I’ve always been a positive, chill, and happy person. Too bad that didn’t stop anxiety from sneaking up on me and wreaking havoc on my 30s. Eight years ago, I had my first panic attack seemingly out of nowhere while on a road trip with my husband.

While we were happily singing along to ‘90s jams, I abruptly stopped mid-song because something was really off. My chest felt tight and heavy, my heart was racing, and my palms were cold and sweaty. I was so dizzy I thought I was going to pass out. Then fear took over. “Take me to the nearest hospital, I think I’m having a heart attack,” I said, frantic.

I’ll never forget the horror and confusion in my husband’s face as he tried to keep calm and search for an emergency room. He believed me because everything was fine, until it wasn’t. It really felt like I was going to die, but at the hospital, all those scary symptoms began to dissipate. I thought I was losing it, but the doctor instead explained that I’d had a panic attack.

That’s when it began—a constant battle for my peace. At first, I couldn’t get to work without turning back because of a panic attack. I didn’t understand why or how this was happening to me. I needed help, so I began seeing a counselor.

In therapy, I learned that even happy people can suppress stress, anxiousness, and fear in unhealthy ways. There was unfinished emotional business behind my smile that was manifesting into a sudden panic. I slowly mastered feeling, then releasing it, and using tools to diffuse it. The best part is that I no longer needed medication to get there. I was grateful to get on with my life. Then coronavirus came around and I had to go back into the ring for another round.

Like anyone who struggles with anxiety, I’ve been triggered by every pandemic news headline. After five panic-free years, I woke up to a bad one just one week into quarantine. More followed. Refusing to return to darker times, I braced for another fight.

My husband is an essential worker, so during my days in quarantine I’m home alone with our dog and my thoughts…

Charli Penn

My husband is an essential worker, so during my days in quarantine I’m home alone with our dog and my thoughts—which in the beginning were mostly obsessive worry and fear about our safety and the safety of those we love. It felt crippling at first, but then I remembered that I’m in control of those thoughts and my life, and now more than ever, I have to be. My mind and will are powerful weapons against my anxiety.

Now each day, I wake up and count my blessings, not my losses. I limit my daily news intake and revel in little escapes with big rewards, like living room dance parties, Scrabble nights with hubby, or uplifting group chats with my girls. I pray a lot and journal, too. I admit out loud when I’m scared then remind myself that’s okay. I get to feel what I feel, and then through hope and positivity, get past it and keep on living.

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