Saturday, December 29: The day a mega panic attack taught me an important lesson.

I’m one of those people you see walking around the hospital in normal work clothes instead of scrubs. If you saw me, you might be curious about what I actually do. I know I would.

Well, I work for a number of nonprofit hospitals as a full time grant writer and development associate, which means I help raise charitable funds. I research and apply for grants to support healthcare initiatives at our hospitals and clinics, and I do donor database work, too. My team and I work behind the scenes raising money for programs that impact our patients every day. It’s not exciting work, but it’s important. A few fundraisers peppered throughout the year keep us hopping during spring, summer, and fall, and winter is reserved for planning, writing, and working the backlogs. Like any full-time job, mine has high and low points, stressful days, and lulls. My job is not perfect, but it is a good job.

As far as employers go, my company is one of the good ones, with competitive benefits and pay and employee incentive programs. I have access to a variety of employee benefits including paid time off, FMLA leave, life insurance, 401K, 403B, and short and long-term disability options. My supervisors are fair and considerate of my needs as an employee and as the mother of two growing kids. If I have to leave work to pick up a sick kid, no one gives me a hard time.

As a company, we’re not perfect, but in a world where multinational CEOs hand down life-changing decisions without a second thought for their subordinates, my coworkers and I have a lot to be grateful for. I believe in the value of my company’s mission and values and deal with no internal ethical or moral conflicts as I carry out my day-to-day functions. That’s more than I can say for other jobs I’ve had.

I have my own office with two giant monitors and a stand-up desk. I’ve replaced all of our “canned” framed photography with pieces from my own collection, and it makes me happy to be surrounded by colorful art. I can do a good portion of my work while listening to audio books and podcasts. If I have to go somewhere eight hours a day and get paid for it, I guess this is as good as it gets.

Toward the end of the year, I was feeling a little bit down and out. I was doing tedious, repetitive work, and finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. I’ve been doing this job for almost three years, and at the end of each year, I get the distinct feeling that I’m about to embark upon the exact same set of tasks that I just completed the year before, because… well… I am. It’s a cycle. Just before the holidays, I felt like I was in a rut. I was beginning to feel malaise about the seemingly endless drudgery of coming to work, doing my job, and going home. It just is what it is.

But on the last Saturday of 2018, I got an incredible gift: a massive, hours-long panic attack that scared me to death.

Yes. You read that right. My massive panic attack was a gift. Here’s why:

My parents had come to visit for the second week of December and stayed in our spare room. When they left, my brother came to visit. When he left, my kids were still out of school for several more days and I had to take one or the other to the office with me. (Yes, we are also allowed to bring our children to work with us, providing they are not disruptive.)

At the end of third week, I had to take my children to the eye doctor, a place I hate. I was tired and grouchy and hadn’t had a cup of coffee and their appointments were at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, December 29th. First, I drove to the wrong location. Then, arriving at the right location, I was digging in my purse for my ID and knocked over my Tervis tumbler full of water on the lobby floor. When both kids were through with their eye exams and were trying on $800 frames at opposite ends of the store, panic began to rear its ugly head. By the time I got the damage estimate and headed home to make them a late breakfast, I was in a full out panic attack. My ribs felt piano-wire tight, my head was swimming, and I was on the verge of tears while trying to eat my plate of fried eggs.

Mr. Fussypants came home from the hardware store about the same time as I was downing my prescription anxiety medication. I asked him to keep the kids quiet as I headed upstairs to lie down in our dark bedroom. Instead of subsiding, this panic attack lasted so long I was beginning to wonder if I needed to go to the emergency room. This had never happened to me before. I was scared. It took a nap and six hours of deep breathing for it to go away, but I still felt weird until I had a good night’s sleep. The next day, I woke up, sent the kids off to their dad’s house, and spent the day reading and painting. For the most part, Mr. Fussypants left me alone. He knew I needed some down time.

In time, I realized what had happened. The excitement of the holidays, time off spent with family and friends, a busy December with several grant deadlines and a database transition had caught up with me. I hadn’t had an hour alone in three weeks, and when I went to work, the kids were with me. I was simply overwhelmed.

You see, when I’m at work, I’m not thinking about who left their socks in the foyer or whose turn it is to clean the guinea pig cages. I’m not being asked what’s for dinner or yelling at someone for roughhousing in the kitchen. I don’t have to empty the dishwasher or run a roll of toilet paper to someone in the bathroom. No one is chewing with their mouths open or yelling that it’s their turn on the XBOX. I don’t have a parrot on my shoulder nipping at my piercings or screaming because I’m not giving him attention. No one expects me to serve three full meals per day, figure out why a DVD isn’t playing, or help them find their screwdriver for the 58th time. At work, I do have stress, but it’s of a completely different variety.

Saturday, December 29th, 2018 was a turning point for me — it was the day I stopped thinking of monotony and routine at work as a bad thing. It was the day I understood that my job makes me appreciate my time at home with my family, pets, hobbies, and yes, even housework — by giving me time away from them. It’s the whole absence makes the heart grow fonder idea, in a nutshell.

My job provides me with the balance I desperately need to decompress from my frenetic home life. It gives me eight full hours five days a week to be around quiet, relatively normal adults who work in their dedicated spaces and for the most part, leave each other alone. It is a place where the loudest sound I hear all day is the copier rumbling outside my office door. My job gives me a sense of control over one tiny aspect of my life when I feel overwhelmed by the rest of it.

Thank you, mega panic attack, for putting things into perspective.

Esther Hofknecht Curtis, MSM-HCA is an independent writer and artist living in Dover, Delaware. Follow her on Facebook at



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