Half a mile into my jog, I collapse onto one knee, breathless. I take off my headphones and toss them into a bush, clutching my chest as my heart beats like a drum in a marching band. My mind races. Suddenly, it felt as if I was breathing through a straw.
Just the previous day, I had run 10 miles on this exact same trail, as I did nearly every day. I'd completed basic training the year before, routinely running 6-minute miles in the dry Oklahoma heat. Yet here I am, surrounded by nothing but trees and wilderness on this abandoned trail, taking what I believe to be my frantic last breaths...
Except, they weren't my last breaths. I stood there waiting, yet air went in and back out of my lungs as it always had. I slumped my way back to my car in a slow walk with my head looking towards the ground.
What had just happened to me? Did I have a heart condition? Cancer? COPD? ALS? You name the disease and I searched it, with WebMD coming up on my browser history more often than Pornhub. Doctor after doctor enthusiastically declared me with a clean bill of health, yet the episodes persisted.
I stopped exercising. I stopped socializing. I dropped out of school. My new life was living in constant, paralyzing fear, glued to the couch and watching re-runs of 'Sportscenter.' I coped the only way I could - by drinking.
A year later, without much progress, I was seeing an ENT specialist, this time looking into potentially swollen glands in my throat. The doctor listened to my symptoms, nodding his head up and down, before plopping down on a chair next to me.
"I know what you have," he said. My ears perked up and my heart fluttered. Finally! "Have you ever heard of panic attacks?"
Truthfully, I had come across them on my yearlong search. Often. But each time, I brushed them off, denying that such a thing can live in your brain and rear itself in a way so physical.
I was pessimistic about the diagnosis, but desperate. The doctor prescribed me an anti-depressant, which I quit taking after a month. I felt sluggish and well... lost my male prowess. They just weren't for me.
I gradually came to accept that I was dealing with anxiety. It just never made sense to me because I never considered myself an "anxious" person — being laid back to a fault, in fact. But then, a thought crept into my head. If it's not anxiety, then why does consuming alcohol make me feel better? Why does it take my edge off?
To anybody who thinks they may be dealing with anxiety, this is my point. Don't live in denial.
I lost years of my life,. I dropped out of school. I lost friendships. All because I let myself get sucked into the tornado that is living with anxiety.
I had a scholarship through the National Guard that paid for 100% of my college tuition, yet here I am, 6 years later, paying out of pocket because I didn't have the means to deal with my issues.
The hardest part about suffering from panic attacks is that nobody understands you. Looking up anxiety online, you won't find much in terms of medical advice, just chatrooms, where strangers with ambiguous usernames comfort each other. "You are not alone," is a common phrase on nearly every post.
Seek help. There is no magic pill, but there are treatments. There are breathing techniques that specialists can guide you though. Belly breathing, for instance.
Did you know most people rarely even breathe correctly? I didn't either.
There are pills you can take. Different things work for different people. Even psychologists with 8-year college degrees will tell you that. Even if all you do is see a therapist and get it off your chest, it's better than letting it sit there and manifesting.
It WILL control your life if you let it. It did mine.
As for my episodes? They're mostly gone. I wish I could tell you how, but I can't. They simply disappeared, live Kevin Spacey from the entertainment world. Poof.
You could be dealing this for years and wake up one day and be fine. You just never know.
Keep going, hope is not lost. Get through today.
And maybe try having a beer. Sometimes, all you need is a fucking beer. That, I didn't learn in therapy.