just that he was (and still is) super concerned about me driving. The medics finally came and one of them was able to drive my car and take me to a residential area, where I eventually waited for Cecilio. They were reassuring me that everything will be okay and they see people driving with panic attacks all the time.

It was so weird because I had such a good day today too, better than normal. In fact, one of the directors at my work noticed I was smiling a lot. I think I was also triggered by finding out that a student from my alma mater died on Wednesday from having a seizure and collapsing. It hit close to home for me, and I didn’t think it would affect me that much.

I finally broke down and texted my sister to pray for me. Since her lupus is much more severe and she has experienced panic attacks, she was able to share her experiences and encourage me to pray for God’s peace, wisdom, and comfort. She assured me that even though we’ve gone through a lot with our disease, God is still with us and will never forsake us. And she reminds me to close that chapter in my life (where I had that horrible flare). It’s hard but you have to do it.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this and I’m sorry that this post seems all over the place. All I know is that experiencing panic attacks are scary. I read a tweet that said “You will not die from anxiety or depression” to which someone responded with,”it kills you every single day”. I want to overcome this and to be free from fear. I want to live courageously. I want to feel God’s love and protection surrounding me.

If you are going through anxiety or panic attacks, know that you aren’t alone. You can e-mail or DM me if you need some sort of support.

Hannah is a travel writer, graphic designer, and the founder/editor of Hannah on Horizon. She is based in Sacramento, California, living with her husband and two adorable dogs. She shares tips on how to experience luxury travel on any budget, and how to maximize time at each trip or destination, no matter what your budget or amount of vacation time at work. She enjoys making you feel like you have visited each destination with her through her storytelling and informative writing style.

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