I Thought I Was Having a Bad Panic Attack: Britney’s Story

I Thought I Was Having a Bad Panic Attack: Britney’s Story

I had been feeling like I was “dying” since around February 2016. I felt hopeless and constantly tired. My heart would skip beats, and exercising made me dizzy. I attributed most of my symptoms to anxiety and depression. And I was also in a very intense graduate program that caused me lots of extra stress.  

I went to the mental health clinic on campus, and they diagnosed me with a major depressive episode. I was prescribed Prozac and talk therapy. Despite the medication and therapy, I continued to feel horrible.  

One day, I went to the health clinic on campus due to shortness of breath, and they told me it was just a sinus infection. However, when I blew into the spirometer, I couldn’t elevate the device. The nurse said that was odd, but nothing came of it. I continued in my program, barely scraping by, constantly calling my mother telling her I felt like I was dying and I couldn’t go on like this.  

On the morning of May 17, 2016, I became extremely dizzy while walking to class. I saw black dots and felt fluttering in my heart. I thought that I must be having a bad panic attack. I tried the breathing techniques my therapist taught me, but I still did not feel normal. I broke down crying and texted my mom, who is a nurse. I told her I felt like I had an elephant on my chest. She told me I needed to go to the ER.  

At the ER they said my vitals were fine, but they would check me out to be safe. After waiting many hours, they finally ran a d-dimer which came back elevated. A CT of my lungs confirmed blood clots, or pulmonary emboli (PE). 

In terms of risk factors, I had started taking a hormonal contraceptive a few months earlier. I do not have an identified clotting disorder.  

Following my diagnosis, I had to learn how to handle the anxiety and fear of a potential recurrence. I also need blood thinners during and after pregnancies, for long trips, or following surgeries. I have had two successful pregnancies thanks to blood thinners and am grateful to be alive today.  

My advice for others is to be patient with yourself throughout your recovery. I hope my story leads someone who feels “off” to get checked out. Believe in your gut feeling. You know your body best, and it just may save your life! 


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