UnderstandUs

My Turning Point: Hayley Cattell

My name is Hayley Cattell. You may have heard my name before, or seen me around town. What I am most commonly known for is a bubbly personality, always being on the go, and being annoyingly optimistic. I’m always a call away for any one in need, always down for a night on the town, and love to give hugs to anyone who may be feeling the blues. I’ve always been very open and honest with my battle with anxiety and depression, but what I really don’t speak about is my Panic Disorder. The following is an account of a major turning point in my life. Ever since September 23rd, 2008, I have had numerous panic attacks, all from which stem from very different triggers. Some days, I will panic over a work or school assignment. Some days, I will panic if I can’t remember if I turned my stove off or not. But most days, I just wake up in my sleep, unable to breathe.

The following is my own account of a very traumatic experience I went through in my Grade 12 year. This is from my perspective, and I have chosen to conceal the names of those involved. Everyone experiences it differently. Here’s my story:

The turning point in my life that I am about to introduce does not come with a very happy ending. It is a haunting memory, and is something I live with everyday. Through the pain, it has made me who I am today. It has had an effect on every aspect of my life, from holding relationships, to my involvement in sport and in my current employment. As I write this, I can’t exactly commit to stating that on September 23rd, 2008, my life changed for the worse. What I can say is, on that September day, I learned a new side of me.

I attended Luther College High School here in Regina. Each day, our entire student body and staff would gather in our beloved gymnasium for a Chapel service at 10:00am. This wasn’t exactly a daily prayer, but more so a chance to come together and here the daily announcements as our school did not have an intercom system. It was my Grade 12 year, and I couldn’t be more excited. My best friend and I had just finished class and were wandered into Chapel. I had suggested we sit front and centre in the first row. She convinced otherwise, and we sat a few seats up.

Our school Pastor walked to the centre of the gym where a podium and a microphone had been set up. I am still not entirely sure what the regular plan was for this Chapel, but honestly, I never want to find out. Our Pastor began greeting the students, and then the room went silent. Gasps were heard from teachers who were across from the gym, and I became very confused. Why was the Pastor not speaking anymore?

Standing behind our Pastor, with a gun in his hand, was a former student from my grade. He had been expelled over the summer before our grade 12 year began. He approached our school Pastor, held up his gun, handed him a letter and said “Read.”

Immediately, my friend and I dove across the bleachers so we could hide. I grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911. Students in the row in front of us leaned back so they could cover me, as I feared that the gunman would see me on my phone. To this day, I can’t recall any of that conversation. All I know is it lasted 43 minutes.

For the first time in my life, a fiery sensation began to spread across my chest. My breath grew short, and my legs went numb. This was my first panic attack. The weight of the bodies laying on top of me caused a crushing sensation in my ribs, even though they were barely applying pressure. My bones felt like glass, my skin was sensitive, and it felt like I was breathing through a straw. I vividly remember thinking that I was going to die that day, either by bullet or by lack of oxygen. It was the darkest moment of my life. Eventually, thanks to the bravery of the staff at Luther College and the efforts of our city police, we were freed. No one was hurt. We were instructed to run, but I couldn’t quite move my legs. Standing up made me very dizzy, but with the help of my friends, I found my footing.

Our school had been barricaded off, and cops and media trucks were everywhere. I was pulled into an ambulance. I was assessed, and told that I was experiencing a panic attack. I told them that I thought that someone was maybe sitting on my chest for too long and that I had hurt my ribs, but they insisted it was my nervous system going in to panic. For the remainder of the day, I couldn’t be touched. I couldn’t even be indoors for longer than an hour or two, as I was still struggling to gain control of my breathing.

For the months following, I would wake up every night in my sleep feeling as if I was drowning, and unable to breathe. I couldn’t sit in a movie theatre or busy gym for at least without my body going numb or my heart beginning to race for a few years. Even to this day, I have at least one panic attack per month. Some are on a smaller in scale, as many years of self-care and therapy have helped me regain my confidence of being in public again. I thought that this might just be PTSD, but I have been panicking for a decade.

This was a major turning point in my life, because it marks the first day of my lifelong battle with mental health. Speaking with a therapist recently, he believes that it is the uncertainty of life that I subconsciously can’t grasp, and that sets me in to panic. I know I am a person who loves to have control or organization over any aspect of my life, so not having that control really can set me off. This has had a very damaging effect on many of my relationships. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a partner or a friend tell me to just “Calm down!” like its nothing, but it’s just not something I am capable of doing at a normal pace. And that, I am okay with.

Though it has been over a decade and I still feel the repercussions of September 23rd,, this turning point did not lead me into a bad place. It has taught me more about myself and the importance of mental health and wellness than any other event in my life. Because of my panic attacks, I have had to retire from a sport that I love. I’ve had to leave relationships that I invested many years in. But at the end of the day, these are choices I make for ME. I have had to make myself a priority, and I will not let these attacks stop me from being my absolute best. My Panic Disorder taught me that I am human, and that I can be incredibly strong, even in my darkest hours.