Do You Have Panic Attacks?




Opinion.jpgI’ve always considered myself a pretty healthy person. I was a high school and collegiate athlete, have had good friends at every stage of life, and have largely been successful in my academic and professional pursuits. I’ve always been a mentally strong person and have felt at one time or another that the sky was the limit and that I could really overcome any challenge.

Several years ago, a lot of that ended when I had my first panic attack. I had gone on a medical mission to Guatemala, and as a flight was about to take off from Texas to the West Coast, I had my first panic attack. We were stopping in Texas from Guatemala City and allowed to get off the plane. When reboarding, the plane was extremely hot, crowded and we were lined up in the aisle moving very slowly to our seats at the rear of the plane. I suddenly began to perspire and had a fear that if I did not exit the plane immediately, I would die. I was almost to the back of the plane, and I suddenly turned around and started marching fiercely toward the front of the plane, pushing everyone aside and begging them to please step aside and let me off.

I got off the plane for a few minutes until the flight attendants told me that if I did not get back on I would be left behind. Still with the fear of death in my mind, I realized that I had to get on the plane to return home. So I made it back to my seat and shut my eyes and forced myself to sleep. Luckily I awoke when we were landing.

I’ve had some issues with flying ever since. In looking back to my childhood, I’m pretty sure that I had claustrophobia as a child. My sister used to cover me with a blanket and not let me out. I remember that feeling of helplessness, struggle, and fear that I could not get out. I got that same feeling when sitting in the back seat of a two-door car without windows in high school and feeling a little queasy about it.

I’m pretty sure that the real trigger was our transportation in Guatemala. We were always packed like sardines into buses. Or we were sitting sideways in cramped vans. Always without enough personal space and without fresh air. I’m pretty sure the two weeks of constant claustrophobic stimuli culminated to that point on the plane.

Since then, the panic attacks got worse for a while, then better. I can fly again pretty comfortably. But I won’t get on a plane without my bottle of ativan (sedative). I’ve never actually used it, but just in case I freak out, I want to be able to settle down without having a seizure or a stroke.

In an effort to connect with you guys, I would love to hear if you have had any panic attacks and how you have dealt with them.

JC, MD

Dr. JC is a medical doctor who has a passion for health promotion and education.
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