The day started off as my day normally does, around 6:30AM or so. I had no idea what was in store for me, although based upon my schedule it was a typical day. I had a four appointments on my agenda Wednesday, September 9th, a laundry list of phone calls, return emails and several social media marketing posts to make. Plus, I still needed to clear a project off of my desk for an upcoming keynote I am delivering in a couple weeks and sign a bunch of checks at the office. How could I know what was coming? The events ahead would affect me so dramatically, stop me cold in my tracks, and lead me to create a paradigm shift in the way I work. I will not go back to the way I was before September 9th. Sure, I’ve made changes in my career before, reinvented myself previously and changed the trajectory of my life. But never so suddenly.
7:10PM I sent a message to my wife Danielle, “Heading to the metro (subway), I’ve got to stop at the office to sign some checks, see you soon. I love you.”
7:12PM I approached the escalator at the entrance to the metro, the rush of hot air from the subway tunnel felt like a hair drier hitting me in the face, triggering a wave of nausea. I shook it off and got on the first of two escalators down, this one descending about 20 feet or so. As I took a step off of the escalator, my legs felt shaky. I thought I was going to be sick, the air blowing from the tunnel was so hot, I needed water, my heart was beating faster. I was ok, I just needed some air, cooler air and to sit down a moment. I turned around and went back up. A McDonald’s was just a few yards from the mouth of the subway. I purchased a bottle of water, pressing the cold plastic against my face and taking several small sips until I felt better.
7:20PM I started down the first escalator again, this time feeling better, although the hot air blowing from the station still made me feel weak. I approached the second escalator, this one much longer than the first, carrying passengers down well over 100 feet. The descent would take about 2 minutes. As I took my first step onto the escalator I could see the entire path I was about to take to the subway floor. The air was so hot, my face was burning, my heart started racing and I could not catch my breath. I turned around, looking back up. At least thirty people had gotten on the escalator behind me. My initial instinct was to head back up and run. But I couldn’t, my legs were too heavy and I knew I wasn’t thinking clearly. What was going on? I couldn’t breathe.
7:22PM I reached the bottom of the escalator. My brain was working against me, I was breathing faster, my heart was now pounding. I was experiencing my first anxiety attack. I pulled out my cell phone. I needed to call my wife. I needed help and I wasn’t sure what was going on. Maybe she could help me. I just needed a calm voice to tell me I was going to be ok. I just wanted to run, but my legs were so heavy. As I dialed the number and hit the call button, “NO SERVICE” popped up on my iPhone’s screen. I was looking down on this scene as it played out, experiencing this drama from outside my own body. I was lost, I sat down on the platform bench as my panic kicked up a notch, a sudden sinking feeling driving my world down, my brain telling me, “All is hopeless. You will not get out of this.”
7:25PM The metro car pulled into the station. I had to make a choice, get in the car or go back to the surface. Sitting there in the heat, heart pounding, brain racing a million directions, I decided to get in the car, although I wanted instead to run away once I sat down in the car. As I sat down in the subway it started filling up quickly. I was glad to find a seat with no one next to me. How in the world would I explain this? Why was everyone acting so normal? The guy across from me was listening to his headphones, the woman in front of me was reading the paper while another lady was doing what appeared to be a crossword. Why weren’t they all experiencing what I was? How could they be acting like nothing out of the ordinary was going on. I closed my eyes, quietly screaming inside, “Someone please help me!” But I could not say those words out loud, they would all think I was crazy. I would be another one of those crazy people on the subway, uttering expletives and talking to myself. I sat there, I could feel the tears on my face, I quickly wiped them off, hoping no one would see me.
7:27PM 11 stops, 28 minutes. If I could just hold it together long enough, I’d be home, safe. As the car starting moving, I could feel the air conditioner come to life, I tried again to call Danielle. “NO SERVICE.” Again, that sinking feeling overcame me. Maybe the woman in front of me will talk to me. I should tell her I need help and she will make me feel better. But what if she thinks I am crazy? I remained silent, taking a couple of deep breaths, keeping my eyes closed, working on getting myself out of this trap. Three deep breaths, then a fourth, I was coming back to reality. Five deep breaths and I dozed off for a moment.
7:35PM 2 stops into my subway ride it was over. I was thinking clearly, rationally and I had regained control. I had just experienced my first anxiety attack.
If you have never experienced an anxiety or panic attack in your life, you are lucky. For a guy who is as positive, well-adjusted and excited about life as I am, it still brought me to me knees. In discussing the subject with several friends, family members and colleagues since my episode, I was surprised with how many of them have experienced what I went through as well. They all offered great advice and were totally sympathetic to what I experienced. Simply put, I had no idea.
Since then, I have talked to several people that have experienced multiple attacks in their life. Often times they will be caused from being overworked, not resting enough, and not finding enough exercise in your schedule. Stress is also a huge contributor to triggering anxiety or panic attacks. We all have stress in our lives.
If you feel as though you are constantly on the move, life moving at you a million miles an hour and responsibility is building to uncontrollable proportions (I just described everyone reading this post), find time for yourself in your day to breathe, exercise and get some “ME” time on the schedule. I am changing the way I go about my day and just like I’ve been told by financial advisors to pay myself first at the beginning of the month, I will pay myself daily with techniques that will feed my brain with positive thoughts, stress busting thinking and positive affirmations.
As someone so new to this experience, I feel ill-equipped to offer a full range of advice here and now, but know that as I move forward with my future posts and thoughts, this event has shaped decisions I will make about the priorities in my life. We should be in control of the situations in our lives, they should not be in control of us.
If you have experienced something similar in your life, please offer a comment below and advice as to what works for you to help get you on a proper path again.