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What Doesn’t Kill You…

Jul 30

Posted by: ACHA
7/30/2012 9:19 AM  RssIcon

By Clare Almand

I write a lot about strength. How my heart condition has made me stronger and given me the resilience to take on any challenges that may come my way. But recently I’ve been thinking about the other side of the equation. What do my heart condition—and my experiences as a result of it—take away from me? How am I really dealing with all of it?

Last year, I started having panic attacks. I had never had one before and they’re pretty terrifying. It started with this overwhelming feeling of anger. I was at my old job and I was so irritated by everybody I had to talk to at work, which was normally the case every day—but this time it was ten times worse. Then my mind started racing. I just felt crazy and I kept telling myself that I was crazy and I was trapped in this job and there was no way out. My fingers started tingling and I knew that if I tried to articulate what was going on that I would burst into tears. When I calmed down a couple hours later, I spent my lunch break searching my symptoms online. Everything I read pointed to a panic attack.

I had five panic attacks in the span of eight months. I thought each one was an extra push towards leaving my job and pursuing my dream of moving to New York. So after I finally quit my job, I believed they would stop. And for seven months, they did. Then about a month ago during a very stressful Friday at my new job, I experienced the worst panic attack I’ve ever had. Not just my fingers, but my entire body was tingling. Not only could I not articulate how I was feeling, but I had to redo a project in a half hour. I was taking audible deep breaths and repeating over and over to myself, “Breathe. You can do this. Just breathe.”

Once I had my project mostly completed, the worst part of the attack was over, but like always, it took my body several hours to recover from all the stress and emotions that came with it. I was hoping it was an isolated incident but a couple weeks later I felt another one coming on. I left work and walked around for a half hour. I was able to avoid having a full-blown attack that day, but I started to wonder: Is this how it’s going to be now? I like my job; I don’t want to leave it. So why am I having panic attacks this time?

After searching for links between childhood trauma and anxiety, it became clear. I may think I’m fine, but every now and then, my head reminds that I’m not as unaffected emotionally by my condition as I might think I am. I have been through a lot and while I try to laugh about as much of it as I can, there are just some times when I absolutely cannot do that.

I guess in the end, it’s those horrible moments that make us come out the other side stronger. I don’t want to forget the traumatic feelings, though painful, and I don’t want to be sedated during them, because powering through and recovering from those awful episodes are what remind me that I’m a fighter. I’ve been one since I was born and it isn’t over `til it’s over.

Clare Almand was born with Shone’s syndrome and has undergone a repair for coarctation of the aorta, multiple atrial septal defect and ventricular septal defect repairs, aortic valve replacement and an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator implantation. She has a B.A. in Media Arts and Design with a minor in Creative Writing from James Madison University. Clare pushes paper during the day and writes screenplays in her spare time. 

Tags: Clare Almand
Location: Blogs Parent Separator ACHA Blog

6 comment(s) so far...


Re: What Doesn’t Kill You…

I'm very sorry you're experiencing these frightening attacks.
Would you be able to get some counseling for a while, to help you learn additional methods to overcome them? I hope you'll feel better soon, and I hope you'll also be able to keep the job that you like.
Best to you. Keep in touch with us.

By Connie on   7/30/2012 3:23 PM

Re: What Doesn’t Kill You…

I started having panic attacks 5 yrs. ago. Each time I thought I was dying. Xanax works well, especially when I add in oxygen. But I started reading "Battlefield of the Mind" by Joyce Meyer or Mark 4 and I am calmer quicker. Turns out my body had quit reacting to some of my meds. Change of beta-blocker and more fluid pills, but I don't have to have Xanax anymore. I can tell when they are coming, so I have become better at taking care of them sooner. You do need to watch the stress-level. I have just started telling people when I feel angry or nervous and let them know how they can help divert these attacks. I hope you are able to control yours also.

By Melissa Chapman on   7/31/2012 8:45 AM

Re: What Doesn’t Kill You…

I'm very happy that you shared that with us. I am a very positive, strong congenital heart defect survivor but I too have been recently struggling with depression and anxiety. I think that more of our voices need to be heard and this issue looked very seriously.

By Denise on   7/31/2012 8:44 AM

Re: What Doesn’t Kill You…

love this piece. so well-written and powerful, clare, you are a fighter :)

By Amanda on   7/31/2012 1:26 PM

Re: What Doesn’t Kill You…

Nice piece. Well written Clare. Thank you.
As you know I discuss the emotional and psychological impact of living with a heart condition from birth in several articles available to download free from here:


By Liza on   8/5/2012 6:40 PM

Re: What Doesn’t Kill You…

I've been having acid reflux after my 2nd open heart surgery two years ago, and just recently I think I've been having panic attacks. I understand what you're saying about being strong… Although I think because ACHA members have gone through so much as infants and so on, our bodies don't have a clear representation of pain and stress. That's why I just came on ACHA because I needed the support of other CHD patients. Thank you for sharing.

By Hannah on   8/7/2014 5:01 PM

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