The Moment the Panic Began

We all use to be something, use to be able to do something, and then it changed. Most of the times it is a gradual shift and you don’t recognize the exact moment it changed. And other times you know right down to the second. You can transport yourself to that event without even blinking your eyes.

I was 26 years old and a supervisor of 20 male truck drivers. I was young and naive, but stubborn and proud. I learned the DOT regulations, I memorized and understood the union contract, I spent time studying the specs of their trucks, the contracts for the equipment, the routes, the pricing, all of it – no stone left unturned as they say. I plunged head on into it because I never wanted to be in a situation where my lack of knowledge impacted others opinions of my capabilities. A promise to myself that I try to keep to this day.

One day an employee, who visibly could not stand me and made every possible attempt at letting me know, refused to run a route he was assigned. He hid behind his union seniority. He did not realize that I knew the rules of the contract and that he could not refuse. He filed a grievance against me and I was prepared like a Girl Scout for the meeting to discuss his behavior. It was myself, the employee, the HR Manager, and the Union President. All males, in a male dominated company, in the male run plant HR office and me.

I can remember the room perfectly – The HR Manager behind his large old school brown desk that gleamed with shellac, myself against the wall in a 1980 style wooden chair slightly angled towards the door. Just to my left, no more than 3 feet away, was the Union President dressed in his grey work t-shirt, scuffed up steel toed boots, and stained blue jeans, his wirey salt and pepper hair framing his hard worn face. Next to him was the employee; dressed in nice clean blue jeans and a short sleeve powder blue collared shirt buttoned up to the top button and pressed. His chair was blocking the door and was almost directly across from mine, giving us each a clear view of the other. 

I presented my case and side of the issues, I highlighted the contractual agreement and so on. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was intimidated by the employee and the Union President. But I stuck to my wits. And then it happened – the moment that changed me. The instant that I went from calm and collected in group settings to near crippling panic attacks that has held me for the last 12 years.

The Union President jumped up from his seat and lunged towards me, his brow furrowed over his dark age worn eyes, spit sprewing from his mouth as he yelled at me. His arm outstretched in anger as he shouted his hatred. I held my spot in the chair, just staring at him shocked at what was unfolding. The HR Manager leaped from behind his desk, the employee sprang from his chair all the while I sat motionless. I was speechless. HR had grabbed him just in the knick of time from attacking me and pulled him outside. I continued to sit just watching it unfold. It was then that I felt the first assault of panic.

I struggled to maintain my composure, my breath was spastic, a stabbing pain wrapped it self around my chest like a hawk’s talon on its prey.

That was the exact moment that I broke.

I do not know why my mind snapped at that moment. Maybe it was a lifetime of compartmentalizing every single thing and the space just ran out. Maybe it was the stress of relocating to a new state, getting married in a totally different state, a strained parental relationship, and building a house. There are so many maybe’s that I will never know the answer. Most likely it is all of the above. It was a life of holding my breath in times of stress that has strangled my inner self.

My psyche was not going to take one more single thing hurled at it.  My mind clamped down on that sunny warm August day in 2001, and has not released itself since.

I have a Panic Disorder and it totally fucking sucks.


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  1. Oh honey. I’m sorry that happened. I know the words don’t do anything to help you. But know I support you in all you do. Panic or no panic. I get it.

    I hope karma catches up or has caught up with the man who did this.

    You are a strong woman. It takes a very strong woman to admit anything other than being perfect.

    By sharing this you make me stronger. Let me hold you up for a while.

    Hugs to you.

    • says:

      You are truly an amazing lady too, the trigger for me was so ridiculous but still holds me tight. I couldn’t even imagine your pain. Lets hold each other up for a while instead.

  2. Teri says:

    Holy hell, Alyson! I can’t even imagine being in that situation!

    • says:

      Time stood still and I froze. Was horrible.

  3. I’m right there with you. I get it. The absolute terror of dying, losing control. The numbness in my hands and feet when I am driving a car with my kids in it. The feeling like my tongue is swollen and I can’t swallow or catch a breath. Some of my worst ones have happened in the school car line waiting to pick up my kids where I’m stuck in a winding trail of cars and contemplating driving through a ditch to just get out. I wish I could figure out what makes them happen. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times I have no clue. Be sure, you are not alone. I’m sorry for both of us. Thanks for the honesty of this post.

    • says:

      Yes, to all of this. Mostly mine start in situations where I have to speak in groups and I am uncomfortable. Then I get to try to get up and not drop dead in front of everyone – its an awesome feeling.

  4. Amy says:

    Wow. THAT is clearly a moment that could break anybody. I have had one severe panic attack in my life and it had to do with a disagreement between a long-time friend and myself. It was crippling. I was clinically depressed at the time already, and I went over the edge.

    I am still taking antidepressants and will probably continue to do so forever, but I do have an anti-anxiety medication that I think of as my security blanket. I never want to feel that way again.

