A girl never forgets her first panic attack.
It occurred on a sunny, cloudless spring morning 19 years ago in – of all undignified places – a McDonald’s restaurant.
Thinking back it might have inspired a whole new twist to that business’ popular advertising campaign.
You deserve a breakdown today.
The morning was remarkable only for its complete ordinary nature. Up at seven, one kid to school, another to playgroup and toted the baby to the office to catch up on emails and check on the newspaper.
Back in the day, maternity leave was just a euphemism for breastfeeding at your desk.
Hit the grocery store, the post office and the bank, picked up the playgrouper and drove out the highway for a hamburger and a Happy Meal, all the while feeling on top of the world.
Mommy what’s wrong? Don’t you like your lunch?
He was playing with his food and watching while the woman in charge slumped over the table, rested her head on a pile of french fries and lost the ability to speak.
Is that what a stroke feels like? A heart attack? A seizure? It was baffling and terrifying, to say nothing of the humiliation.
Several hours later, stretched out in the emergency room of the local hospital, there was still no acceptable explanation for the symptoms; shortness of breath, nausea, blurred vision, dizziness, feelings of dread.
We’d run the gamut – blood work, EKG, oxygen, aspirin, nitroglycerin.
Noting my agitation, the doctor bent down and whispered, so no one else could hear.
It’s okay. You are not going to die.
It was the right thing to say in that it was both comforting and made me laugh.
Are you serious? Everybody dies. Don’t they cover that in medical school? What kind of doctor are you?
He sat on the edge of the bed and took my hand.
You are not crazy. You are not even sick. You are overwhelmed.
Shaking his head regretfully, he said his small urgent care centre saw dozens of young women in similar circumstances, every month.
An indication of the subsequent uptick in my mood was the awareness that the doctor was attractive, and that there was ketchup in my hair.
Panic and anxiety can be managed with counseling, improved lifestyle choices, and sometimes medication.
Or it can be as simple as slowing down, not trying to eat the whole mastodon in one sitting, on any given day.
I found a popular homeopathic therapy called Rescue Remedy, that was quite useful. Three drops under the tongue at the onset of anxious feelings.
Our general practitioner read the active ingredients with interest. Eighteen per cent grape alcohol combined with an infusion of wildflower petals.
Rescue Remedy, she declared, is $30-an-ounce wine.
Well, different strokes for different folks.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association one third of people have experienced a panic attack, and four per cent of the population suffers from a panic disorder.
Sometimes it helps just to know you aren’t the only one.
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