Re-Visiting the Scene of a Panic Attack

October 19, 2020

David Jaques


I have suffered from panic attacks. Fortunately, not too often and usually brought about by extreme emotional distress. The physical symptoms of a panic attack that I have experienced are very unpleasant; the sudden rapid heart rate, hyperventilating, difficulty breathing, nausea and breaking out in a sweat. Anyone in such a situation is unlikely to want to remember the feeling of a panic attack or what might have triggered it. But one day last year, I did exactly that, and was glad that I took the deliberate time to do that.

Firstly, let me explain the reason for that particular panic attack. It happened on the afternoon of Friday December 21, 2018 in San Francisco. Although I am not a religious person, I really enjoy Christmas, the atmosphere, the music, the decorations and the general sense of joy that emerges at that time of year. At the end of the last serious workweek of the year, I had met a friend for lunch and was walking back to the train station feeling calm and relaxed, and looking forward to Christmas when I received a phone call regarding a routine business transaction. What evolved over the next few minutes was the realisation that I had been the victim of a malicious cyber-attack in which a criminal act had taken place. In fact, I was not the only victim, but that was not evident in that particular moment.

I immediately started making phone calls to try and understand what had happened and what action needed to be taken, while at the same time being inundated with phone calls, text messages and emails from people that had received a strange email from me with a suspicious attachment. Of course, I had not sent those emails and they were all part of the attack that had taken place. I found myself close to Dolores Park, which is a beautiful spot in the city of San Francisco. Feeling a sense of physical weakness, I sat down on a concrete bench at an entrance to the park, lowered my head towards my knees and on came the full impact of the panic attack. I have no idea how long I sat there, but I did make it to the train station and home. Earlier that morning, one of the last things I expected to do that day was to be reporting a crime to the FBI.

I am generally very good at compartmentalising things, but in the days that followed, it was especially hard to separate the events of that day from what should have been a relaxed, fun and joyous time. I called my doctor who prescribed an anti-anxiety medication which was helpful, together with the loving support of my family.

Over the months that followed, much discussion took place with law enforcement, lawyers and insurance companies. In September 2019, a settlement was reached and I could finally put this matter behind me. A few people asked if I was going to go out and celebrate, but I did not want to have any celebration associated with this event. While the ending of something bad is actually good, I would rather celebrate the achievement of something positive.

About two weeks after the settlement, I was in San Francisco again for a lunch meeting, and although I was in a different part of the city, I consciously chose to return to the scene and remember the events of that cold December afternoon. I re-traced my footsteps, and remembered the exact locations where I spoke to different people. They were vivid memories that felt like they were much more recent than nine months previously. Then I came to that same concrete bench outside Dolores Park. I sat down on the bench and that time I did not have a panic attack, in fact I felt totally in control and calm. I was aware of people out walking their dogs, parents taking their young children to the park to play, other people out for an afternoon run, riding a bike, or gathering at the coffee shop on the other side of Dolores Street. Everything felt so normal. Then I realised that on the day from the prior December, there were no people and I was completely alone. Well of course in reality, there were plenty of people, but I did not see them; my senses had shut down, and there was no sight, sound or smell of anything around me. Did anyone see me that day sweating and hyperventilating? I will never know that, and if anyone did, then I was surely soon forgotten. I had blocked everything out, except the panic and anxiety that I was feeling.

The one very relevant thing for me, was that returning to the scene brought a sense of calmness and closure. I can now go back and enjoy Dolores Park without that feeling of anxiety. As much as I wish that the attack and everything that followed had never happened, I learned a lot from that day in December and from re-visiting the scene several months later. I may not be able to prevent another panic attack from happening sometime in the future, and sometimes they happen for no apparent reason. But I do feel that I have become stronger and wiser.

Hi, I’m David. I’m from London, but after living in New York and Amsterdam, I settled in Silicon Valley, California where I’ve lived since 1994. From the relatively safe life of working for a global bank like Barclays, I became fascinated by startup companies, innovation and ways in which the world could be changed for the better. So I opened my mind, became a risk taker and a life-long learner.

As founding CFO of PayPal, Treasurer at Silicon Valley Bank and Director at Blue Run Ventures, I’ve been recognised by the global Fintech community as a pioneer in the payments industry. I have served on the boards of public and private companies as well as a couple of non-profit organisations.

But what about me? Well, I like running, skiing and mountain climbing in my free time; plus, I love to travel and see the world. I have two adult children, a wonderful wife, some cats and a harrier puppy.

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