Sometimes it’s difficult to look back at dark times. When things weren’t so good. In my life there have been a number of darker moments. The lost of family, the loss of a child, and divorce. Then there are the moments when I nearly lost myself. My first significant Panic Attack occurred while attending Correctional Officer training at a State Prison of all places. I had been there several weeks learning the ropes, feeling stressed, but doing okay.
During a training class on fire safety and rescue, I trained with a buddy using a Scott Air Pack. During the training the air is cut off and you have to navigate your way to safety. I got through the simulation and my buddy was helping me take off the respirator. As she was helping me she mentioned, that she had never seen such a look of terror as she had seen on my face. We played it off as simply a case of the “nerves” and moved on. But looking back that was the moment when everything changed. The next few days were nothing but episode after episode of panic and fear. Coming to a point where I was sent home fearing I was “coming down with something”.
What I later discovered was I had Panic Disorder. It got so bad so quickly, that I literally had to quit my new job and couldn’t even leave the house. For the next few months I lived through my version of hell. Undiagnosed I went through one test after another. Till one physician prescribed me Xanax as well as other sedatives. This at least allowed me to move, although not very well. During this time I gave up custody of the children to my mother. That way I could focus on my treatment.
At that point I had reached my lowest. The sleepless nights continued even with the medication. I had night terrors, voices coming from within me telling me what a horrible Dad I was. That I was such a failure and a loser. I’d lay there while my wife slept, praying for peace, but no peace ever came. The silence my prayers received was a deafening roar. It took several weeks to secure an appointment at the state mental health clinic. By that time I couldn’t even drive anymore, let alone go to the store. We went into bankruptcy, lost the loan we secured to buy our first home. A local mom and pop store extended us credit to eat and generously took me to my first clinic appointments. There I was a former Correctional Officer sitting in the waiting room of an underfunded clinic with prisoners and addicts awaiting treatment.
My first clinician looked fresh out of med school. First he pulled me off my medication cold turkey, citing they were too addictive, although I was taking my medication as prescribed. Then after some paperwork he sent me home. It was about another month till my next appointment. So without any medication and going through withdrawals, it’s safe to say that month was pretty much a blank. Somehow I made it to my next appointment. Only this time I met with a therapist and a psychiatrist. Between the two of them I was started on a regiment of medication and cognitive therapy. After some 20 years, several doctor and therapist changes, and dozens medication adjustments, here I am. To say this was easy would be a really bad joke.
I still have night terrors. I still have panic attacks. In fact it’s only been within the last few years that I can say my mind is a lot clearer. This is but one piece of my life, but one that has dictated a lot of other decisions I have made. I guess all I am saying is, even in your darkest moments, you can find a light. For me it was my family. The thing is find your focus, a spark of joy, and hold on tight. Because you are worthy of joy, you are worthy of life.