I remember it like it was yesterday. It was October 2015, my son was 2 years old at the time, and we were still living at my childhood home in Lithonia, GA. We were watching TV on the couch when it happened. I lost my breath and couldn't breathe. Hunter didn't have the wherewithal yet to truly grasp or help me at the time, so I hurriedly told told him to follow me to our neighbor's house.
My mom was traveling that day and I felt hopeless thinking to myself "I'm going to die right here in front of my son and no one will find me until tomorrow." I had to get to my neighbors house and had to get there fast so that he would at least experience his mother dying in good company.
After rushing over to my neighbor's house, I told them I was having a heart attack and to call 911. They called 911 and were so patient with me as checked my pulse and gave me water. "Breathe baby. BREATHE," said the neighbor's wife. I took some deep breaths as I watched her husband play with Hunter in an effort to distract him.
The paramedics showed up and I think I may have ran to them. Finally. Someone was there to assist me fight against the Grim Reaper. That's a thing for me ya know?
Ever since watching my Best Friend die in front of my eyes in 2010, I have always been waiting for my Final Destination moment. The average person may sit in traffic and think a simple thought like "Well this blows." When I sit in traffic, I go under a bridge and do my best wait out driving through incase this bridge collapses and crushes me to bits. The average person at my current job may get to the 5th floor to grab a bite to eat from the cafeteria with ease. Instead, I pray and scan every person while walking in the event that they will chose me as their victim to throw me off of the banister from the top floor. Sometimes I think I will faint and somehow fall off myself in a catastrophic accident.
The examples are endless honestly. I wake up every single day waiting to meet my maker. I wake up every single day waiting for the worst to happen. On this random Sunday in October 2015, I just knew my day had come and that I was as good as dead.
While panting and sobbing in the ambulance I told the paramedics my symptoms (shortness of breath, hot flashes, tight chest, headaches, and shaking hands).
They hooked me up to a machine to take my pulse and smiled.
"Why are you smiling? This isn't funny. I'm dying. Help me."
"You're not dying," said one of the paramedics. "You're having a panic attack."
"Mam, you're having a panic attack."
Then came the denial. "NO. That's not what this is. Check my heart again. I'm DEFINITELY dying."
The paramedics kindly obliged and checked again to humor me. "See. If you were having a heart attack, your results would read differently. We see a lot of these. We actually just had someone similar like you yesterday. This is a classic panic attack."
"Retrace your steps. What were you doing or what were you thinking about before you couldn't breathe?"
"Well. I was thinking about a lot. I was thinking about how I didn't have enough sleep the night before and how shitty I felt because I just needed a moment and didn't have a moment because I'm a Mom. I was also thinking about money and how my account is negative. I never seem to have enough money. I was also thinking about my job and how I'm just a receptionist when I know I should be doing more than that. Oh, I was also thinking about how the walls are closing in on me and I don't have the time to grasp or process that."
The paramedics laughed.
"Now Mam... do you see why you might have triggered a panic attack?"
In that moment, I felt like the little boy, Cole, in "The Sixth Sense." I began to replay so many moments in my life flashback style. I didn't see "Dead People, but I definitely saw how I may have gotten to this point. I started to see all of the triggers and anxiety filled days I had in the past six years. It was similar to my life flashing before my eyes, but in this instance, I saw the trajectory of my anxiety and depression since that first battle with the Grim Reaper in March 2010.
I saw the horror of witnessing someone die in front of your face. I saw my old self being on the train and following people that I thought were my deceased friend for weeks. I saw myself hiding away in my apartment for months and drinking myself into oblivion in D.C. I saw how when I was pregnant, it heightened this "Final Destination" awareness. Not only did I measure every possible factor that could hurt me, but how I now measured how the world could hurt my child.
