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The Fear is Real

I’m scared. No. I’m terrified. At what exactly escapes me but the feeling is real. I can feel it in the pity of my stomach. My heart is pounding and I feel as if I can’t breathe. I’m having an anxiety attack.

I remember the first time I had an anxiety attack. It was the middle of winter about four years ago. I was riding on a subway during morning rush hour. I was all bundled up against the cold Toronto weather and even though I was in the subway car, I was still cold.  I got on at the end of the line so the car was not full yet. By the time the subway had travelled six stations there wasn’t even standing room and many passengers were being left on the platform. All of a sudden I started to feel hot. At that point, I wasn’t even thinking of menopause or hot flashes just that there were too many people in such a small space. As the train entered the tunnel fear gripped me and my heart began to pound loudly in my ears. I frantically unwrapped my scarf, tore the hat from my head and unbuttoned my coat at quickly as I could. At the same time all kinds of horrible thoughts ran through my head—what if we get trapped in the tunnel? What if there is a bomb on the train? I’ll get trampled when everyone panics and tries to get off the train—and I knew I had to try to hold it together at least until we arrived at the next platform. But could I?

I stood up and tried to make my way to the door but we were packed in like sardines and no one was moving.

“Excuse me.” I said to the woman standing in front of me. She looked through me as if I hadn’t said a word so I repeated the words but a bit louder.

“And where would you like me to move to?” she said in an accent I didn’t recognize.

“I’m getting off at the next stop.” I said as calmly as I could.

“Good luck!” she said derisively. And that’s when I lost it.

I started to yell and push “I need to get off this train…let me off this train!” I stepped on feet and pushed people left and right in my rush to get off the train. I made it to the door leaving many grumbling people behind me and banged my fists against the door yelling “let me off this train!” It seemed an eternity before the train pulled into the station. The doors opened in slow motion and I barged out of the subway car and onto the safety of the platform. I stripped off the coat and sweater I had on and stood bent over panting. There would be many more anxiety attacks after that one but they say you never forget your first.

My most recent one was yesterday. My husband and I were spooning in bed watching a Spanish soap opera, he with his arm around my waist and his head just above mine so that I could feel his hot breath on the back of my neck. In an instant I was fearful. I flung his arm and the blanket from around me and sat bolt straight up. I flicked on the lamp on the night table and gulped for air. Luckily, Jose has seen this before and he knows what to do now.

He asks me “Anxiety attack?”

I nod and start to describe the feeling to him but as I talk about it, the feeling intensifies so I stop. I need a distraction. I get out of bed, turn on all the lights and put on music because it is always a good distraction as is movement. So far, these anxiety/panic attacks are the worse part of menopause.

The website says anxiety can be a vague or intense feeling caused by physical or psychological conditions. A feeling of agitation and loss of emotional control that may be associated with panic attacks and physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and palpitations. The frequency of anxiety can range from a one-time event to recurring episodes. Early diagnosis may aid early recovery, prevent the disorder from becoming worse and possibly prevent the disorder from developing into depression.

Panic disorder is a significant and debilitating emotional state characterized by overwhelming fear and anxiety. These feelings can be vague or intense caused by physical or psychological conditions. The frequency can range from a one-time event to recurring episodes. If your life is totally disrupted by this symptom, better contact your doctor.

I did see my doctor about these attacks and of course, she prescribed medication that can become very addictive. I only took it once when I need to have an MRI and I knew that I would lose it inside that machine. Instead, I distract myself as best I can. I turn on the lights and I move my body by dancing or exercising and that seems to help.

If you have ever had an anxiety or panic attack, please leave a comment about what you do to cope with them. You’ll be helping your sister in menopause.


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