Why I'm glad I had my 1st panic attack in 5 years
... and 3 freshly brewed book reviews
I hope this email finds you well, truly.
At 3 weeks post-surgery, I’m halfway through the traditional 6-week healing journey (before I can go back to “normal life”, like having sex + lifting weights).
Since our last edition, I spent 8 days alone in Denver before moving to Colorado Springs a few days ago.
It was the first time in more years than I can remember that my partner wasn’t around for such an extended time … probably since 2015 when we lived on seperate ends of the country.
Looking forward and dreading that much alone time with myself, I’m glad I had some working days, but the 3-Day Memorial Day weekend was interesting.
Having moved to Colorado in October 2021, I haven’t made close friends in the area yet, and not ones that have invited me to their holiday BBQs.
Saturday and Sunday were nice - sleeping in, going to my favorite restaurants one last time as a Denver resident, taking long walks, reading books … but by Monday, I was fucking sick of being around myself. By then, I wanted something, ANYTHING to distract me from myself.
So imagine my surprise that, while matching the anime movie, at one specific scene, I start bawling uncontrollably. Something a character said … “I’m sorry we can’t be by your side, Okko.” I don’t want to spoil the story too much, but one of her parents said it and I just lost it.
An incredible amount of pain and fear bubbled up inside of me and I couldn’t stop crying. This happened at a pivotal moment in the story, so the drama was already built up, and having spent the majority of my childhood alone, those words as if coming from my own parents, hit me like a freight train.
Add in the fact that my father died in my early 20s, and you’ve got one hell of an emotional cocktail.
When I finally stopped crying after 10 minutes, I felt relieved … but in a way I’ve never felt before.
If you’ve ever had a good cry, you know how good it can feel, and as someone who abhors crying in front of other people, that also means I don’t do it very often when I’m alone either. Emotionally constipated, some might say.
But this was different.
I was trying to put my finger on why and then an unexpected scene flashed in my mind … when I had a panic attack less than an hour before my hysterectomy surgery 3 weeks ago.
It happened after I was in the surgery prep room, with the IV in my left hand. IVs are always painful for me because I have small, delicate hands. I kept adjusting how my hand lay on the bed because it ached.
The nurse stepped away to go talk to the anesthesiologist, and that's when a flood ran through my brain, far too fast for me to stop it.
This was happening. I was in a hospital. I was getting surgery. I was alone.
I felt the cold sweat begin and my heart started to race. I was having a panic attack.
Thankfully (which sounds like an odd word to use in this situation), I've had this happen enough times in the past to know how to handle it:
Take off the blankets to cool me down
Sit up and lean over so I feel less vulnerable (didn't have my chest exposed)
Breathe deeply, reciting So on the inhale and Hum on the exhale (learned that in Yoga Teacher Training and it has always helped me to keep my mind busy)
The panic passed in a few minutes and the nurse came back, saw me leaning over, and asked if I was OK. I told her it was a mild panic attack but it had passed and that I was just waiting to cool down a bit more.
She reminded me that I'm not attached to anything yet (I only had the IV in my hand) so I could get up and move around if I needed to. The last thing I needed was to start pacing my small room, so I stayed in bed and slowly cooled down, put the covers back on, and was able to lean back comfortably like it never happened (except for the cold sweat I could feel all over me).
Thinking back on it now, that panic attack (my first one in 5+ years) was necessary. It was a milestone, a pivot point to help shed my old self.
Taking the step to get a hysterectomy was big … massive … I can’t even begin to explain how huge of a decision it was, but it was also the easiest choice I’ve ever made.
Even aside from the fact that I had a 250-gram fibroid causing me ridiculous pain for 3 years, I would still have gotten the surgery in a heartbeat.
No more period pain
No more periods!
