The War Within

The War Within

by Daniel Vanegas

On March 31st, 2021 I had an emergency heart procedure. The procedure is called pericardiocentesis. Fluid had filled up in my pericardial sac, literally drowning my heart. This was an unexpected nightmarish event that has since changed my entire life. With the grace of God, and the incredible cardiology team at Memorial Hospital West, the procedure was a success. Afterward, began the recovery. I spent the next several months following the instructions of my cardiologist, as well as seeing a new PCP (primary care physician). I adjusted to my new standards of living, being that I was a very active athletic individual. But now restrained to "take it easy".

I was grateful to be alive and willing to do whatever it took to regain the strength in my heart again. But the physical aspect of my recovery, though difficult at many times, didn't come close to the mental battle I was unaware and unprepared to face. My first anxiety attack came at full force and out of nowhere in September of 2021. The "trigger" of chest pain brought on the horrendous feeling of reliving that traumatic night when I had the procedure done. It brutally reminded me of all the pain and uncertainty that I experienced the night prior to my hospitalization. I did not know that it was anxiety. I believed it was happening all over again and took myself to the emergency room, only to be told that my heart is physically okay. I felt confused and frustrated, believing the physical ramifications to be real at the moment. And that's when I was told it was an anxiety attack.

I sought out therapy and was immediately diagnosed with PTSD and an anxiety disorder. It took an adjustment period for my mind and body to find a sense of balance as I began to dig deep into the psychosis of what had happened to me. The therapist, walked me through everything that my mind had subconsciously blocked, allowing me to acknowledge the suffering and trauma I went through, and unknowingly tried to forget. I also sought out a psychiatrist who helped me find the right medication that gave me what is called a parachute effect, in case the attacks ever got really hard.

It's been over a year now, and though I have days and nights where the anxiety and stress levels raise my blood pressure, giving me a racing heart, sweaty palms, the sense of impending doom, I continue to work through it, using mechanisms that have helped me during the "storms". Breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, walking, conversations with others who share in this ongoing battle, homeopathic medicines, lavender oils, teas, staying hydrated, eating healthy—the list goes on.

I submitted my story to ADAA because I felt alone and isolated when I started experiencing anxiety. But by vocalizing and working with a community I am in a much better place and want others to know they’re not alone either. YOU are not ALONE. Remember, the attacks are a storm, and storms will pass, and the sun will come out, and the peace of mind, body, and soul will return to you. You will get through it. Don't give up. Never give up. Your life is a beautiful thing to experience. Find YOUR way and experience it the way God intended, with happiness, love, joy, and contentment. So, if you take anything from this, take away the feeling of loneliness. There are many people who deal with anxiety and panic attacks and high-level stress. They're all around you. People that you didn't even expect would have it. Focus on your path and go live your best life. Anxiety is not a disease battle, it's an emotional battle. And you can take charge of it.

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