I suddenly awoke from a sound sleep, my mind instantly alert but in a heightened state of panic. What was wrong? I lay quiet for a moment, my thoughts racing and my heart beating, thump, thump, thump. I couldn't remember having a nightmare but I was reacting as if the devil himself had been chasing me in and out of the maze of my brain.
I started to roll over but, wait a minute. What's wrong? In my mind, my body was moving but in actuality, nothing was following suit. I tried again. Roll over! A simple request from brain to body, roll over. Nothing. Now my throat was closing and my heart was beating faster: Roll over!!! Still nothing. No foot moving, no leg, no arms, no torso...if anything my body seemed to have grown to the mattress. My breath was coming in and out. My heart was definitely beating. I was alive but NOTHING WOULD MOVE!
This had to be the nightmare. I was still asleep! That was it! Okay, now wake up. Go on, just wake up. Easy does it, come on, open your eyes and wake up. But my eyes are open, I am not asleep! I am awake!!! Go on, body - MOVE. MOVE! MOVE!!! Nothing. Not even a finger would wiggle. Good God, am I dead??? No, I wouldn't be able to think if I was dead...
A stroke. I've had a stroke. That's what it is! That's why nothing will move; that's what I am - paralyzed. Paralyzed. Paralyzed. The sweat was pouring off of my body and my heart couldn't beat any faster. My breathing was shallow and rapid. Dear Lord, I've had a stroke!
I could see my husband's face on the pillow across from me, just inches away. If only I could move something, open my mouth and scream, anything to get his attention. The room was dark and I could only see the outline of his face but I knew he was asleep by his breathing. Please, please, please wake up! Can't you see I need you? More than at any other time in my life I need someone. Look at me, please look at me. Help me! I can't be paralyzed. I'm too young! I have three children, a husband and a household to look after. MOVE, damn it. Dear Lord, please, I beg of you, please let me move.
I struggled in vain to move, the pressure in my chest increasing until I thought I was going to explode. Words cannot express how valiantly I tried to get my body moving, straining, willing myself to just move. I could feel tears running down my cheeks and all of a sudden, I was free!
I could move!!! I scooted over to my husband's side and grabbed him, held on tightly and burst into tears. He woke up alarmed, and asked me what was wrong. Did I have a bad dream? "No," I told him. I was paralyzed. I couldn't move. "Oh, honey, you just had a bad dream. It'll be alright." He was already on his way back to sleep. "NO!" I said. I couldn't move and tried and tried to get to you."
He pulled me tightly and rubbed my back. "It will be better in the morning." By this time, I was beginning to wonder if I HAD had a dream. But my hair was still damp and my body was feeling the tenseness from fighting the "paralysis." This had not been a dream.
The weeks went by and I didn't think too much about the awful night I had experienced. I tried to put it out of my mind, still not understanding what had happened to me. Until it happened again. The same abrupt awakening, the feeling of absolute terror and panic, the paralysis. When the "spell" was broken, I again awakened my sleeping husband and told him it had occurred once more, and once again he informed me that I'd been dreaming.
When it happened for the third time I made an appointment with my doctor. He very nonchalantly informed me that I'd been suffering from panic attacks. Oh good. It had a name. Panic had a name and it was panic + attack. Even a layman could understand that! Shortly after my revolutionary office visit I had my fourth attack. I told myself, "Okay, this is your friend, Panic. You can deal with this. Just relax, breathe slowly - in and out - deep breath, in and out. Relax."
As I worked on my mind and body, I started to feel my body loosen up and finally relax. I let out a deep sigh of relief and realized that I'd beaten it. I said a brief prayer of Thanksgiving and went back to sleep, no longer a prisoner of panic.