Panic at the Metro

This past June, a spontaneous trip to India took some interesting twists.  Due to the unexpected effect that the monsoon intensity and smoldering heat had on me, I ended up getting incredibly sick.  After a few weeks of feeling totally wiped out and depleted, I decided to experiment with taking some antibiotics that I bought over the counter at a local pharmacy.  I remember my friend and I laughing incredulously because the entire ten-day supply cost all of 56 cents. Little did we know that the real price we would pay would eventually be much higher.  

Two mornings after I started taking the medication, I woke up feeling strange. Even though I was a little shaken and the outside temperatures had already reached 110 degrees by 9am, I convinced myself that I would feel better once we got moving.  We chose to take the metro train into Old Delhi, (arguably one of the more intense places in all of India).  

I can't say for sure exactly when things started to go bad, I just remember the sense of being smothered by the unrelenting heat and my heart rate getting faster and faster.  As I stepped off the train into the crowded underground station, the air felt too thick to breathe and then the panic set in.  The walls began to close in around me and every cell in my body braced for what felt like imminent death.  Suddenly the bustling and bright and fantastically chaotic pulse of India felt overwhelming and terrifying and I just wanted out. I crouched in a corner while my friend stood protectively by side and tried to help me remember how to breathe.  

I honestly don't know if this went on for a few minutes or closer to an hour, but it felt like forever.  Eventually I somehow calmed down enough to get back on the crowded train, close my eyes, and pray the entire way back to the house where we were staying.  The next several days were not much better as my nervous system remained activated and my mind continued to spin out of control.  I was too terrified to leave my room and it was all I could do to concentrate on trying to stay alive until I could get on a plane headed home.  

Later, I learned that the antibiotic, Cipro can have an effect on your brain and nervous system and cause severe side effects like what happened to me.  For several months following that experience, I went on the most significant healing journey of my life.  I saw multiple therapists and doctors.  I sat through several sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy, brain spotting, EMDR, TRE and bioenergetic medicine.  I experimented with shamanic journeys, connecting with my ancestors, acupuncture, CBD oil, herbs, and the list goes on...  My point is that I tried anything and everything to better understand and work with this.  One of the things I realized is that while the pharmaceuticals and extremeness of the situation that day in India may have triggered the initial attack; I had an underlying tendency towards anxiety that made me more susceptible to it happening in the first place.

What is also probably true, is that throughout my life, I have been keeping it under control with yoga and meditation and a healthy lifestyle.  Because things were never really bad enough for me to be forced to do anything about it, I cruised along with a smile on my face and my wounds buried deep.  Even after spending a life committed to self-development and personal growth, there remained an underlying anxiety that I had just learned to live with.  I am pretty sure that if it had not been for the disruptive magnitude of the panic attacks, I probably would have continued to avoid facing these hidden parts of myself for much longer, if not the rest of my life.

One of the most surprising things that has come out of this experience was learning how many other people have suffered from something similar at one point or another in their lives. My initial shock and shame (What kind of yoga teacher has anxiety and panic attacks?) quickly morphed into an even deeper appreciation for the heartbreaking complexity of being human and all of the crazy things we have to live with.  It’s also been amazing to really feel how, on top of our own issues, we may also be unconsciously carrying the patterns of our ancestral lineage. While recognizing this can be a little overwhelming and daunting, it’s also another portal into our personal freedom and healing.  Hearts open and hands dirty, we can dig even deeper and bring light into all the dark and forgotten places we can find.

While still fresh from the heart of my own healing journey, it’s getting easier and easier to say with honesty that I am truly grateful that this all happened.  Already I have learned to find openness in my unraveling and peace in the unknown.  Also, I have developed a new understanding and acceptance of the different ways that anxiety can show up in our lives and I have complete faith that everything I have gone through has strengthened my capacity to support others who might also struggle with anxiety. It’s not an easy path to have to walk, but at least we are not alone!

Kirsten Warner