I had a panic attack at King’s Island yesterday. You wouldn’t have known that because I smile well and take great pictures. I’ve had them for over a year now. Over that year, there were moments where I did not want to be here any longer. I need to tell you about it.
I had just sat down. I was holding two overpriced chicken finger baskets, a diet Coke with no lid and no straw, and an apple juice, all while pulling Garland in the wagon behind me.
It wasn’t like it just came on. I knew it was going to happen. I felt the dread in the morning. I knew what kind of day it was probably going to be. I’m on edge, I’m sad, and I’m irritated. I’m mad that I’m on edge, sad, and irritated.
King’s Island is like a mini-Disneyworld, with mumbling teenage ticket takers and strollers and fanny pack wearing mom’s slathering children in sunscreen while sounds of loud and soft and screams fill the background. It’s sensory overload on Mountain Dew and espresso. But on a normal day where I am calm, when I don’t feel the panic or anxiety of life as it hits me in waves, I would have been ok. I wouldn’t have minded all the smells and sounds and people and strollers and so many teenagers. I actually would have enjoyed the people watching. But on a day where all I wanted to do was enjoy my children’s first amusement park experience, I was shutting down.
I sat the overpriced chicken finger baskets down. I placed Garland on my lap, began to cut her chicken into pieces, and then I felt the walls cave in. My vision turned into the tunnel. The dread appeared. That’s all I can say about a panic attack. Dread. Endless dread. Your chest feels bear-hugged. Your breath starts to go faster to take in more air, yet none comes as fast as you want it to.
My head was down. I gripped my daughter. The tears and tears and more tears came. You want to run but you don’t know where. You want to find a quiet room but there are none. You are just helpless in your own body.
The recovery time is longer. So for the rest of the few hours spent there my husband became the single parent. He rode the rides. He stood in the lines. He smiled and laughed and took pictures. He found the joy where I could not. He saw my brave boy where I could not, while I just maintained. I found my breath again. I left my tunnel. The dread subsided–not enough to bring back the clarity of joy, but just enough to allow me to function.
Today? I am just fine. That is the tricky and absolutely heartless evil of panic. It comes and then it goes.
I told my husband that other day that I don’t think I have stopped since 2015. We sold a house. We bought a house. I found my sobriety.
I need to shout that one again. I found my sobriety!
We trained and received our Indiana foster care license. We brought our first child in our home eleven months into our marriage–a child who counted us as his seventh home and he had not even entered a full year of Kindergarten. Then a baby (our Isaiah) and then a three-year-old sweet little girl. All in that time I continued trying to maintain my full-time special education teaching jobs–moving down to part time teaching positions and then getting pregnant one month after filing for adoption. PLOT TWIST.
The pregnancy and the day of her birth was the day I almost died. This was the day where seven bags of blood saved my life. Seven months after came Adoption–the day Isaiah finally became my “true on paper you can’t take this child away from me if you tried” son.
All the while I was breastfeeding, pumping, then exclusively pumping, raising a child with unique needs that appear on a daily basis, parenting a toddler, teaching, potty training, and keeping a baby alive. I was also learning the newness of parenting a child of color as a white mother. This in itself is, and will continue to be, one of the greatest honors and challenges of my life.
Then came the maternity leaves, child care leaves, and foster care leaves. I was loving and teaching and fighting and learning about children that were not my own, yet were my own. I was packing their belongings and moving them to new families. I was saying goodbye and starting again. I was navigating social workers, biological parents, therapists, and schedules. I was a foster parent. I was giving it all I had. I was attaching and attaching hard. I loved just as hard as I cried saying goodbye.
I found the strength after months to actively work on a marriage that had become a backdrop to the stage our family was performing on. I did this all while trying to save myself. While teaching special needs preschool. I was giving it all to a room full of students with needs of their own who were ages 3 and 4. When I would come home to my own children who needed me, I wasn’t really there. I was not there.
I filled my life with new jobs, new children, new experiences. I became an expert at saying hello and also saying goodbye.
I made (and I make) daily and sometimes moment by moment choices to live without the lies that the end of a wine bottle had teased me with for years. I loved, left, worked, learned, quit, started, and it was new.
I would cry in the shower, or run from the room to weep on the stairs for just a minute and then return as if nothing had occurred. I would hold myself up by the kitchen counter, close my eyes, moan in deep tones, and suffer through panic attacks while my toddlers watched helplessly. My three-year-old has learned how to place his hand on my back and tell me that everything will be ok. My sweet boy.
And so for the first time in a long time I will not be getting a room ready. I will not be attending a teacher assembly. I will not be wearing a badge with the school year on it. I will not be spending insane amounts of money on classroom supplies, reading IEPs, or scheduling conferences. I am staying home. I don’t know what that means or what that looks like but at this moment, I am not employed. I am a stay at home something.
I am stepping away from the classroom and into the fear of the unknown–of what it may look to just fully divulge myself into the hard, the heavy, and the newness of being of mom of two young children who desperately need their mom. I am walking with all the strength I have into the newness and awareness of who I actually am now because I don’t know if I really know her. I don’t know her at all.
I don’t have it all figured out. It’s perfectly fine that I have anxiety. It’s completely acceptable to see a therapist. It is absolutely the right thing to have a psychiatrist who manages those medications to make sure your body is getting what it needs.
None of this takes away my ability to be a leader, a helper, a teacher, a parent, a speaker, a writer, a Christian, or a decision maker. It just means I have to try a bit harder to choose joy when my brain is telling me there is none. I have to try harder to love myself, even though I have multiple degrees, job offers, a beautiful home, and healthy children. It just means I have to do things a bit differently.
It means I need to be honest so maybe you can be honest too, so you can understand that I haven’t been lying to you but just not showing you the whole truth.
Yes, I had a panic attack at King’s Island and I may have another one. I don’t know. But I do know that I will seek joy. I will search for it on my hands and knees if I have to. I will not let dread and panic and fear take the joy that is rightfully mine.
I will pray. I will take my medication. I will wake up daily and choose to enjoy my children. I will give all I can to my marriage. I will laugh. I will create. I will sing. I will desperately sing because that is where I feel close to God. I will find the joy that is rightfully mine.
And I will not be ashamed of any of it.
Katy Gentry McCord is a professional vocalist and EMC actor as well as a licensed special education teacher. She has spent the last two years performing her own cabaret show JUDY GARLAND LIVE with Magic Thread Cabaret breaking box office records at The Cat and most recently entertaining holiday audiences at The District Theatre in her encore performance in the Indianapolis, IN area. Other credits include Actors Theatre of Indiana, Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Circa ‘21 Theatre, and Fireside Dinner Theatre. She was also a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall in 2012. Katy is a studio vocalist for Hal Leonard Publishing, Broadway Jr., Plank Road Publishing, and Music Theatre International. Katy holds a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Ball State University and her Bachelor’s and graduate certificate in Christian and Elementary Education. After teaching special education for seven years, Katy recently came to the realization that she could not do everything and is taking a leave from teaching to be home to her two children. She is a certified foster parent. Katy would like to thank her marriage therapist, her psychiatrist, her husband, Jesus, and coffee for all their support.