That Time I had a Wild Panic Attack in a BART Station

Six years ago I walked onto an outbound BART train at Montgomery Station after work. It was like any ordinary day taking the train home except for the fact that I was particularly incensed by work issues as a then land use planner. Clients were being difficult and I felt trapped. As the doors closed, I stood by the doorway, fired up and ready to go… home, I guess.

The train sped along the various stops, and slowly I started breathing deeply and harshly. My mind was running in circles and trying to tell my body to do something. Once my home stop was announced, I was already hyperventilating. Soon, the body sensations of the bends kicked in and my disassociated mind came back to reality.

I confusingly held onto the bar handle until the train stopped at my station. Something was wrong, my body shouldn’t be feeling this way. Is this a heart attack? The doors opened and I sheepishly walked onto the platform, trying to make it look like all was normal and fine. By the exterior I probably was totally fine but my mind was creating a new narrative.

Instead of powering through and dismissing the obvious work-related feelings, I sat down on the cold concrete bench at Glen Park Station. Something was wrong! My hands tingled, my chest felt heavy or stuffy. I was doing deep breathing, it’s a panic attack, nothing to worry about… or was it?

I regained my senses and walked toward the escalators, pretending very hard that I was a perfectly normal person doing perfectly normal things. The slow escalator ride wasn’t helping. Instead of exiting the station into the light, I decided to sit down on a bench and breathe it out. Maybe this could be something. My mind ran through loops trying to decide if what I was feeling was true or not. I wasn’t in pain, I just felt a little off, a little breathless. Or was I actually just fine and a little scared.

I don’t recall what but some feeling in my body pushed me over the edge into disbelief. I asked a lady sitting nearby if I looked pale and she said maybe. I bought it hook line and sinker, I was having a heart attack, or dying… of something. Anything. This was it. She told the gate agent to call 911. I asked her to hold my hand.

The minutes were agony as I lay on the cold platform. I looked up at the brutalist concrete skylights as if through a looking glass of my mind. I was there but wasn’t. Suddenly the EMTs came rushing in. It was like I wasn’t in my body. They ripped my shirt apart to check for signs and kept asking if I had taken any drugs.

When I got into the ambulance they ran the usual checks, I was completely dazed at this point, expecting the worst. Then in a few minutes they said it looked like I was fine. I was stunned. I didn’t believe them, I wanted verification. Ironically I can remember everything up until about now, I can’t really remember what they did to pull me out of my psychosis. They probably showed me that my heart rate and EKG were fine.

I walked out of the ambulance sheepishly, after declining to not go. My aunt and uncle were standing there on the sidewalk. I cried. We went home.

The entire incident was traumatic and shameful. I locked it out of my mind for a long time, thinking it was a one off. But it clearly pointed to the mental scars of my surgery just a year earlier. I thought I was a ticking time bomb and for long after I poorly managed reoccurring health anxiety. It was my very first public panic attack where I went into the deep end, so to speak. For anyone recovering from surgery, I would highly recommend follow-up with a therapist if any doubts linger in your mind even after doctors have cleared you.

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