I had my first panic attack when I was a junior in high school on an airplane en route to New York City with my family. It was the holidays and we were taking a trip to see some Broadway shows and stay in a hotel on Times Square. I didn't know what was happening to me. I felt like maybe I was going to throw up, but my stomach wasn't really upset. I do recall that my neck, face, and hands got tingly, like when your foot falls asleep. I grabbed the barf bag and held on for dear life.
During that trip I barely slept. In the hotel room that we all shared, my mom and dad, my sister and my brother and I, I was up at night tossing and turning. Sometimes I went into the bathroom, turned on the light, and just sat there with my CDs and Walkman killing time. I had to excuse myself at dinner and leave my seat during some of the shows to go to the restroom and splash water on my face. What was going on??
I do have good memories of the trip: seeing the John Lennon memorial in Central Park, going to see The Who's Tommy, and buying some CDs in Tower Records (among them Redd Kross's Phaseshifter which had a big impact on me). And when we got back to Kalamazoo, MI the panic attacks only increased in frequency and intensity. Multiple times a day.
I was already skinny as hell at that age and started eating less due to the anxiety. I had more trouble sleeping and would sit in my room quietly strumming my acoustic guitar at night. I still managed to get on stage with my band and do the theater program at school. I was competitive in forensics and got up in front of those rooms to perform during at regional and state competitions. During one round, at some school I don't recall, I hung my head out of the window for fresh air at the back of the room. I told a teacher "Don't worry, I'm fine" and went up to perform when it was my time.
Eventually my mother recommended I go see a therapist. I don't recall a lot about the individual sessions, but I do believe it helped. This was before SSRI drugs and I didn't take any medication during this time. I didn't tell any of my friends I was going into therapy and probably only my family knew. Looking back on it, I wish I'd put more energy into it. I was on my parents' health care plan and had the time to focus on it. It's much more difficult now to manage my own health care and find the right therapist.
High school went on and I found a college to go to in Chicago. The intensity of my panic attacks was waning, but I was pretty nervous to be moving to a new city and being out "on my own" so to speak. The window in my dorm room was right next to the Red Line tracks and you could feel the room shake when a train went by. I thought "Dear God, I will never relax." In Chicago and I found out how liberating it was to be just another face in the crowd. I was in love! I couldn't have made a better choice. I made friends quickly and spent many nights out seeing live music, which for me at the time, was better than peanut butter sandwiches with pixie sticks and Cap'n Crunch.
And soon after I got my footing in Chicago, I didn't have any more panic attacks. I barely even noticed the train going by in my room. I even once fell asleep at the Fireside Bowl during a set from Scissor Girls! I was relaxed, I was productive, I was social, I was eating well and having a GREAT time! I thought I was cured. Alas, only for the time being.