How A Severe Panic Attack Changed My Marriage And Parenting

by Alex Vance
Originally Published: 
Woman looking away into the distance due to her severe panic attack
Scary Mommy and alvarez/Getty

On a Sunday afternoon in April 2018, I sat on my couch, hungover from a date night out with my husband. I didn’t have the energy to play with our 10-month-old daughter, and I was overwhelmed by guilt. My head pounded. I gently felt the protruding egg on my forehead, still confused as to how I got the injury. Where did I fall? I can’t remember. This is bad.

My husband played on the floor with our daughter as I forced myself to eat a slice of pizza, attempting to quell the nausea I felt.

I am a terrible mother. I shouldn’t go out and drink like that, what is wrong with me?

As I tried taking another bite, something felt off. I set it down, staring at the floor, my hands shaking. My tongue felt like it was swelling up in my mouth. My throat tightened. I could hear my heart pounding erratically in my chest.

I looked at my husband. “Something is wrong,” I said, clutching my abdomen. Tears welled up in my eyes. “My stomach feels tight. I can’t breathe.”

Joshua Rawson-Harris/Unsplash

This wasn’t anything new. After our daughter was born, I began experiencing mild panic attacks for the first time in my life. My husband had always talked me through them, so he began repeating the same mantra he had used so many times before: “Take a deep breath. Look at me. It’s okay.”

But this time it wasn’t okay.

As my rapid breathing intensified, I felt my lips tingle, and my face went numb. My fingers curled up into what looked like stiff claws, unable to move. Nothing could move. My husband tried to help me up, and I fell to the floor.

My entire body had gone paralyzed.

My husband frantically grabbed his cell phone and dialed 911. “Something is wrong with my wife. I don’t know what’s happening, she can’t move or talk,” he said through tears. His voice shook. As a way to ease my anxiety, he had always told me not to panic about anything unless he panicked. And he was panicking.

Not long after, an EMT appeared over top of me, checking my blood pressure. “You need to breathe. Take a deep breath,” he said.

No kidding, what do you think I’m trying to do?

I looked over at my baby girl. She stared back with wide, confused eyes. Unsure and petrified of what was happening to me, I began to cry harder.

Is this the last time I’m ever going to see her?

Jaroslav Devia/Unsplash

Unable to walk, my hands still clenched into tight, mangled fists against my chest, they carried me down the steps of our house. They placed me into the back of the ambulance while my husband stood in the street with our daughter, telling me everything was going to be okay. The doors shut and I was frozen, both physically and emotionally, with fear.

When we arrived at the ER, they explained that what I had experienced was a severe panic attack. I slowly began to regain feeling in my hands and legs, and I was thirsty. So thirsty. They gave me a cup of water, left the room, and I was alone. So alone.

With my mother at home with our daughter, my husband and father showed up not long after. I could see the relief on both of their faces after finding out I was okay. I was okay. I just needed help for something I should’ve gotten help for a long time ago.

The very next day, I talked to my doctor. I explained to him what happened and my concern, and he replied, “I understand. Panic attacks that severe are no joke. You really feel like you’re going to die.” I nodded. He was right.

He prescribed me anxiety medication, which, up until that point, I swore I’d never take. It was time to stop fighting it. Time to stop suppressing my problems. It was time to admit that I couldn’t handle this alone. In no way did that make me a bad mother. It made me an even better mother.

I began seeing my doctor regularly. I learned that arguments with my husband, drinking, and worrying about my daughter were all triggers for my panic attacks. While everyone is different, figuring out what triggers your attacks is a key step in moving forward.

As odd as it sounds, the terrifying panic attack I suffered ended up being the best thing that could’ve happened to my wellbeing. I had finally gotten help. It motivated me to be the best mother I could be, and to ensure I never put my family through something like that again. I began exercising, cutting down on alcohol, and listening to meditations every night before bed. I stopped being so hard on myself. I felt at ease. I felt liberated. I had a brand new outlook on life and motherhood.

The experience also sparked new life into my marriage. My husband and I had gotten into so many arguments, usually caused by my “worrying about ridiculous things.” He began to understand how anxiety affects the brain, and how my thought process was completely different from his. We talked at length about how it affected both of us, and how to communicate moving forward. He practiced more patience, and I practiced ways to ease my mind before pouring out every single worry that consumed my brain.

If you’ve ever felt alone in your postpartum anxiety, please remember, you’re not. Motherhood, as amazing and rewarding as it can be, is tough. So tough. As a mother, you feel as though you’re supposed to be able to handle it all with grace—the stress, the long days, the sleepless nights, the worry—and it’s impossible sometimes.

Speak up to your family and friends. Speak up to your doctor. Speak up to yourself. It’s not embarrassing or weak to ask for help. Trust me—you don’t want to realize you should’ve done something sooner while sitting in the back of an ambulance.

You’re a mother. You’re strong. And admitting when you need help will only make you stronger.

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