No accidental pregnancy
No future risk of cervical or uterine cancer
No future risk of HPV
Much lower future risk of ovarian cancer (because it usually starts in the fallopian tubs, which I no longer have)
6 weeks of recovery with no sex and no workouts (only walking)
I’d written that list out in my mind hundreds of times this year … but there was one Pro that I didn’t expect … and it all hit me on Memorial Day.
For the first time since age 12, I liked the body I was in.
Some of you may immediately know what I’m talking about.
For others, this may be a foreign concept, but I will try to explain it.
At age 12, I got my first period. I knew it was going to happen, but never quite knew when.
Ever since that day, I felt like an alien in my own body. It felt odd. It felt wrong.
No matter what I ate; how much or how little I worked out; or what I wore - this walking meat suit that my Soul was stuck in was the wrong one. Someone fucked up and stuck me with this busted female body that I could never fully control or integrate with. I wanted a do-over, but it never seemed like a real possibility.
I figured I just had to struggle through life, half-assing my existence because I didn’t even know how to function within myself.
Even with various therapists and modalities; being diagnosed with CPTSD; and a hilarious amount of self-improvement methods, my mind + my emotions made more sense to me, but my body never did … until I had the surgery.
Some would call in gender-affirming, though I do not identify as trans or as non-binary (but non-binary is something I think of often).
If we focus on it from a female perspective, I felt more like myself than ever before, now that I didn’t have to worry about accidentally getting pregnant, knowing I never wanted kids since I was age 6.
And having taken that leap to affirm myself, who I am, and what I truly want, for the first time, I felt like I go out of my own way. Fully.
This has driven more changes in my life than I expected: reading more passionately; writing more often; articulating what I want + need more in my relationships; scheduling + trying new things I’ve always thought about … and most importantly, re-introducing myself to those I am closest to.
It can be hard for those closest to us, especially family, to accept changes you make because they have a non-modifiable version of you in their minds + hearts. If that version of you comes with certain sad or painful memories, then embracing your changes will be even harder.
But I refuse to let someone else’s vision of me define me for myself. As a recovering perfectionist people-pleasing workaholic, that shit won’t stand anymore. And it’s caused riffs. And the fallout continues. And, in some cases, positive changes are being made … but it is not a smooth process.
But that panic attack, those uncontrollable tears … they happened because it’s time to let it all go. A shedding. A rebirth. Whatever term you want to use. Those decades of internal horror have led to this moment: discovering who I actually am outside of other people’s direct influence/input.
No matter what season of your life you are in, I hope you are more you than you have ever been, and you continue to rest + grow in the ways that call you deeply.
📚 Refreshing Books Worth Sipping 📚
Leave a comment + let me know if you’ve read any of these books 🤓
Guilt is the course correction for the people pleaser. Something I have has triggered an unsavory feeling in you? Okay, let me shrink a bit. And women, in particular, take on guilt in order to appease others. It’s so subtle, the way we guilt ourselves out of the things we enjoy and desire.
I am no therapist, but this book could easily be required reading for anyone, especially anyone born or identifying as a woman. I’ve read hundreds of books in my life but never have I read a book that I felt like I could have written with nearly the same words. Jamie touches raw points in all of us that deserve attention + care (but not bullshit pandering). If you’re on a journey to rediscover yourself, this will be the catalyst for your next phase.
I was so scared of being hurt that I’d done nothing. I was so scared of failing, of being hurt, that I chose nothing. I did nothing.
The book may feel like it’s starting slow, but it picks up the pace quickly and, eventually, you feel like you’re being whisked along with the character’s rapidly changing life. All the small changes add up, collide, and coalesce in ways I didn’t expect. A jolting and delightfully reassuring book that you’ll want to read in one day.
Self-forgiveness makes the world better. You don’t become a good person by believing you are a bad one.
I have so many highlighted quotes from this book. I intentionally have this book in my line of sight so that whenever I need comfort, I can grab it. This book will be in my library for the rest of my life. Read it today. Refer to it often. Appreciate it forever.