25 Years Ago Today…

…my mom and I flew from Rochester, New York, back to my hometown of Houston, Texas. We were able to move in to the house I grew up in, with the same neighbors giving us support.

I remember how it felt to go to school with a lot of the same people, but noticing they saw me in a different light. I was no longer just “Merrie.” I was “Merrie, the one with divorcing parents.” It felt like a stigma.

It was around this time that I started having panic attacks. I know they appeared before we left upstate New York, but they became more prevalent in my life after we left.

Twenty-five years ago I was 13. I still can’t believe I’ve been dealing with panic disorder for this long, but I hope that things are finally taking a turn for the better.

I don’t want to experience panic attacks for another 25 years.


My First Panic Attack

Many people with panic disorder say that they remember their first panic attack. I don’t know that I remember my actual first, but the panic attack I remember happened when I was younger.

I believe I was around 11 or 12. I was walking with my mom and we were going to an amusement park. I gagged like I was going to throw up and my mom became upset. I told her, “Don’t worry, mom, this is what happens when I’m excited.”

I wonder when I lost that naivete. I don’t think it was much later after that when I was writing journal entries that I just wanted to be “normal.”

I’m not necessarily working on reclaiming that innocence; too much has happened in my life. But I am working on changing how I see anxiety. How it truly can be excitement, not just fear.

What is the memory of your first panic attack?

Tools for Anxiety

Tonight is the second time in a row that I’m hanging out with a friend. And, of course, I’m all kinds of nervous.

This is the first time J has been to our house, and I’ve never had dinner with him. That is, he has never seen me eat. I don’t know why that bothers me, but I have had people comment on how little I eat. I tend to pick at my food when I’m nervous.

It’s not that I’m dreading this dinner. On the contrary; I’m excited. J is hilarious. He and I have the same sense of humor, and I know that he and Lee will get along great. Plus, he and his partner are dog people. They will fall in love with Blue and Buddy.

I’m always anxious about people coming over. I don’t want to feel ill and leave Lee to be the entertainer. After all, I was the one to invite J and D over.

So, I’m using mental tools that my counselor has given me to handle my anxiety, and even diminish it a few points. (Remember the scale from yesterday?)

First, I look around and determine whether there is a justifiable threat. With the exception of a scorpion I killed earlier, there is no threat. The house is clean, Lee is cooking his favorite food, and the dogs are relaxing.

Then I determine what is causing my anxiety. Is it a physical sensation? No. Is it caused by thoughts? Yes. I’m having anticipatory anxiety.

What is my anticipatory anxiety about? Being ill while J and D are here.

Can I predict 100% that I will get sick while J and D are here? No.

Then I focus on my breathing. This will help me lower my anxiety.

These tools aren’t always foolproof. And it will take me a bit to take in that things are OK and that I need to live in the present moment. But I’m still looking forward to tonight.

It’s going to be a good night.

I Wish I May, I Wish I Might…

When I worked at The Huntsville Item, I wrote a column every other Sunday for a while. It could be about anything.

One week I decided to write about my agoraphobia. I had gotten a book called The Wish List from a couple friends and it helped me put into perspective what I had accomplished and what goals I wanted to set for the future.

Here are some of the things I have checked off so far:

Flower parade in Bennebroek

  • Design, build, and decorate my dream house (March 2008)
  • Travel to Europe (Amsterdam and London, June/July 2005)
  • Swim with dolphins (April 2002)
  • Fall in love with the right person, at the right time for both of us (Lee, May 2005)
  • Cuddle a tiger cub (November 2000)

I consider these to all be amazing experiences, and I still was dealing with agoraphobia!

My goals for the future weren’t much different then. I wanted to be able to go and do things and not think of how I feel every second of every day.

I still feel that way, but every day that I am on my new medication I feel a little stronger. I’m more creative. I have emotions, and for the most part none of them have been have been panic or anxiety-related.

So now I have some new wishes.

  • To travel wherever I want without fear, but with excitement and wonder.
  • To open a yarn store online with yarn Lee and I have dyed and spun.
  • To live life to the fullest, one day at a time.

Maybe one day these wishes will come true. Until then, I’ll keep looking for falling stars to wish upon.

Wish me luck.