    My heart goes out to you, and I laud you for talking about it. More people should. The fact that you are as successful as you are, is testament to your strength.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    • says:

      Thank you so much for your words Amy. I don’t talk about it much but it is ever present in my life. Some days are just worse than others. I had to leave Sat from Erma and come home because of it and I just finally felt like enough, it is time to share this bc it is such a big part of my life.

  5. Holy cats! I can definitely see why that triggered a panic attack. I really hope that man was dealt with.

    Having panic attacks myself, I know that feeling all too well. It is horrible. I’m not sure what is worse, having the attack, or watching it unfold and feeling helpless to stop it.

    • says:

      I wish he was but nope, nothing happened to him. It really is a feeling of helplessness.

  6. Debbie says:

    My heart goes out to you! You must have felt so intimidated and bullied that you cracked. The fact that the Union President was spitting and yelling just about says it all, he was a bully and fully prepared to bully you into cowing down, when in fact you were just doing your job, which was a lot more than the other chap wanted to do.

    So what if the bloke didn’t want to run the route he was assigned, he should have just got on with his job instead of running to the union. He is a sad and pathetic individual and at least you haven’t lost your sense of humour, even though it must be hard at times.

    Remember what goes around usually comes around, so hopefully the truck driver and the Union President will both get their comeuppance!

    • says:

      He really was a big bully and I was totally unprepared to have another adult act that way to me in a professional environment. I do hope it comes around to them and bites them both in the ass.

      • Erika says:

        I remember the first time a man I worked with threw a fit and tried to intimidate me. I was fresh out of college and I was stunned into silence for a time. Shocking behavior from grown-ups! I was young enough and bold enough to come out of my silence and calming tell him he was a bully, that he was wrong, and that if he ever talked to me like that again I would make his life a living hell. He must have believed me because he seemed scared of me after that. But I remember the adrenaline crash and the shaking and crying I did after that confrontation.

        Thank you for sharing your story with the world. That takes a tremendous amount of strength and character.

        • says:

          I had historically been great at handling these types of situations. I have had no problems standing my ground but for some reason this moment in time I was unable to and just cracked like an egg. Good for you for putting him in his place. Intimidation has no place in society.

  7. Holy hell. That’s a terrifying situation, and I can see why it was the trigger. You are strong and successful, and you respect your limits (e.g., Erma) and take care of yourself even when it seems impossible. Thank you for being strong enough to share your story and help others.

    • says:

      Thank you for those words, I felt like a loser leaving on Sat but my whole body just craved my house and since it was only 4 hours away the answer was obvious – jump in my car at 6:30 without saying goodbye to anybody and go home. Sucks.

  8. Oh Alyson… your description of that room and the people in it and how this unfolded is incredible. I am SO sorry that this happened to you, and in effect catapulted you into panic attack disorder. Oh girl… I believe your insights are spot on with this… it all just culminated into that moment. The physical and emotional trauma of that moment jerked open a door that was barely held on by loose bolts I’m sure.

    I hate that you have to endure such suffering for this long… I do pray that you have sought help for it? There are ways to manage this and also perhaps even heal from it!! PROMISE! I don’t suffer from this disorder, but I suffer terribly from anxiety and I am here to tell you that MEDICINE HELPS. And of course any therapy would surely unwrap all those layers of grub that got you there…

    This was such a powerful piece. Your writing is gorgeous and breathtaking.

    • says:

      Thank you so much for reaching out. I finally caved and take medicine and it works, kinda. I know certain situations will manifest itself into a full panic attack and pre-empt it with Xanax and although it doesn’t stop it from happening it makes the hell of it less. A good friend who is a therapist, and whom I never confided this with her, actually messaged me this morning to tell me of a treatment that they psychology community is doing that is having success with panic disorders. I will be calling them to make an appointment because it is horrible and needs to get under control.

  9. What a horrendous situation to be in! No wonder you panicked; all that testosterone, vitriol and an attempted physical assault – what a combination. It is brave and strong of you to share such a traumatic event. I hope the disclosure acts as a seedling for your recovery. Best wishes.

    • says:

      Thank you Bryan! I hope so too – fingers crossed, I need to figure out how to shed this cause it sucks.

  10. What a fucking asshole! (I can say that here right?). How you kept your cool I don’t know. I would have leaped at his throat. But I understand your reaction. SHUT-DOWN. When something rocks you to your core. I am so unhappy to know that you still suffer from this disorder. That that MAN triggered it! I hope he’s suffered payback. Here is my experience with panic attacks: I was involved in 2 car crashes within 1 year. Neither my fault. The other drivers were 1) young and inexperienced, and 2) very old and lost control. Both were at high speeds. I had the airbags explode in my face both times. One day, I was dropping someone off at airport, driving with the highway traffic, and I sort of had an out-of-body experience. I was being hit from all the cars in all direction. Holy Shit. I couldn’t drive over about 40mph for almost 2 years. It’s still a problem. My doctor said it was a panic attack brought on by PTSD as a result of the accidents. Now- back to you. I want to break someone’s neck. I wish I had been there. Oh yes I do.

