My campaign to persuade the school board to approve the A-G Initiative was reaching its critical phase. I was able to engage the influential Silicon Valley Education Foundation to lead the community outreach effort as resistance to the initiative intensified when the teachers union began a campaign to discredit me.
As the board of supervisors deliberated over the County’s budget, George was maneuvering for parks funds to be used in poor urban areas of his district to the vigorous opposition of suburban parks advocates. The pilot Latino Leadership Alliance Leadership Academy that I helped create was preparing for the weekend at Stanford. A successful retreat could make the academy or an unsuccessful weekend could break it.
The ongoing squabbles with my siblings over our parent’s estate had been escalated to a full-fledged dispute. And promises of a long and negative school board campaign in the fall continued to be heard from my presumptive opponent.
Despite these challenges, I kept pushing myself to the limit bolstered by competitive drive, double lattes, and daily workouts. Sandra and I had been working out together regularly for about eight months with one of my former high school football players named Jerry Brito who was a professional personal trainer.
I met Jerry in the late 1980s when I coached the James Lick High School frosh/sophomore football team. As a high-school player, he was a hard-working and inspirational player who used those attributes to be an excellent trainer. Jerry, 38 years old with the chiseled physique of a much younger man, had encouraged, cajoled, and inspired Sandra and me through intense workouts that challenged us physically and mentally.
Both of us felt great losing weight, toning our muscles, and exercising away the stress of our jobs. Jerry later commented that, while many of his Type A clients came into the gym stressed, he had “never seen someone under so much pressure as you were that week.” On Friday, June 4th, I remembered feeling extreme stress and anxiety during my morning exercise routine. I finished my workout, but the stress and anxiety weren’t relieved.
The symptoms that dogged me were similar to those I had six years earlier when my doctor diagnosed me with anxiety disorder after my mom and sister Patty died in 2003. My skin was warm and clammy, I felt pressure in my throat and upper chest area, my shoulders were heavy and ached with discomfort, and I was having a hard time catching my breath. An anxiety attack and its more intense cousin panic attack are caused, not by physical reactions in the body, rather by psychological issues that trigger the nervous system to prepare for a “fight or flight” situation.
In the case of anxiety, the body releases the same hormones that cause the sensation one feels when scared. As a result, the heart starts beating faster causing the clammy skin, and chest pain, and the chemical imbalance from the hormone release causes the shortness of breath, which leads to heavy shoulders. Anxiety is usually triggered by extreme stress for a prolonged period, a life-changing event, as in the case of my mom and Patty dying during the same year, or both.
During a panic or anxiety attack, none of the symptoms physically harm the body. They cause discomfort and psychological distractions that could hamper a person’s ability to function on even the simplest of tasks. After the diagnosis in 2004, I participated in several one-on-one therapy, group sessions, and classes that provided anxiety sufferers with the tools to manage symptoms.
What I learned was that anxiety symptoms were the same as those of a heart attack, but less severe. The series of group sessions and classes that I took in 2004 taught breathing exercises to restore the body’s chemical imbalance. The program also included mental exercises to clear thoughts that triggered an attack. I had learned the lessons well and hadn’t had an anxiety or panic attack since the dark days following the life changing events of 2003. On Friday, June 4th, I felt as though an anxiety relapse was lurking around the corner.
After the morning workout on June 4th, I spent a little time doing relaxation and breathing exercises before dressing for work. The exercises seemed to work, and I had an uneventful start to the weekend spending time with Sandra, the girls, and larger Peralta family. On Saturday, Sandra, the girls and I lounged around the house, my mind cleared of the of the county and school district budgets, the A-G Initiative, and my parents’ living trust.