Thank you very much Sokolov91 for starting this thread. Reading the posts and especially looking at the date of the thread start, I feel its essential that I share my story as well.
(I know its a long read, but its worth it)
Who I am
I am currently 20 year old (at the time of my worst anxiety I was turning 19, round April 2011). The first time I experienced anxiety was back in the summer of 2010 when I had stress related to going to college abroad (Switzerland). These episodes were rather short and I didn't have any panic attacks. I didnt take any medicine largely because there was no need, but I also hate medicine. There was a serious misunderstanding regarding the visa application, and I was afraid from not being able to go to college. I was really looking forward to, one of the main reasons being the fact that I will leave my parents who I cannot live with (lots of family tension, otherwise very normal relations). Another reason is that I have always wanted absolute freedom and being independent. I was also running away from the environment i grew up in (I come from Macedonia), I just never liked it even though I have lots of good friends.
What started my anxiety
I went to study BBA in a rather prestigeous hospitality management college in Switzerland and I loved the change. Anxiety started to appear for the second time during my second semester (which was an internship in Geneva). My dad (a multiple business owner, including hotels and some other stuff) was being seriously affected by the financial crisis and I felt very guilty because he was spending A LOT of money for my education, which quite frankly I was no longer sure I wanted to do (largely because of my terrible internship). Even though we were rather well situated at the time, my family never throws money around, we are rather appreciative of what we have.
Guilt, combined with impatience (a personal trait), some recent failures in my private life, pressure from many sides, and generally dissatisfied from how my life is going I started becoming very anxious. I could not sleep for a whole week before I was given sickness leave and got some rest. I was off for 3-4 days and eventually I returned to work. Less than 2 days after that (mostly from working too much) anxiety returned.
First panic attack
One night, I went to sleep thinking about all the problems I had and I just couldn't leave them for a second. It was around 4 am. As things were getting very intense I started having nausea and my heart rate suddenly started rising like INSANE. This was my first and scariest panic attack ive ever had (i had maybe 10 or so). I used to play water polo back in Macedonia like 5-6 years (pretty experienced), and I know what a fast pulse is. This was different. I was starting to feel the typical sense certain death impending (which was subconscious). On the conscious side, I estimated my heart rate to be close to 200... which scared the living daylights out of me, contributing to INSANE PANIC. The chest pain was beyond anything I have ever expeienced. I immediately associated the symptoms with a heart attack. I was already thinking about the things that I wanted to achieve in my life, and how its shameful to die like this. As my heart rate was still rising I could no longer stand up and fell on my bed. (My roommate was already calling ambulance, and I think he was even more scared than I was) I was calling my parents to tell them im dying, and naturally they went INSANE (4 am in their time as well).
5 minutes into the panic attack, (on my mom's advice) I started to breathe slower and started to calm down a bit... As my heart rate slowly went down, my numb extremities started getting cold. I started shivering so bad, I was about to cover myself with the mattress. Eventually the ambulance came in probably less than 5-6 minutes and by the time they were here, I had already felt much better, and was even happy and smiling that I realized im gonna be fine. My friend from Macedonia who lives in Geneva also came right after the ambulance, and later he came to the hospital.
How I dealt with anxiety
I was suffering from this condition for maybe 2 continuous months, before my internship ended. It was terrible. I am a very active person and anxiety completely killed my stamina, my creativity and my will to live. One thing with anxiety is that it completely destroys and narrows down your awareness. I was really depressed at times but I wouldn't say it was severe. Once in a while I would get out of this vicious circle and realize that its just a mental state and that is what helped me the most. I had gone home on a vacation when I decided to see a psychologist for some counselling (she deals a lot with adolescents, and commonly students from abroad). A very open minded lady that knew how to talk to me and how to confront me with my fears, problems and issues.
One very important thing to state here. I took no medicine whatsoever! I was not even asked to take or prescribed. When I asked the psychologist if I should (knowing that I would refuse anyway), she replied in a rather cocky way: "are you insane?"
Personally I am no doctor or psychologist or anything, I just have some general knowledge in psychology (it is currently one of my subjects). Why on earth would you as a doctor prescribe drug to someone like that... when you are perfectly aware that it can be treated without. Drugs are not double-edged swords as everyone thinks. They dont treat anything, they just ease the symptoms and meanwhile cause great damage. I did a lot of tests to determine the state of my health and to rule out other factors. The results suggested that I am very healthy.
I have noticed for example that public healthcare doctors in certain countries usually dont care what they prescribe, they just wanna go: "ok take this for 2 months and come back.. NEXT PATIENT!". This was the case in Abu Dhabi, UAE (i was there 3 months) I refused to even talk to people like this. I am sure its like this in the US as well.
I managed to deal with anxiety mostly with meditation. This thing sorted out my patience, made me stronger and expanded my awareness to great levels. I also did something else, but we shall not talk bout it, even though it was a major factor.
Meditation is something we all do on daily basis, but we are not necessarily aware of. It is basically entering a certain mental state of relaxation, calmness and balance. I was totally opposing my mothers idea of eastern philosophy until my Buddhist friend from college made me try it. Despite being amazingly simple (even though it seems far fetched for some people), not everyone manages to enter a meditative state in the first time they try it. I did. I remember crying in the middle of the session because I have never felt so relaxed in my life. It was that strong and I decided to do it on regular basis.
Once you start, you immediately start understanding the concept of energies and energy sources in your body. These things really exist and have a dramatic effect on ones psyche and overall health.