I drove around the curve of a two-lane road only to find a car crossing the centerline, headed straight at me. Panicked, I swerved the few feet I could on a road that had no shoulder, a small dirt bank, and a stone wall to my right. The other car returned to its lane and drove on, but not before my panic blossomed into a full-scale meltdown.
I gasped for breath on the verge of hyperventilating. Tears in my eyes, I couldn’t see. I faced a half-hour commute home in DC rush hour traffic, and I was a mess.
I stopped in a parking lot to pull myself back together. No damage to my car, and I was unhurt. A few months before, I’d hydroplaned a 360 on Rock Creek Parkway driving too fast on rain and wet leaves. No such emotional distress then. I struggled to explain why I had such an over the top reaction to that small incident.
That was the start of a period of time where I would freak for no reason, with no warning. Walking into a grocery store. Going to work. Sitting at home, doing absolutely nothing.
I finally mentioned what was happening to my Mom, who without missing a beat informed me that my panic attacks had begun. Women in my family are prone to panic attacks that appear in our twenties, gradually waning as we get older. Mom didn’t warn me earlier, because she didn’t want me to talk myself into having them.
When I was invited to join the #Hold the Light campaign and write a post on mental health issues, I didn’t know what to write. I considered describing my sporadic depressive fits where I stare at the walls for a day before I pull myself out of the funk and move on, but compared with the deep depression others live with that seemed trivial. I ran through the list of other mental health issues, deciding that while I could write on some of them, I could always think of someone who had a worse experience. Mine were so mild in comparison. Finally, it hit me that I was thinking of mental issues as a contest. Who had the worst PTSD? Who had been hurt worst by a suicide? Whose depression was deepest?
So I shook off my misgivings about whether my experiences had value. I happened to run into someone recently having a panic attack and that decided me on talking about mine.
As an introvert, one of the most difficult things for me to do is the “first” of anything. The first meeting, the first day of a job, the first time I visit someone’s home. To a certain degree it doesn’t matter how much I think I will enjoy myself. What matters is the newness, the unknown. When a depressive fit slams me, doing something for the first time is daunting.
The cynic in me wondered how much good this campaign will do because one of the things we repeatedly call for is for people, who are struggling to reach out, to contact their friends, to contact help centers, to know they are not alone.
I know when I am depressed that reaching out is difficult. Calling a stranger on a help line would seem comically impossible.
But maybe if people become more aware of how common mental health issues are, they will seek help coping before they are overwhelmed. Perhaps introverts will not face the double struggle of coping with the newness of a problem and the requirement to dial a telephone and ask a stranger for help, if they’ve seen others discussing the same issue. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but we should at least try.
A great deal of time has passed since my twenties, and I had to search my memory to remember the fear and the emotional whiplash of those days. In the end the panic attacks disappeared, just a freak of biochemistry that played havoc with my life for a short time period and then faded away.
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on our new Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight