one year later.
Exactly one year ago today I had a panic attack that landed me in the emergency room. If that sounds dramatic, its because it kind of was.
Although not my first panic attack, this one was debilitating. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't feel my limbs, I couldn't stand. It came on slowly. I mentioned to a colleague I wasn't feeling well. I went into a back closet at my office to lay down, which is where she found me a bit later. An ambulance was called, I was rolled out of the office and given oxygen and taken to the emergency room. Truth be told, more than anything I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed that such a scene was caused, that I felt like I couldn't control it myself, that I didn't have it handled, that someone had to come help me. I felt helpless and weak, and the second I got to the hospital all I wanted to do was leave. I was convinced I was ok, I didn't need to be there, I was healthy.
And for the most part, I was.
A few tests, some x-rays, a couple of interesting ER roommates and an excruciating, sleepless night in what I was told by the nurse is the "old peoples' ward" later, I went home. As it turns out, a pre-existing heart condition coupled with dehydration and severe anxiety is not a great combination, and essentially, my body opted to shut down on me. For the six months or so prior, I had pretty much neglected any semblance of personal wellness or well-being that I had - I was out all the time, spending a bit of time in the yoga studio or boxing gym, but mostly working crazy hours, drinking, partying, traveling. I was back and forth to Chicago constantly, never spending more than a couple of weeks at home. I was exhausted, overwhelmed and run down. I was in the midst of making a major life decision, or rather, thought I HAD made a major life decision, but it was one that I realized later I was not only not ready to make, but one that made me unhappy. I was unhappy. I didn't necessarily know it at the time, but looking back, I was. Don't get me wrong, there was a lot of good happening at this time. But there was also a lot that I felt was spiraling out of control. A lot that I felt I didn't get a proper say over, decisions being made without me, life taking place and propelling forward without really getting a say over which direction. And it caught up to me. The pressure and anxiety was taking a bigger toll than I ever realized, and it manifested in my body breaking down. As frightening (and embarrassing) as it was, it was the best wake up call I could have received. Nothing necessarily changed overnight. I still made some bad decisions. I probably could have taken better care of myself that summer. But in the end, it was a giant kick in the ass...forcing me to slow down, think, reflect, and figure out exactly what it was that was making me feel that way.
I've never really been one for a ton of self-reflection, if I'm being honest. I used to spend, and still do spend, a lot of time trying to make sure others are happy and that their needs are being met. My concerns, or needs, or wants always came second. I thought my happiness came from other peoples' happiness. Although that's true to an extent, it's also not. It's about finding balance between yourself and others, what you want and know is right, and making that happen in conjunction with those in your life. Putting yourself first when you need to, but never compromising your ability to be there and support others and do good for them. It took an actual breakdown for me to even begin to start thinking about putting myself first, to look in the mirror and make some seriously hard decisions. For me to decide to become a yoga teacher, and to stay in New York City (among others). It wasn't easy, and it's still not easy sometimes, but those were two of the best decisions I've ever made.
God bless my amazing assistant/drag queen extraordinaire for taking that ambulance ride with me and keeping me calm when it seemed as if everything was crumbling around me. God bless my amazing friends that were by my side all night, keeping me smiling and reminding me of all the love that I'm surrounded by. God bless my parents for managing to seem calm and collected while inevitably freaking out. This network of support is one of the most incredible things that I have, unfortunately, likely taken for granted over the years. The outpouring of love and support felt in that day, and every day since, is indescribable. I can safely say that my lovely hospital visit would not have gone nearly as well without an amazing crew by my side. So, thank you, you know who you are.
It's easy to write this, reflect back on what happened, what I was feeling, thinking, what I should have done differently in the weeks and months prior. It's not that easy to remember this daily, to live with myself as my number one priority, to recognize stress and anxiety and where it is stemming from. It's something I'm working on, and talking to friends, it sounds like I'm not alone. So although it's easier said than done, let me tell this story to serve as a reminder to slow down, focus on yourself, what you want and need, to breathe, to do what's right for you, and to never take those around you for granted.