I don’t know when the panic attacks began. I did not have them in my single digits. Up until 10 years old, I was a relatively happy go-lucky kid. I don’t remember panic attacks or anxiety in my early teens either even around 14 years old when I thought my parents were heading for divorce. But that’s a different a story. When I was 14, 15 and 16 I lived in New Jersey and my dad’s driving or perhaps the other people’s driving or perhaps just those crazy traffic circles scared the living daylights out of me but that wasn’t panic, that was fear. I had become very aware of my own mortality. But that’s a different story. Late teens, college years, first career, no panic attacks. There was stress but not irrational anxiety or panic.
Ah, I do know when the panic attacks began. They began in 2000 when the life I had known collapsed around me. Two years prior I had been laid off from a great job with a predictable decent salary and an aggressive debt reduction plan including a cute little graph that showed the day I would throw a huge party to celebrate not owing money to anyone. My first wife left me. Routine and structure were gone. All my dreams vanished. There was no more money. And when I would wake up enough to try to visualize a solution to all the problems, anxiety would set in and all I could do is hide in bed and try to sort it out, a full blown panic attack.
I am sure panic attacks are different for different people. Even for me a panic attack could vary from a clouded head just wanting to hide from my problems to a brainstorming problem solving session. Usually it was the brainstorming problem solving sessions that got me. My mind would rush through different scenarios trying to solve all the problems. If I did A, B then C certainly D, E and F would happen but what if B didn’t go as planned then instead of C I might end up at L and I certainly cannot get to D from L so lets plan for the L, M, N, O scenario but what if B did go as planned and it was C that didn’t work I still wouldn’t get to D because I would be on the T, U, V, W plan. That’s similar to trying to play the whole game of chess out in your head before making your opening move. That’s what my mind used to do a lot and still occasionally does. The problem with this extreme forward thinking is that nothing happens because instead of making move A you are laying in bed thinking about it instead of doing. And lack of action exacerbates the problems.
For the most part, I don’t have panic attacks anymore. I have had several interesting life developments as well as some great teachers and guides help free me of the habits I used to imprison myself. However, this morning I did wake in a panic attack. It was more of an irrational fear than a planning session. Panic attacks leave you feeling stressed, tired, and a bit hollow inside. It was a reminder that I really don’t want to slip back into my old ways.