Panic Disorder: My story (part 1)
There is no timestamp on trauma. There isn't a formula that you can insert yourself into to get from horror to healed. Be patient. Take up space. Let your journey be the balm.
- Dawn Serra
So, I thought I'd tell you how my anxiety and panic disorder all started. It's only recently that I've actually started sharing this story with people other than those closest to me. I think I've been ashamed of the fact that it's affected me so much and ashamed of how I handled it (I didn't at first). But I realize now that I did the best I could. I still do. And if I'd known better I would have done better.
One night, about 8 years ago, while I was working the night shift as a hotel receptionist, I received death threats from two men. This particular night I was all alone at the hotel, when these two men came in and walked up to the front desk. They wanted to check in so I asked for their ID's, but they refused to show them to me. I told them I couldn't let them in (orders from my boss) unless they show me their ID's, and that caused them to instantly flip out. They started yelling at me, calling me a racist and a whore and threatened to send someone "for me", meaning to kill me". I tried to stay calm, but it didn't go so well. I soon started yelling at them to leave, but they refused. One of them tried to come behind the front desk while the other one stood right in front of my face, yelling all kinds of disgusting things. I felt so helpless and didn't know what to do. I kept yelling "all I want you to do is leave! Please just leave!".
Then I remembered we had an assault alarm. So I slowly moved towards where it was located, and the man who was in my face came after. I pressed it really discretely and waited. Nothing happened. That's when I really started to panic. I thought that that's it, I'm dead. So I started pressing the button really violently about six or seven times, trying to hold back the tears and not show the men how scared I was. Of course this time I wasn't so discrete, so they saw what I was doing. The man in my face asked angrily "what did you press!?" and I answered "press? I don't know what you're talking about.". He replied "I SAW you press someth..." and then the phone rang. I answered.
It was from the police. The man was still yelling at me but I just ignored him. The woman on the phone asked me what felt like a million "yes or no"-questions. I tried my best to answer them as if I was talking to a guest, so the men wouldn't know who I was talking to. The woman told me that the police were on their way and should be there within minutes, and that she would stay on the phone with me until they arrived.
By now, the men had figured out that I'd pressed some sort of alarm and that the police would be there soon, so they ran away. Just seconds later several police cars and two security guard cars pulled up and they all just "stormed" the hotel. I had managed to call the hotel bartender somewhere in between all of this, who was also on his way together with our driver.
This is when the tears came. Like a fountain. So I just pointed to the door and managed to tell the police that the men had run away. And they instantly knew who they were, since they'd passed them in the driveway. The police arrested the two men and they had to spend the night at the police station, just so I'd be safe that night. And one of the security guards, the bartender and the hotel driver stayed with me for several hours, while I kept working. In hindsight I should have gone home, but I was in complete denial of what had happened and finished my shift as if everything was normal. All I felt was numbness.
The next night I was working again and just as I walked into the hotel, I saw the two men standing in line to check into the hotel. My heart froze. I just stood there and didn't know what to do. But then luckily the bartender recognized them and quite literally threw them out of the hotel. I don't even want to know what they were planning on doing there that night, but I have my guesses.
For about two weeks after this incident, my boss would sleep at the hotel every night when I was working, In case the two men would come back again. They didn't, but their friends did. Just to harrass me. And they seemed to know when I was alone and not. I eventually quit that job, which was one of the best decisions I've ever made. And I learned that working in a place where I don't feel safe, will cause me nothing but pain.
This experience was pretty scary and I still sometimes get the creeps thinking of what could have happened. I feel like I'm so lucky to still be alive, and in hindsight it's not so strange that I started having panic attacks shortly after. I tried to hide how terrified I was and diminished my feelings, telling myself that it was no big deal. That there were so many people who had it worse than me. But what I didn't understand was that you have to deal with the fear and pain that an incident like this causes in order to be able to move on. Otherwise it will just accumulate and eventually erupt. You can't just skip the actual healing step and move right into the already healed state. It doesn't work that way. The body doesn't just forget.
If you're having a difficult time healing from a traumatic experience, big or small, then I urge you to get help. Going into psychotherapy was what finally helped me heal and deal with my emotions and anxiety. There is no shame in feeling bad and there is no shame in getting help. It's only empowering!