Dinner At Boyfriend’s House
Sophomore year of high school my struggles with anxiety rose clearly to the surface. I was invited to stay for dinner with my first boyfriend’s family. When I sat down for dinner, I saw his father had made hamburgers. I didn’t eat beef because I was terrified of mad cow disease. (*which of course was probably anxiety related though I didn’t think of it that way at the time*). But I didn’t want to be difficult – so I said nothing.
As I sat there trying to eat as little as possible of the burger as politely as possible. My mind and body started to feel incredibly tense and the feeling kept building. My stomach hurt, my mind was racing, I felt nauseous. I started imagining how terrible and awkward it would be to throw up right there at the family dinner or at his house.
And as the minutes passed it was feeling more and more likely. My mind was screaming “get out of here” and I had the urge to be alone. However, I made it through the dinner. And shortly after standing up from the table, I was feeling better. Though still worried I was coming down with something.
When I got home, I told my Dad about the strangely intense feelings and illness at the dinner table. He wasn’t confused. He instead shared with me how both my Aunt and Grandmother have gone to the ER for “heart issues”, to find out that instead what they were experiencing were panic attacks. He said, though his had never led him to the ER, he had felt his body go into a similar mode. My Dad suspected I had just experienced something similar. He reassured me, that though it felt like something horrible was going on in my body, it was actually my body going into fight-or-flight mode. I wasn’t in real danger.
Understanding what had happened reassured me, but didn’t stop it from happening again. This time it occurred at a restaurant with my boyfriend and his family. I retreated to the bathroom and felt an almost instant wave of relief. However, I knew I had to return to the table and going to the bathroom multiple times at dinner felt both socially embarrassing and incredibly awkward. But less embarrassing than throwing up in a restaurant full of people, though I tried to reassure myself that wouldn’t happen. I wasn’t actually sick, there was no reason for me to throw up. I was merely fearing throwing up in a socially embarrassing setting so intensely that my body was freaking out and making my stomach feel very uneasy. (So goes the frustrating logic of anxiety…)
I never told my boyfriend that I was struggling with anxiety or panic issues. I didn’t understand it all well enough myself, and didn’t feel comfortable talking to others about it. I hoped to get it under control soon anyway as I knew it was my mind causing all the chaos. For unrelated reasons my boyfriend and I broke up soon after this all started happening anyway.
Cue Anxiety Showing Me It’s Power
At the very end of my Sophomore Year I started dating someone else. Our very first date/ hang out was outside of school at a very casual restaurant, just me and him. I don’t remember feeling intensely worried about having panic issues there, though I’m sure I must have been nervous.
It was probably about half way through the date that I started feeling nauseous. I went to the restroom, and the sick feeling didn’t subside as quickly as it normally did. I ended up dry heaving, which terrified me. It was the first time, my body was clearly physically trying to throw up due to panic. I stayed in the bathroom taking deep breathes to try to calm down. It took me a while, but I did end up feeling well enough to return. I went back to our table and told him I didn’t feel well.
As we sat on the bench out front waiting for my Mom to pick me up, I still felt pretty unwell. It started building again, and I rushed to an outside trashcan. Where to my surprise and embarrassment, I leaned over and threw up. My boyfriend was kind to me, he appeared to feel nothing but concern for me. Still what a first date, I was mortified!
This experience took my anxiety into overdrive. As I now knew my irrational fear of eating and throwing up around others made the fear not irrational. My fear alone was able to make my body so turned up, I would throw up. This time I did explain to my boyfriend that I was struggling with anxiety around eating, and that is why I threw up on our first date. He was understanding, and we didn’t go on dates to restaurants anymore and I didn’t eat with his family. I had a best friend in high school, we’d been friends for years, who I also opened up to about what I was experiencing.
At this point the anxiety and panic was starting to expand though. Situations where a bathroom or trashcan wasn’t easily available, the car being the main one, also were difficult for me to be in with people who weren’t “safe” (basically anyone besides family, my boyfriend alone, or best friend alone). I avoided these situations the best I could.
First Experience With Medicine
At some point during the summer after my Sophomore year I went to my family doctor. While I was there, I told him about my struggles with anxiety and panic. I shared with him my opposition to taking medicine targeting my brain. He told me about a drug called hydroxyzine. I could take it as needed if I was worried about encountering a situation that may trigger a panic attack. It would help keep my body calm, and simply having it as an option may help ease my fear. He said it was not strong and non addictive. (According to WebMd “Hydroxyzine is an antihistamine. It works by preventing the effects of a substance called histamine, which is produced by the body”. After reading this, it makes sense to me, why he said this medicine is like “Benadryl”. Hydroxyzine can be prescribed for allergies or anxiety. )
The idea of taking it only as needed was very appealing to me. It left me feeling like it would be easy to try and stop at any point, and I would be able to take it as infrequently as possible. He wrote me a prescription, and I took one pill the next time I was entering a situation I feared a panic attack may occur. The drug worked to calm me, however it also made me incredibly drowsy. I used it out of necessity (if there was an anxiety provoking situation coming up I couldn’t avoid) but I struggled to stay awake at all after taking one. So it wasn’t a very practical solution.
Thankfully though, simply knowing I had the option of the pills did help me. I had a way to decrease the chances of having a panic attack before I entered a situation (though on reflection I was still heavily using the unhealthy technique of avoidance of situations that may trigger panic). I regained a better sense of control over my anxiety. I took a pill maybe only once every couple months in high school, and continued having hydroxyzine tablets on hand through my freshman year of college. Though the last time I took them was move in day of college. I had gained a good set of calming and distracting techniques by that point to keep full scale panic issues at bay. By the start of my sophomore year at college, I wasn’t carrying hydroxyzine tables anymore.