First Panic Attack
I remember the day well. From the start, it was one of those days, where one problem overlapped another, and it built up and up. I didn’t handle it well. My symptoms of anxiety started small, but then built up and up along with the problems. The next thing I knew, my greatest fear of hyperventilation and dizziness came true.
When my first panic attack struck, I remember thinking that I was simply dying. I actually remember saying a prayer and thanking the world for a life filled with adventure, and giving me the gift of what my dad would always call my ‘golden arm’ because of my tennis skills. It was like being almost out of your body.
Those feelings all eventually subsided and I was left dazed and confused about what had happened. My GAD instantly would set in, and from then on I found my world becoming smaller and smaller. That free, fearless tennis warrior was just a memory now. I wasn’t free—I had GAD.
The label of having an anxiety and panic disorder was now something I carried around with me from minute to minute, it was my identity and my mind reminded me of that all the time no matter what I was doing. My mind would say things like “OK you can go play some tennis, but just remember that if you put too much effort in, you just might have another panic attack or worse―a heart attack!” As if I was subconsciously sabotaging myself. From the moment I woke up, I couldn’t wait to get to sleep again so I didn’t have to face my new “identity.” Every waking minute was met with the two words that consumed me, “what if.” What if I experience hyperventilation again around these people? What if people begin thinking I’m crazy? What if I can’t play my tennis match tomorrow because my anxiety symptoms become too much to handle? These are the two most dis-empowering words I’ve ever come across. I needed to get rid of them from my vocabulary if I wanted to change my new anxious identity.
Most of the time, I tried to hide my anxiety and panic issues around people due to the embarrassment and how ridiculous I felt about it all. The rare time I did open up I usually got responses like “take it easy” or even more popular, “learn to relax.”
These responses are good suggestions for someone with an anxiety level of say three or four out of ten, but when you’re talking about someone who is gripping so tightly day by day to stay in control of these physical sensations of worry and fear, they mean nothing. So you can’t really blame the anxiety sufferer for not opening up more to the people around them or going out and meeting new friends.
This is why I think that it is really important for people close to the anxiety sufferer to be well educated on how to treat them. We are very fragile creatures and can take things the wrong way all of the time. A simple comment like, “did you get sunburned yesterday?” Can be an immediate emergency for a hypochondriac to get to the nearest wifi connection to check what the chances of getting skin cancer can be from having a sunburn. That’s why, while in the process of recovery, it’s important that people you see often at home and in your daily life read up on what it’s like to have GAD or any other issue related to your mental health.
Dating In Panic
Trust me, dating wasn’t a common thing for me. Even though on the outside I looked somewhat confident and dressed the part, on the inside I was at what seemed like the peak of my anxiety, and could rate myself at about a nine out of ten for many years.
So, I’m going on this blind date that my tennis clients put together for me, and after trying to think of an excuse to get out of it for hours, I found myself on my way to the restaurant to meet my date. Things started really well because usually just in the first few minutes of meeting someone I am very upbeat and energetic which she must have interpreted as being fun and outgoing.
We sat down and I could feel the blood rushing to my face in nervousness but since I had practiced hiding my true feelings for so long, I was holding it together pretty well and was able to keep the conversation going.
The problem was it was dinner time, where I always felt pressured to have a drink, and therefore only a matter of time before my physical sensations like shortness of breath and extreme dizziness would kick in, and I needed to decide between three choices that I had when this happened.
Choice #2 was hang in there, take a few bathroom breaks to throw some water on my blushing face and start over.
Choice #3 was fake an emergency that I had to attend to right then and there and leave the restaurant. Which choice would you have made? I think the most positive choice would be #2 because it would lead to a potential relationship or friendship that could last forever without the embarrassment of seeing me drunk (not a good scene because I get overly energetic and friendly followed by going to sleep in the nearest comfy place I could find).
The only thing I could blame going to the washroom that many times on would be all of the water I drank earlier that day at the gym (the gym part would also be a plus because it would be something she would be looking for in a guy, as she was extremely fit). I chose choice #1 because what alcohol does to someone who suffers from high levels of anxiety is it gives them temporary relief from all physical sensations (or at least we stop paying attention to them as much), and it replaces any negative and unproductive thoughts with happy and fearless ones. For the 40 or so minutes just after dinner we had a blast and I was unstoppable and drunk after just four beers.
