I remember a bite in the air on that November morning in 2006. I was ready to leave for work, and on the way, I had to drop my parents off at the hospital. My dad was beginning his first round of chemo treatments for stage 4 colon cancer. We arrived at the hospital, and we said our goodbyes as they stepped out of the car. When the door shut, little did I know about the terror that was awaiting me.
As I was driving down the highway, I started having trouble breathing. When I turned onto the interstate, I started sweating profusely. I rolled down the windows to get some air, but it wasn’t helping. My foot was slammed on the accelerator, and I was driving as fast as my car would take me. My breathing was becoming more labored by the minute. I finally arrived at work convinced that I was having a heart attack. I ran through the back door of the restaurant and stormed into the manager’s office. My boss got me a glass of water and put a cold towel around my neck. He took one look at me and immediately stated my diagnosis. I was having a panic attack, and it would be my first of many to come.
I think that the best definition of a panic attack is that it’s your body’s way of reacting to what your mind is trying to process. My mind simply couldn’t process the fact that my dad was going to die, and my body was forcing me to stop and face the situation. My mind and my body had declared this war against each other. It would prove to be a long and hard battle, especially since I made the conscious decision not to take any kind of medication for it.
Over the next several months, my attacks continued. Sometimes I would go for a couple of weeks without one, and other times I would have two in one week. They could be so unpredictable. At one point, I even began to question the control I had over my own body. It’s so hard to be a participant in life when you spend your time breathing inside a paper bag.
When he came home from the hospital for the last time, my attacks increased significantly. I had no choice but to face it. The worst attack I had was when my jaw went completely numb, which scared me half to death. Through all the madness, I still refused to mask my pain with a pill. Five days later, he died in his sleep.
Those next few weeks were the most difficult. As time marched on, I made up my mind to take a new approach to things. I decided to take the ‘fake it until I make it’ approach. I wasn’t about to let this thing beat me. I pretended that I was the lead actress in a movie, and I was given the power to decide how the scene was going to end. Would I let myself fall and play the victim role, or would I emerge a winner? I wasn’t about to let fear rule the rest of my life. For every uncomfortable situation I found myself in, I immersed myself into that warrior woman role, and every time, I came out victorious.
This is what I would like to say to all the people who are giving in to their panic. Your story is not over by any means, and you have the prerogative to choose how your movie is going to end. You deserve to live a life completely void of fear. Let your story have that happy ending.