On May 27, 1978, my husband Brad and I said our wedding vows, promising to stay together through sickness and health, for better or worse. As a young college couple we never seriously considered that the "worse" or "sickness" would really happen. But it did.
It was a quiet Labor Day weekend in our small Indiana town. Between interruptions from our four children, we had been painting walls in a new addition to our house and trying to watch a Notre Dame football game. I was sitting in the living room when I suddenly felt light-headed and my heart began to race. My arms tingled and I felt short of breath. A panicked call to my doctor revealed that I was probably reacting to paint fumes and needed to get fresh air.
The Monday after that, while waiting in line at the grocery store, the symptoms returned out of the blue. I managed to complete the transaction and get to my car, but I drove home crying and praying I would be okay while gripping the steering wheel so tightly my knuckles turned white. This time my doctor said to come in. By Wednesday I was in the emergency room with a racing heart, chest pain, and a choking feeling in my throat. Tests determined that it wasn't a heart attack, as I imagined, but a classic panic attack.
I was given tranquilizers to calm the symptoms, and I assumed that it would end, now that I knew it was nothing serious. Instead, it was the beginning of a frightening year of dealing with panic disorder, an anxiety disorder that affects 23 million Americans.1