In January we went on a family vacation to Disney World. It was a spectacular time full of laughter and surprises. We were eating like kings, sleeping very little, and spoiling these beautiful babies we have. On the last day of our trip, we made a half-day excursion to the Animal Kingdom. In the Animal kingdom, they have a roller coaster called “Expedition Everest” which has always been a favorite of mine. I have enjoyed this ride every time, its thrilling, unexpected and immersive. Although, something went differently for me this time. It was to be the last ride of our trip. Katie and I left the kids with Nana and Papa and headed for the very short line.
We boarded the ride and headed onto the tracks. We climbed up the steep incline to the top of the coaster, the tallest point for miles around, when (by design) the ride comes to an abrupt halt and begins to slide backward. The coaster diverts into complete darkness, and you see the silhouette of the mighty Yeti! This time, instead of enjoying the twists and turns, I had a reaction. My brain exploded with sensations, screaming at my body to get off of the coaster. Despite the danger, I was reaching out, trying to arrest the violent decent and twists and turns of the irresistible ride. My breath was interrupted, my brain was begging my body to stop the motion, and to extricate the body from this turbulence. I stretched out completely, contorting my body within the safety harness and clenched Katie’s leg. She looked at me as she was screaming with delight at the thrill ride. In a flash of light, she saw the tortured look on my face and my wild eyes searching for relief. I was disconnected. Katie told me to breathe and count backward from 10. I did, and slowly without a change. My skin felt like it wasn’t a part of me, not tingling, but raging, and my fingers felt primed to shoot off. I was gasping for air with no relief. It felt as though I could blackout at any moment. My vision was constricting, as I was feeling the full effects of a panic attack.
Although the whole ride start to finish lasts only three minutes, and my experience lasted less than a minute and a half, it felt as though I had been fighting for my life for to the point of exhaustion.
Getting off the ride I told Katie what had happened and she, of course, was shocked. She told me that someone has stepped on my adrenal gland. I felt it, and it scared me, and I had no explanation for why.
Unfortunately, that was not the end. It happened again three hours later on the shuttle from the hotel to the airport. Then twice more on the airplane. As my children and wife slept around me, I suffered in hysteric silence. No amount of breathing was sufficient to convince my brain that I was not in danger. I wanted to tough it out. I wanted it to go away. I begged in prayer for relief.
I thought I needed to be strong to help my children. Imagining I could outwork the attacks, I made it worse by telling myself there was nothing wrong.
I complained to Katie about the symptoms and the fear. I tried to sleep and instead worried over insignificant details in my life.
I had seldom experienced the stress and anxiety generated by the fear of what may set off the next attack or how I would deal with it.
I tried to make plans for what I would do in the next attack. I started avoiding topics of a conversation even trains of thought had to be abandoned because I was scared of what may set me off again. I would only listen to happy music and even though it was freezing outside had to keep the windows down as I commuted. Why? I was having a physical reaction to false information delivered by my brain, that had become my enemy.
After discussing the fear and pain I was having, not sleeping for weeks, I sought out help. I worried about how people may perceive my weakness. I worried about my pride. I worried that I would have to take medication to live my life. I worried about how the medication would make me feel, fearing I would be tired all the time, or have mood swings.
At the intake appointment, I was astonished. The admission survey had a list of all my symptoms. It was an awakening. I was not alone. I knew that if they had described all these feelings and terrors, that others knew what I was feeling. It was a comfort.
As the door closed, I started talking. I described all that I have said here and more. There was an outpouring of compassion and understanding from my doctor. He clearly illustrated for me that I was more afraid of my attacks that whatever was triggering them. Since that visit, I have started to reclaim my life.
I was ready for relief. I had to lay all my fears and pride and honor down, allow myself vulnerability, so I could take a step toward recovery.
My doctor told me that sometimes, people will allow themselves to suffer through the panic for hours at a time, and wait years before telling people about their fears. This generated huge empathy in me. I hurt for and sympathize with those feeling the way I did. Its agony. My attacks were terrifying and completely disconnected me from who I have always been.
I am so grateful that there are doctors that have studied these conditions. They have been studying fear, and panic, and anxiety and they want to help.
I am grateful for the means to pay for the doctors and the treatments that have brought a sense of control back into my life.
All this makes me elated to introduce the Overt Foundation. A foundation of people excited to help those who cannot help themselves with mental illness. If you have questions I am happy to field them with tenderness and understanding. We are human, we are better together.
If you have read this far, thank you. I challenge you to open your hearts to those that need your love. If you need help or know someone who needs help, consider donating, or referring them. At the very least we can know that we are not alone, and there are resources available.