Me and My Panic Attack: What Fresh Hell is This?

This afternoon, I think I had a mild panic attack.

I don’t know for sure if it was a panic attack because I’ve never had one before and I sure didn’t think I’d be getting one any time soon. My breath became short, my heart pounded, my hands shook and I started to stutter. I was able to quickly dispel it, but I was shaken, and disgusted with myself.  Stuttering, A.J., really? What is that?  The last time I stuttered, I was in high school.

So what was I doing that caused such fear? Making a phone call. That’s it. That’s all. I was calling someone for work.

I never have liked making calls. In college I always hoped that someone else would call for the pizza, but I never had any huge problems with dialing the phone. Like just about everyone in the first world, I have made millions of phone calls for work and never had a panic attack. In fact, I spent a decade making hundreds of phone calls a week, sometimes dozens a day, when I worked as a reporter. I knew, when I was making those calls, that a lot of those people didn’t want to talk to me. In fact, some of them were downright hostile, but my attitude at the time was much more “game on” than “freak out.”

Today, the shadow of the phone calls I had to make – a task that should take less than three minutes – hung over me from the moment I woke up. I actually slept in a little to avoid them. I dreaded them. I did everything else on my to-do list first. I sent emails. I did research. I paced the floor. I went on Facebook. I emptied the dishwasher. Finally I decided to just do it. I wrote out all the things I had to talk about in each call, something I’ve never done before and picked up the phone.

The first went off without a hitch. The second triggered the attack, if that’s what it was. I forgot my name. I forgot my phone number. I forgot my business. Then I was angry with myself, which made it all much, much worse. It took me a half an hour to make myself confront the fear and make the third call.

Now the callbacks are giving me trouble. Though I know I can now go about the rest of my day knowing the calls are over with, and though any callers could leave me a message, I feel compelled to linger over the phone, doing nothing,  just in case someone calls me back.

I have no idea why the phone calls would cause me such anxiety. They weren’t particularly difficult calls.  But all of a sudden it feels like I have a sudden phone phobia, and it’s hard not to judge myself here. Phonephobia sounds like a disorder for weirdos. And since when do people suddenly sprout phobias? Since when do I sprout phobias?

One of my resolutions for 2012 has been to work on my anxiety, which has been growing, inexplicably, over the last few years. In the days since I made my resolution, I’ve been doing some research on ways of handling anxiety, reading books about it, practicing yoga daily to control my breathing, looking for my triggers, all that good self-help stuff that one is supposed to do. Then today happened.

I don’t normally share my struggle with anxiety, which quite frankly embarrasses me, because – as someone once asked me –  what have I to be anxious about?  But I’m beginning to think that keeping quiet about anxiety might be contributing to the problem, so I thought, what the hell, I’ll jump into the conversation. At least I can get it out there. Maybe it will be one less thing to worry about.

11 thoughts on “Me and My Panic Attack: What Fresh Hell is This?

  1. Phone fear is the worst part of my anxiety disorder. I’ve been struggling with it for years, and I still have to schedule in time to script, prepare, and then recover afterward. Oddly enough, I never had a problem calling people for work, but personal calls are sometimes nearly impossible. My meds and coping mechanisms help with everything else, but not that.

    All of which is really just a long way of saying: I have no advice, but I know the feeling!


    • Hi Ally, I’m so glad you commented. I’d never heard of anyone else who’d had phone fear and it’s good to know that I’m not alone in this. Personal calls are rarely a problem, since I just make them on the spur of the moment. In the few hours since I’ve been posting this, I’ve been examining the anxiety, and I think work calls get me because I have to schedule them. If I’m honest, recently, I’ve been nervous before any scheduled call. Thank you for commenting.

  2. What you have got to be anxious about is so not the issue. The fact of the anxiety is the issue. You don’t need to feel embarrassed by it, as it’s part of the human condition. Especially when you’re a thoughtful person, aware of all the uncertainty that surrounds us. I’m sorry you had this experience, but don’t beat yourself up about it. If anything, maybe take it as a sign to be even more gentle with yourself. You have so much going on, so much to be proud of, and that in itself can be overwhelming (not to mention the hard work that goes into those accomplishments). Thanks for the post. I don’t think any of us openly talk about this issue enough. I hope you have no more incidents!

    • I think a lot of us don’t talk about anxiety openly because it can seem like a personal failing. I sometimes hear little voices telling me that “I’m making too much of nothing” or “over-reacting.” I’m sure many more people suffer from anxiety but don’t let on because their own little voices are telling them that it’s their own fault that they suffer from anxiety. Thank you for commenting. It means a lot to me.

  3. A.J.,

    Please post any tips you find useful. I’ve decided to wean myself off of my anxiety/depression meds (a super-low dose) after seeing that mine is one that may cause birth defects; I can’t imagine it’s doing good things to my insides if it can deform a fetus.

    So, yeah. I’d love to hear of stuff that works for you. ❤

    • Hey Kate – I totally will. I respect the desire to take yourself off the meds; I’m a big fan of behaviorial treatment. Right now I’m reading a book about the use of mindfulness in coping with anxiety (“The Mindful Way through Anxiety” by Orsillo and Roemer) and that’s been interesting. It’s also been slow going, because I’ve got a lot of anxiety about working on my anxiety. (There’s nothing quite like reading about a fight or flight response while experiencing one.) But I’ve made some valuable discoveries – so I’ll share them as I come across them.

  4. Wow, and I thought I was the only person in the world who is phone phobic. When I first met Nate, he was shocked that I was scared to call for takeout. While I have made a lot of progress over the years, I still hate the telephone and would much rather not talk on it, even to people I like.

    In terms of anxiety, when I started having major panic attacks, I ended up going on meds. I’m still on meds nine years later, but I don’t think about it anymore. I find that when I get panicky the best two things are this: zone out by watching a movie or playing a mindless computer game (like or go find someone who can just give you a big hug and talk to you about something that you’ll laugh about. My original reactions used to be to huddle in a ball in a dark room, but really, that doesn’t help anyone. Distracting myself from whatever is causing the anxiety helps the most.

    Best of luck!

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