I was the person I wanted to be every minute of every day, outgoing, confident, and fearless. Who would have thought that this scared little mouse could turn into a raging lion so quickly? The problem was, a few hours later we were lounging on the sofas near the restaurant at another bar and my invincibility was starting to wear off. I was getting tired and sleepy. I was starting to realize that the next couple of days were going to be the most difficult days I could imagine, which led to the usual cycle of worry and fear which turned into physical sensations followed by confusion and more fear. See how the cycle goes and goes? Even the anticipation of panic causes panic.
The conversation was now at a snail’s pace, and I could tell I was really starting to rub her the wrong way. The night that had started out so great with a nice meal and good conversation had turned into a complete train wreck in only a matter of hours. We said our goodbyes and I ended up having to go and sleep in the back seat of my car.
A Ray of Hope
Not all dates would go this bad. Eventually, I would meet the love of my life. Her
name was Robyn Olsen. But, this wouldn’t be a story about me if it wasn’t awkward. I was 28 at the time and she was 23. We ran into each other at a tennis party that was held for players of a local tennis tournament in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She knew the person who was throwing the party.
Boy, did she look good that night. Unlucky for me, she was already surrounded by a few young single men. I glanced over to her friend she had brought with her. She wasn’t really my type, but she was my only ticket to finding out more about Robyn.
Now there’s something you must know about low level professional tennis players―when we lose a tennis match, especially the way I did that day, by a matter of a few points, you couldn’t care less about anything in the world for the rest of the day. It also meant you would party harder than ever (which of course at the peak of my anxiety meant I would pay for it for the next week). So I at this point during the party, I had consumed one too many.
Brave and extremely intoxicated, I walked over to Robyn’s friend and began asking her questions about Robyn. Is she single? Does she have kids? What does she do? What I really should have asked her was, would she be interested in someone who radiates fear when he hasn’t downed a 12-pack of beer in less than two hours? Would she be interested in a 28-year-old who has dreams of still playing professional but can’t really afford new tennis rackets because tennis players at this level don’t make much money at all?
I completely surprised myself by the way things were going during my conversation with her friend Jen. I couldn’t be stopped―the words poured out of my mouth as if I was hitting service returns with my eyes closed. I smiled from ear to ear, a smile that could light up a room. I could tell she was enjoying the process of me getting to know Robyn better. For once in my life, I couldn’t wait to talk to this girl and show her what I was made of, even though it was all brought on my the fact I was extremely drunk and didn’t have a care in the world.
Later as I was standing near the dance floor area, I took a look to my left—there was Robyn and her friend Jen, walking towards us from what I thought was a distance but was in fact just a few feet away. She simply said, “Hi, I’m Robyn.” “Hellllooooo, I’m Dennis,” I replied in a very creepy and skanky way. I could tell my superpowers were quickly leaving me, and Robyn was the kryptonite I couldn’t deal with.
I remember having a million voices going off in my head, and none of them were going to save me from this frozen feeling. Jen quickly jumped in to save me from myself and began telling Robyn a little bit more about me. For some reason I still couldn’t talk; I just couldn’t open my mouth and say something because of the fear of saying the wrong things. Things quickly went from bad to worse, and finally I was able to say, “I’m sorry I have to go now.”
I scattered down the road to catch a cab, feeling completely defeated. Already I was afraid of the overwhelming physical symptoms of anxiety that would surely appear the next day; in fact they were already slowly creeping in.
Just as I was getting into a cab, Jen came by me and gave me a note that had Robyn’s phone number on it. I grabbed it and got in the cab, feeling a little unsure about what just happened. As the cab drove off, I naturally started worrying about my next move with Robyn. When should I call her? What would she think?
I put it all behind me and proceeded to pass out in the cab. Knowing the morning would bring a mix of full blown panic attacks and a feeling of gratitude on meeting the girl of my dreams.
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