    • says:

      Wow! That is something – I have been fortunate to not have one sprung on me in the car because I might pull over and just leave it there. How horrible. I totally get the 40 MPH thing. Yes I wish someone would have been there to beat the hell out of him because instead I just locked down and couldn’t move.

      • I have had to do that- pull over- a few times. Once, in an unfamiliar large city, at night, in a rental, no GPS, hot flashing, IN THE RAIN. A perfect storm. But I’d take my situation anytime over your experience. People really DO NOT realize how their bad behavior effects others. God Damn Bully. He better hope he never mets me in a dark alley. You’ve seen the movie Gladiator? Picture my face.

        • says:

          Can I set up a meeting maybe? And I could stand behind you saying YEAH! TAKE THAT FUCKER! and other things I have wanted to say for all these years.

  11. So sorry you went through this! I’m not sure how I would have reacted, but my inner rage-voice tells me, it wouldn’t have been good. I don’t see male or female. I see non-asshole and asshole. Wishing you future comfort…somehow.

    • says:

      yeah I am with you on the non-asshole/asshole vision. It really is that easy – and all encompassing when you do it that way.

  12. What a horrific story. These things do happen. I am so sorry.

    • says:

      Thanks, sadly they do and much worse.

  13. Diane says:

    In just a few crisp, well-chosen words, you have encapsulated the entire feeling of a panic attack. And those of us who do not suffer from them thank you. Now I can feel at least a portion of what you feel. I hope it makes me kinder and more understanding. Thank you for your honesty and courage.

    • Diane says:

      And I hope those guys trip in public.

      • says:

        bahahah!! I would love if they did, could they get a broken wrist or something too??

    • says:

      Wow, that is the most wonderful compliment you could ever pay me! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, and my guess is you are already a very empathetic person.

  14. zoe says:

    No secret what started the panic there… amazing experience. I guess its no wonder you would relive it in panic any time something feels intense… I would panic too worrying that something like that could happen again. Once something like that happens its hard to purge it from your psyche. Way to be honest and open about it… so many avoid talking about stuff like this and it gets worse.

    • says:

      I have swallowed the fear for so long allowing it to creep in when I least expect it and also when I know very well it would come knocking. I have been awoken at night thinking I was dying only to be told after extensive tests that nope, I’m fine. I am surprised more people do not discuss it, though if they are like me it feels so isolating and like I am somehow less of a person that they might not. This needs to change.

  15. What you have sounds an awful lot like post traumatic stress disorder since you can trace its genesis to a specific traumatic event when you had a well founded fear of serious injury — not that having a name for it makes it any better.

    • says:

      Actually it kinda does knowing what the name for it is! I am going to have to look that up, when I think of PTSD I think of traumatic war stuff – not some whack job screaming and threatening me. I need to learn more about it, but I think your take is spot on.

  16. Oh Alyson, I have panic attacks too…I don’t usually do this but you might want to read this post I wrote about it.

    • says:

      just read your post, so agree – hard to do – but so agree.

  17. That son of a bitch. I’m so sorry. I hope you’re getting help. Maybe knowing the exact root of the problem will make it a little easier to address? I don’t know; I’m not a therapist. Do you have the guy’s address? Because maybe mailing him some cat poop would also help. That, I can do.

    • says:

      Totally wish I knew you then, cause yeah – cat poop would have been perfect.

  18. Wow… that’s understandable that would happen, given the circumstances. Someone like that, I suspect, just being themselves is a life sentence.

    I haven’t had a panic issue, but I live each day with depression, get help for it, and I have been at very low, bad points where that proverbial black dog was just overwhelming me.

    • says:

      Well I can tell you being around him sure was a life sentence for me. I am sorry to hear you have your own set of issues, nothing worse to feel out of control of your own self. Thoughts your way.

  19. Kim says:

    Panic attacks are a total bitch. I’ve been there, done that so I totally feel your pain and the aggravations that go along with it.

    Like someone else said, I hope Karma caught up to that asshole Union President. There’s just no excuse for that nonsense and now it’s left you with a lifetime of aggravation. Total crap!

    • says:

      I would like to think it did, ten-fold.

  20. I’m sorry you had to experience that Alyson. Keep talking about it and writing about it so there’s no more place it can hide. Get it all out. And know that you’re not alone. When I’m under a lot of stress I get dizzy, numb and feel like I’m going to pass out. It’s happened to me twice and both in public (lucky me!). Once after a disturbing cell phone call while I was having my hair colored in a busy beauty salon and my husband had to come pick me up while my hair was still wet. Embarrassing and frightening. Every time I go back I worry it might happen again. By the way, I totally get how you feel at conferences. Even though I loved Erma, I still had to go to my room for some quiet “me” time. It can be overwhelming. I’m so glad we had a chance to spend some time together there.

    • says:

      You are so kind to reach out – stress is a huge problem for me and the result is normally a major panic attack. I can understand worrying it will happen again, but give you credit for going back because I am not sure I could. I was overwhelmed at Erma and at BloHer last year too. It will be interesting to see how I do at BlogHer this year. My hope is that if I keep going eventually the feeling will go away, I hate having it rule any of my choices and decisions.


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