Before the Train Hits

I’m going to paint a picture for you, and I want you to really immerse yourself in it.

Imagine standing in the middle of a train track, with a rope almost cutting into each arm as it’s pulled taught and tied to a column on each side. You’re in the middle of no where.
You have no where to go, no one to hear your cries – no white knight to save the day as we’re so often told in fairytales. None of that, because this is real life.

You stand there, dread settling in your stomach, your mind racing as your fight or flight response kicks in. Wanting, NEEDING, to live, to be okay, to be safe.

Then you hear the distant sound of a train approaching… Panic replaces dread. Your heart rate reaches inhuman speed, your breathing all but stops in your throat. You feel the need to escape, to do anything possible to get out of that situation. You cry, you want to throw up, pass out, or just crawl out of your skin.

You lose track of everything around you except the feelings your body is drowning you in. Taken over by an inane instinct to survive.

Now, the train becomes visible, heading straight towards you with no signs of stopping. That panic you were feeling? You are consumed by it ten fold. Your body is your enemy, your hostage… And you? It’s prisoner.

That feeling of terror right before the train reaches you? THAT is exactly what a full-blown panic attack feels like.

Anxiety is bad enough, but it’s not panic, it’s not the same. I’ve had many painful surgeries, I’ve suffered a lot of loss. But nothing can compare to that inescapable feeling of terror. Inescapable because your own mind is causing it, inescapable because you can’t detach from your mind or body.

It feels like every nightmare, every fear you’ve ever had, rolled into one moment of pure, crushing terror.

So, why do people panic? Why do we actually catastrophise everyday situations until we feel like we’re about to be hit by a train? Why does our fight or flight kick in with little-to-no apparent danger?

Because that’s what anxiety is. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it’s causes are different for everyone.

Does that make them weak for suffering through that? For needing medical intervention to treat this issue? No. Having experienced this panic first hand, I’d say with full conviction that those who suffer panic attacks are some of the absolute strongest I have ever known.

I witnessed my friend ride the waves of panic and anxiety for a full half hour on a boat. I saw her fear, I felt it… And I felt pride at what she was surviving. Her mind and body were fighting her to basically jump off that boat, to escape the situation… But she didn’t. She mentally fought the battle, survived it, conquered it, and rode an easy ferry ride home on the way back.

If you’ve been through that, you should never feel anything other than pride.

The different faces of anxiety are interesting, and the way people react when faced with panic. The fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in, and it’s like internal torture.

When I have a panic attack, it’s invisible. No one has ever been able to tell (unless I faint… Whoops!) I sit there quietly, desperate to catch my breath and slow my heart rate. And I fight the urge to run from the situation, knowing that running only feeds the panic. With my friend, her panic was utterly palpable. You could see it, feel it. The sobbing, the shaking, the hyperventilation. We’re feeling the same things, but wearing it completely differently.

So, before you call someone dramatic or weak, because they didn’t ‘look’ like they were having a panic attack, or because you don’t understand why they were having one in the first place. Stop. Take a look outside yourself, and realise that even if you can’t understand what they’re going through, your steady support is all they need in that moment.

The Infamous White Coat Syndrome

In 2018 I started suffering severe sudden dizziness, headaches and panic attacks – several a day in fact! A standard visit to my GP’s office showed an abnormally high blood pressure reading, especially for a young woman. This continued to be the case over a few visits.

Despite years of having consistent near perfect blood pressure, most doctors would have just written it off as anxiety. But my GP chose to look into it further and organised a 24 hour blood pressure monitor. This showed consistently high blood pressure. Even while sleeping, my BP was reaching stage 2 – stage 3 hypertension.

A few weeks later this landed me in the emergency room with chest pain and a dangerously high BP. But still no body could explain this sudden and concerning change in my body, except for one genius ER doctor. After talking to me for a few seconds, she casually turned to my father and muttered the six words I’ll never forget…

“Maybe she has White Coat Syndrome.”

Now let me start by saying that I’m generally a very patient person, I’d even go as far as to say I’m very level headed and reasonable in most circumstances. But if looks could kill, this woman would have been dead twenty times over.

Not only was her behaviour completely disrespectful and condescending by talking to my father like I wasn’t there or I was a five year old child, but that one sentence could be so scarring and stop anyone from seeking urgent medical help when they actually need it.

The look on her face when I informed her for the second time that my hypertension had been confirmed by a GP and specialist along with a 24 hour BP monitor was pretty priceless, but still didn’t make me confident that she wouldn’t make that same mistake again.

This really concerns me. Heart health, all health for that matter, is extremely important. And you’re always better off being safe than sorry. Now I completely understand that ER’s have so many people every single day that turn up for simple things that could have been dealt with at a medical center, and are wasting valuable time and resources for those who actually need urgent care. But why should that ruin it for the rest of us? Why should I have been dismissed so quickly?

I’m certainly not a hypochondriac, I’m certainly not a wuss when it comes to sickness or pain, not after years of suffering from Endometriosis before these other health issues popped up. My threshold is higher than you’d think. But how would they know that, they never asked. They just continued to talk at me.

Nevertheless, I think the flaw in our health system lies with not giving someone who walks through those doors the benefit of the doubt. It lies in not seeing everyone as individuals, in lumping us all as the same people who go to the ER for a cold or a hangover.

My second ER visit had medical students on my case, who were much more thorough and caring, and did find some abnormalities in my ECG (what a shocker.) However, having my boyfriend not believe me on that second trip was a whole other scarring experience, but that’s another story for another time 😉

Trust what your body is telling you guys, you are the only person who can fight for it!