I'd like to say my new awareness of panic attacks made my life easier, but it didn't. It was like this panic attack forced itself into my life and it was not going away until I got to the root of the issue. I had crippling anxiety every single day. I would wake up with a headache, chills, and shaking hands like clockwork. None of it made sense- it still doesn't. It's like I became a new person. I used to win oratorical competitions that I delivered in front of large audiences. I was a child actor that would perform in front of rooms that housed hundreds of people and I found myself having anxiety in simple conversations that required minimal communication. It was awful and I didn't know how to make it stop.
There was a game I used to play with myself. I'd like to call it the "How long until you start to suffer" game. I'd wake up for work and would wait to see how long I could go without a headache consuming me or how long could I go without my hands shaking. 5 minutes? 10 minutes? Once I got to 20 minutes and felt lucky.
As I mentioned before, I was the receptionist at my office. Being a receptionist is interesting. You are the face of the office and that ends up making you the resident "therapist" of the office. People see your face constantly and unknowingly bring their energy to your space. They come to you about their problems and gripes and it feels like it is your job to smile and let them.
So that's what I did. I would put on a pretty smile and listen to everyone's problems. I would never tell them how I was struggling mentally, how I didn't really want to hear about their problems at home or in the office because I was trying to simply get through the day without having yet another panic attack. It's funny how that whole thing works. It feels like being an alcoholic. You have just come from outside minutes prior. You just got done crying and trying to do something as simple as breathe. In this case, you're not trying to hide the stench of alcohol coming from your pores, but you're trying to hide the stench of despair and "weakness."
One day so many people came to me with their problems, I obliged and listened like always. Unfortunately on this day, I could no longer be of service. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin and my only solution was to call for coverage and take a walk around the building to get some air. I ended up taking that walk for almost two hours. I just kept walking in circles talking to myself. Telling myself to breath. Telling myself that I was not crazy and that this moment would pass me by. I felt so alone. I felt so crazy and I felt like I would never be "normal" again.
Eventually, I confided in a coworker about my issues and she referred me to an excellent therapist. That therapist took one look at me and said "Oh Baby, you're stuck. You're scared and you have so much more to offer this world then where you're at now." Because of her busy workload, she couldn't personally take me on as a client and referred me to my now therapist who has been an absolute Godsend. He has helped me know the signs, the triggers, and we have an action plan on how to get through the dark moments.
I won't go into it now because I am not ready to give all of my truths yet, but I will tell you one thing that helped me.
I was tasked with creating a vision board. I know those things can be seen as cliche, but it was truly helpful. On my vision board I put the obvious things I aspired for (Film, Photography, more money, and a better lifestyle). One thing that struck me when creating this vision board was a picture of a little black girl that I saw in a magazine. She seemed innocent. She seemed hopeful. She seemed untouched by the world's darkness.
I didn't know exactly why she jumped out to me, but I knew she was important to my journey. She was me. She was me before I became a member of the #MeToo tribe and disgusting men got a hold of me. She was me before Mexico in March 2010. She was me before the fear and the anxiety. I wanted to heal her. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and tell her it was going to be okay. I wanted to tell her that I'd take care of her like she was my child. I wanted her to know she wasn't alone and that she wasn't dead.
So I did the work. I went to therapy regularly. I journaled. I admitted a lot of things that I hid deep from myself and to that little girl.
I'm still working on us. I'm still fighting. I'm still trying to find that old me that is vivacious and has no fear. I know she's in there. I can feel her whenever I write or talk about my dreams.
I'm happy to say that every day is no longer a struggle. Now it's down to most days. One day I believe it will be down to some days and so on...
I don't know why this switch went off in me. I don't know why I became so shy and scared. What I do know is that God put me on this earth for a reason. I know that there is another little girl or boy hiding in someone and I'm meant to pull them out to let them know they are not alone.
You are not crazy. You will and can get through this. Life is beautiful and precious. Protect your mental health. Do not be scared to admit you need help and love. You are loved by me and so many others.
So I will tell you with the same kindness that my neighbors wife told me, "Breathe Baby. BREATHE."
Take Care of You.
L. Paige Fenn