Note – This post discusses a panic attack as part of my mental health story from 2018 to 2020 and may trigger unwanted thoughts or emotions in those that have suffered traumas. This post is part of a story told chronologically.
I finished my work projects and drove to both factories to say farewell to colleagues. The feeling was surreal. When I first joined Caterpillar after graduating with an MBA, I thought I’d be there for many years. Stepping into the unknown was new to me, but I registered for a writing workshop in late October. This would help me transition, I thought.
Like the workshop, I also looked forward to a friend’s promotion ceremony in Washington, D.C. on 11 October. I drove from Raleigh on Thursday afternoon to be at my Airbnb with enough time to rest before the event on Friday. During the drive, I became drowsy, so I stopped and bought a coffee. I arrived at my Airbnb tired and depressed due to the fall after the high from drinking caffeine.
The place was a dump—different from what the online pictures showed. I bought food, then settled into my room. Around 10 when I was about to fall asleep, a deep voice sounded down the hall. A man came to my door and knocked loudly several times, then tried to turn the locked door handle. He kept asking if I was in there. I repeatedly told him yes. After several minutes, he left.
I assumed it was the owner of the apartment, but I had checked in using the app. Then I worried. Was someone trying to break in? I didn’t know what to do. I packed my bags and considered leaving for a hotel. However, the time was near midnight, and I wasn’t awake enough to drive. I looked in my car and in my bags. Where were my sedatives? I forgot them!
I read, I prayed, I looked at my phone, and so on, but I couldn’t sleep. I left the Airbnb early the next morning and walked around town. I went to a coffee shop. When I returned to the Airbnb, a guy was sleeping face down on the couch just outside the bedroom. I freaked out and hastily packed my bags. Panic attacked. I drove to the nearest park and spoke to my parents on the phone as I walked.
I had a few hours before the promotion ceremony at a Congressional office building. Where would I go? Could I safely drive? I looked at Google maps on my phone and saw a Whole Foods close to me. As I arrived, I noticed a parking lot. Great! I exclaimed. I could hang out at Whole Foods and leave my car in the lot. I bought two hard seltzers. They calmed me down, and I called my friend. I told him what happened, and we discussed how I would get to the Capitol. I told him I’d take an Uber and meet him and his family at a Metro stop near the office building.
As the Uber dropped me off, a large crowd, police, and media surrounded the Metro station exit. Someone had been stabbed to death just minutes before I arrived. I freaked out again. I met my friend and his family, and we walked inside the building. I paced back and forth from the bathroom to the room to avoid conversations with people. During the ceremony, anxiety nearly crippled me, but I kept it inside. I told my friend after the ceremony that I couldn’t attend his party because I wasn’t feeling well.
Fortunately, another friend was there, and I asked him if he could go with me. We walked for nearly an hour to find the nearest Urgent Care. I hoped to get sedatives, but a nurse told me Urgent Care didn’t treat mental illness. She told me to go to an Emergency Room instead.
We took the Metro to his car, then he drove me to the nearest hospital. However, that hospital didn’t have an ER. Of course, I thought. We searched again and found that Howard University had an ER. It would take fifteen minutes, and we’d be there. Or so we thought.
It was rush hour. And that weekend was a homecoming for Howard University. The streets were packed with partiers. The drive took an hour. Over that hour, my anxiety whooshed to the level of panic again as my chest hurt and my breathing became shallow.
I was so thankful for my friend and his sense of humor. His comedy and sarcasm were just as much medicine as the sedative I got later, near midnight, after waiting in the ER for five hours. I slept well that night, and the next morning, he, his wife, and I got breakfast.
The balance of October was relatively calm compared to the first half. I attended an author workshop in Durham and traveled again to the yurt. Thankfully, a friend came with me to the yurt. The great conversations during both drives moderated the debilitating anxiety I would’ve had if I drove alone on the same route that went past Robyn’s house.
After Robyn’s death, fears of dying in my sleep suddenly inundated my mind. For the previous year, I fell asleep quickly, then rose after three hours in a panic. But this was different. I couldn’t fall asleep. I couldn’t sleep on my back, and if I tried to sleep on either side, I heard my heartbeat. I knew what being scared to death meant. I was in Edgar Allen Poe’s A Tell-Tale Heart. This beating became increasingly louder and more terrifying as I worked military Reserve duty in November and December. Next week, I’ll share those stories.