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Charla Huber: I thought I was having a heart attack, it turned out to be a panic attack

What it's like to experience a panic attack
Disclosing our challenges, such as dyslexia, can be a vulnerable act, and not easy for most. DYSLEXIA.COM

Many of us were, raised in environments where we were taught to be strong and not discuss our hardships. “Being normal” was the goal and, in this quest, many of us hid our personal hurdles, because disclosing them would keep us farther from the goal.

Searching for normal, is like trying to find the tangible end of a rainbow. It’s a myth, and scientifically impossible.

About 10 years ago, I started to hear adults disclose they are dyslexic. One by one, in conversation someone would ­mention it in passing. I remember the first couple of times an adult mentioned it to me, because I’d never met someone who was dyslexic before. I know now that I’d certainly met many people who were dyslexic, and I just didn’t know.

A few times, I’ve had parents tell me their child had dyslexia diagnosed. Each time, I respond: “Some of the smartest most talented adults I know are dyslexic.” I say that because it’s true, and I wouldn’t even know that truth if people hadn’t shared it with me.

Disclosing our challenges can be a ­vulnerable act, and not easy for most.

About a year ago, I developed severe anxiety and panic attacks. At the time, I didn’t know what I was experiencing was a panic attack. I had a column due and all I could think about was the severe anxiety I was feeling. I’d sat down to write a column for several days and ­nothing would come from my fingers. At the last minute, knowing if I didn’t write something, I would miss the deadline, I wrote a column on anxiety because it was all I could think about.

Even as I wrote it, I knew I would regret it, but it seemed like a better option than having to admit I was having a hard time.

Later that evening, I thought I was ­having a heart attack and took an ­ ­ambulance to hospital. I learned my heart was fine, and it was panic attack.

When my column ran a few days later, I was so embarrassed. I felt ashamed for writing about anxiety and disclosing my inner struggle at the time. I’ve re-read the column since — it was fine.

Since then, I’ve been open with ­people about that time in my life, and, more often than not, when I talk about having a panic attack, people respond with: “Panic attacks are the worst,” or “I took an ­ambulance to the hospital and found out it was panic attack, too.”

It’s interesting how, sometimes, things that we think make us weak, make us more relatable to the people around us. When people share that they too have had struggles like mine, we find a connection.

This past week, I’ve been supporting a ­family member, and it has taken ­precedence over everything else. This time, I asked Times Colonist editor Dave Obee for an extension on my deadline, which I received.

Life can be messy, difficult and ­unpredictable. When it gets tough, no ­matter what “tough” looks like to you, chances are, if you share with others, you’ll receive the support you need. You might also add a human element to ­something people have never ­experienced, and that can ultimately reduce the stigma for everyone else in the community who has it, too.