I suffered through my first full blown panic attack in the summer of 2012. Although I have had minor panic attacks prior to this event (is "minor panic" an Oxymoron? ) they were more disguised as anxiety or trepidation, and not really an attack, but more of an incursion or encounter, so I guess I previously had "trepidation skirmishes".
But that day in 2012, on the beach of Atlantic City, I had a full blown panic attack. I could not move due to fear. I could not breath due to worry. I could not focus on what was in front of me due to the feelings that were inside of me. I was being attacked by my own mind. In my mind there were sharks in the water right near where my kids were currently swimming. My kids, in reality, were swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, five feet in front of me, however there were NO sharks near them. Although sharks do live in the Atlantic Ocean they were no where near the beach that day. MY brain put the sharks right near my kids. Sounds crazy I know, but that is what anxiety and depression can do.
I was unable to enjoy the afternoon and my family in the sun and surf because no matter what I tried I thought sharks. My wife at the time, told me I was acting crazy. That did not matter to me, because the sharks had already surrounded me and were closing in on me causing my chest to feel tight and my breath to shorten. The sharks were also making my eyes burn. Although there was a nice cool ocean breeze, the sweat was building in the creases of my forehead and along my hair line and slowly dripping into my eyes. The salt of the air combined with the salt of the perspiration made the whites of my eyes bloodshot with irritation. Wait, sharks can smell blood, can't they? Crap. I should get out of the water so I do not attract sharks. I backed out of the ocean.
Now, due to the burning irritation, my vision was blurry. I was further away from my kids. How am I going to see the fins of the sharks that are about to attack my kids. My kids who are not paying attention to the dangers of the ocean because they are busy Karate chopping and Kung Fu kicking waves. Maybe the kids will get lucky and actually land a kick on a shark's nose. But I would not be able to see if they made contact because of the sweat in my eyes.
I can't breathe, I am having chest tightness, I can't see. Why are my kids laughing? They are having a good time even though I am stressing out. They must not love me. Oh no, my kids do not love me. I am going to die alone. No. No. I still have my wife. She will not let me die alone. Wait a minute she just said I was crazy. No, she said I was acting crazy. You know what, I will act brave. I will make sure that my kids and wife will see that I am a brave and a strong leader of the family.
"Everybody out of the water!" I yelled.
"But why dad?" the boys asked in unison.
"Because I need a break." was my response.
I needed a break from my own worries. I need a break from my own anxiety. I needed a break from the sharks that were in my head. I sat down on a flimsy low-to-the-ground beach chair trying to catch my breath. A frustrated expression was plastered on my wife's face. She did not understand. My kids started playing in sand.
The panic slowly subsided as I inhaled deeply over and over again, counting every second of every exhale as I watched the foam of the waves retreat back into the ocean. I was looking for sharks. They were not out there.
The sharks were in my head. Like the Fonz in Happy Days I need to jump past these sharks. Wait a second, Jumping the Shark is a metaphor for the beginning of the end of the quality of something.