The days following my friend’s suicide were a blur. I remember walking to school the day after his death in my pajamas, carrying a teddy bear and a box of tissues. The guidance department at my school set up a room where all those who knew him could come and grieve together. Most of the week following his death was spent in that room. I was understandably upset but my anxiety was still muted, the shock of his death overpowering any other emotion.
The day of his funeral was when things started to change. I remember the night before, on the phone trying to figure out what to wear. I opted for brown instead of black, trying to match myself to my male friend. I rode to the synagogue with a few others from my youth group. The mood was somber, the chatter that usually filled the car missing.
When we arrived at the synagogue, I found my group of friends and we ventured into the sanctuary to get seats. We managed to snag three seats together in the middle of the room before it filled to capacity and overflowed into a second room.
The doors closed. The room quieted. The doors opened and the casket was wheeled in, his parents, brother, and other relatives following behind it.
I sat there observing everything – the grief in my friends’ eyes, the pain on the faces of his relatives, the overwhelming feeling of loss.
As I took it all in, my chest started to feel tight. My stomach was in knots and popping simethicone wasn’t helping settle it. I started to sweat profusely. My leg began twitching. I felt trapped. The need to run was overpowering. Before I knew it, I found myself standing up and running out of the sanctuary.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was dizzy, lightheaded, sweaty. I thought I was going to be sick (even though I’ve never thrown up, a story for another time). I called my mom, sobbing inconsolably. Eventually, she got me to calm down enough to join my peers in the reception room after the service ended.
That was the first major panic attack I remember having. The days, weeks, and months went downhill from there.