The first time I recall having panic attacks, I was in grade school. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I would panic at the idea of having to go to school and be away from my mother. I would break down into hysterical tears, hyperventilate, throw up… I remember my mother arranged for me to see a child psychologist to try to help figure out what was going on and how to make it better. I also remember biting that woman on the wrist because she was trying to get me to stay with her while my mom left.
I don’t remember having any specific worry other than just an intense fear of something bad happening to my mom.
I remember as I tried to work through my panic so that I could go to school (because I had to), rather than listening in class I would sit there and meticulously plan my mothers days. I imagined that she would run errands near by (almost in visual distance of the school), she would visit her friend that lived only a couple blocks from the school and so on. So in my mind, she was always very close by and safe.
Eventually those panic attacks subsided some how. I remember the same school and separation panic attacks happening a few years later.
Then in high school I started having severe panic attacks related to religion. I was raised in a very religious family. I came from a long line of pastors on my mother’s side & my grandparents were extremely religious. I often went to church as often as 3 times a week. It was hell fire, brimstone, dancing in the isles, slain in the spirit kind of religion. Very intense. By high school I feared I wasn’t “good with God” and I began having severe panic attacks. They were only calmed by my amazing boyfriend, who would help by combing through the bible to find verses that calmed me or sections that contradicted my fears of the moment. That period went for a very long time (years), until I finally came to a point were I could let go of religion and the strangling fear that went with it.
I’m in my 40s now and I learned I go through panic cycles. I will have one, or a few, and then for a long time I’m fearful of it happening again, which means I have them over and over. Sometimes there’s a focus (a perceived “cause”), sometimes there isn’t. For a span of a year or two in my 20s it was related to stomach distress (which of course gets worse when you are stressed or anxious – really fun), I’ve had them pop up related to going to work many times, they’ve shown up when I’m nervous about a relationship…
I’ve taken preventative meds and rescue meds. I’ve tried therapy a couple times, but never synced with a therapist. In a recent round of really severe panic attacks, I discovered some self-help materials written by Dr. David Carbonell and they really resonated with me. So I am working my way through those so that I can learn how to work through my anxiety and panic instead of hiding from it or being crushed by it. I’m making progress.