I’d never thought of myself as a particularly fearful person. When I was 11, I fought three bullies off my stepbrother with my undersized fists. Later that year, I found the courage to run away from an abusive home, and by thirteen, I never went home again. For much of my life, fear and I coexisted without much fuss. Snakes scared me, so I adopted a four-foot ball python; heights dizzied me with fear, so I went hang-gliding; the thought of public speak sent a cold chill through my heart, so I took a job teaching at a university. But when I started having panic attacks, everything I thought I knew about myself changed.
I was in my mid-thirties when my first panic attack struck, and in a matter of weeks I went from a happy, engaged, productive person to someone who could barely get herself off the sofa. I constantly monitored my pulse. I carried food wherever I went, for fear of going into hypoglycemic shock (even though I wasn’t hypoglycemic). I spent most of my waking (and some of my sleeping) moments either in the throes of a vicious panic attack or dreading when the next one would come.