My heart pounds so heavily it reverberates through my entire body. This feels terrifying and only adds to the worries bringing me to this elevated state of arousal.
I am supposed to be sleeping but it’s clear relaxation is a ship long since sailed and I am stranded on an island of anxiety. My mind races. On this night one small worry has become a storm and soon swirls into a fucking tsunami.
This particular tsunami is not a current concern. It is a memory of a string of my very first panic attacks. Awww, such sweet and special memories😛
I didn’t experience a lot of anxiety attacks until my late 20’s and 30’s but the more I consider the first pushing of my panic button the earlier in life I can recall it happening.
When I was around 9 years old we were studying World War 2 and the holocaust in school. I was also reading Anne Frank Diary of a Young Girl. The more I learned the more disturbed I felt.
I cried in my mother’s arms for ages when I finished the book. I couldn’t, still can’t, comprehend the hatred shown for differences that shouldn’t matter. We’re all human and no one person is better or more valuable than another.
I lay awake many a night terrified of World War 3, the possibility of conscription, concentration camps, torture, and the possibility of the end of the world. I shook with fear, sobbed into my pillow, felt the terror of hyperventilation, and I was tormented by nightmares bringing all my fears to life.
My parents spent a lot of time reassuring me that WW3 wasn’t nigh. They were also real with me. They told me the holocaust was an unforgivable crime against humanity and that many people, including Anne Frank and most of her family, had died painfully and needlessly.
I often worried my father would be conscripted and have to go fight in a war or that we’d be forced into a death camp and be gassed in a “shower” room. I was scared a dictator would come to power and slowly strip our country of rights and freedom. The more I learned about the 2nd world war the more I feared hubris, ignorance,and forgetfulness would plunge our world into a similar state of chaos.
Perhaps my fears were over the top and incredibly dramatic for a 9 year old but my Mom and Dad listened to my concerns patiently, gave me honest answers to difficult questions, and they reassured me with logic and reasoning rather than empty platitudes. They also didn’t tell me to stop reading and learning so intently. To help reassure and encourage me they kissed me, held me tightly and told me they loved me.
Looking back I still feel the fear and panic that came with learning about such a difficult and terrifying subject. I cannot even imagine how awful it would have been to have lived during that time. I don’t regret the learning for one second though. Some subjects are scary but we cannot sensor education just because it’s frightening. We must remember to learn from the mistakes of the past.
I think my parents did a commendable job dealing with my first panic attacks and many more to follow. The fact that I suffer from panic attacks is nobodys fault. My Mom and Dad did a great job making sure I felt safe and loved even if panic seized and I am forever grateful for this.
My hope is this will reassure others that although difficult subjects may lead to difficult times we shouldn’t be ashamed of fear or avoid learning. Sometimes the only way to cross a river is to swim no matter how swift the churning current and rollicking rapids.
What are your thoughts about panic attacks or any other psychological challenges during childhood? I’d love to hear any stories or advice.