I recently had an anxiety attack. A COVID-19-induced anxiety attack, and I’m damn sure I am not the only one.
A few years ago while out to dinner, I had my first anxiety attack. I won’t divulge the reasons, but I knew exactly why my chest started to tighten, my breath became shallow and the tears flowed.
I got up from the table and went into the restaurant’s bathroom to give myself some space. I was able to implement some grounding exercises I was familiar with. An incredibly kind and empathetic woman, whose face I will never forget, was in the bathroom when I walked in. She sat with me and rubbed my back while I closed my eyes and took deep breaths.
Eventually, I was able to calm myself, breathe normally, wipe away my tears and return to the table.
Fast forward to Mar. 29, 2020. I woke up with a bad stomach ache, something that isn’t entirely unusual for me. However, in the midst of this pandemic, my stomach ache had the potential to be the start of COVID-19. I’d read that some patients who were positive for the coronavirus experienced stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting prior to the onset of their fever and cough. So naturally, I thought this was the path I was headed down.
I spent the majority of the day in a panic, taking my temperature every five minutes and seeing if I could hold my breath. Sometimes, I got distracted by conversation, coloring, cleaning or the television, but I could not get out of my own damn head. I believed I was getting sick with COVID-19 and, ultimately, I would be hospitalized and die.
Grounding exercises, rational thinking, deep breathing were far from helpful. By evening, I had a low-grade fever, which was more ammunition for the argument that I was getting sick. I was so grateful when bedtime came around so I could lose myself in sleep. But instead, I was up the entire night, tossing and turning, with my mind racing. I was sweating and then I was shivering.
How would I get to the hospital? Which hospital? Did I need a hospital bag, like I did when I delivered my children? Don’t forget a phone charger. Take off my jewelry. Who would take care of the kids if my husband got sick, too?
Am I ever going to see my family again? I miss my parents. I don’t want to die.
The thoughts were endless and incredibly powerful and real. I stared at the clock and couldn’t wait for morning to arrive, because then I would know I made it through the night.
Six a.m. finally arrived, with the sun shining. I welcomed the day in a way I never had before. I practice gratitude daily, but that morning I felt a heavy wave of it.
I was alive, with no fever, stomach pains and cough. I scheduled a Zoom appointment with my therapist for later in the day so I could process this experience appropriately.
So guess what? I had a full-blown, out-of-body experience. I had an anxiety attack that lasted almost 24 hours.
It sucked. I was scared. And somehow, I still managed to hide the rollercoaster of emotions from my kids. I caused that low-grade fever with my own emotions. I always knew I was a sensitive and emotional human, but this was a next level.
I hope it never happens again but if it does, I will be able to recognize it. I will use some newly acquired techniques to stop the anxiety and ground myself in the moment.
It’s been two weeks since my anxiety attack. Oddly, my overall anxiety is significantly lower, and I am adjusting to our new normal.
I miss work. I miss my friends and family. I miss my freedom. I miss going out to eat. I miss my manicures. And I need my hair colored and cut badly.
But … I have my health. I have my incredible family of four. I have a safe place to live, and food on my table. I have a higher level of gratitude and appreciation.
For those of you who know me well, I am an empath, sometimes to a fault. I can feel and relate to people and care about people in ways that many others can’t. So if you are reading this and need an empath in your life who had a COVID-19 anxiety attack, I am your girl. I am here to text with you, talk to you, ground you and send you funny memes.
I am not alone. You are not alone. We will get through this together.
Dori Chait lives in Northwest Baltimore.