My Big Fat Anxiety Attack

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • I had a major anxiety attack last night. My husband went to the emergency room about 11:00pm because his lungs were filling up with fluid. All three of us - my husband, my son and I - have had nasty colds the last week, so it wasn't a surprise. My husband has had respiratory problems since he was an infant. At least once a year, he ends up going to the emergency room. Right before he went to sleep earlier, or tried to, he said, "If my breathing is really labored in the middle of the night, just call 911." I'm surprised I went to sleep at all after hearing that, but as I said, this is a relatively common occurrence.

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    It probably sounds a little strange that I didn't go with him, but I always offer and he always says no. After sixty years of this, it's pretty routine to him. I used to insist on going with him before we had our son, but now my husband doesn't want to get Lawrence up in the middle of the night.


    So I apprehensively said goodbye to him. He said, "If you're up in the middle of the night, give me a call." So when I woke up at 3:15, I did. His phone rang and rang, and then Verizon came on with a message saying the party couldn't be reached. I hung up and thought. Why didn't his phone go to voicemail? Maybe he had it turned off? No, it's almost impossible to get him to turn off his phone, even in the hospital. And why would he tell me to call him and then turn off his phone? Was he okay? Did he maybe pass out by the side of the road? Should I have insisted on going with him and dropped our son off at my parents' house?


    As I fretted, my heart started pounding and my pulse sped up. After a few minutes, I felt like I was the one with the respiratory problems. I could barely breathe. At least, that's the way it felt. Obviously, I hadn't developed severe respiratory problems in a few minutes. My anxiety was just out of control and giving me physical symptoms.


    Okay, what do I need to do to calm down? I tried taking deep breaths, and letting them out slowly. It made me feel light-headed. Oh, wait a minute. I think I was unconsciously holding my breath for a few seconds after I inhaled. I tried again, keeping a steady rhythm. For a few minutes, my chest didn't feel so tight.

    And then I started fretting again, and I was right back where I started.


    Obviously, the root of the problem was my focusing on why I couldn't reach my husband. Time to change the channel. So I started thinking about what I needed to do for my son's birthday party next weekend. Oh, yeah, great idea. I have major event planning anxiety, which happens when I plan all but the most casual get-together. Now I had anxiety layered on top of anxiety.


    I considered watching some television to get my mind off things, but I really wanted to go back to sleep. So I fell back on an old standby that I use when I have insomnia. I think about my son's birth and first few weeks of life. I don't know why that calms me down, but it does.


    After a few minutes I could feel my chest loosening up again and a few minutes later I fell asleep. My husband got home about an hour later, and was much better after four hours of treatment. He found out that there's a cell phone block in the hospital in certain areas, so that was why I got the weird message on the phone.


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    For me, this goes to show that you need to find a calming technique that works for you. I've tried visualizing an ocean, babbling brook and a quiet beach in the past. For some reason they just didn't work. Reaching back for pleasant memories did.

Published On: January 06, 2010