Tony Stark has a suit of armor and, well, guts (or another word) of steel.
Who else could keep their cool while delivering a nuclear warhead into a wormhole to prevent an alien invasion?
But the planet-saving battle in "The Avengers" had unintended consequences, namely the deterioration of Stark’s mental health.
In “Iron Man 3,” he returns to his West Coast home and doesn’t sleep for days. He has panic attacks when people bring up past events and even has a panic attack while driving with no obvious trigger.
Stark may be rare as a superhero but his mental health issues are common. It may be even more fitting that "Iron Man 3" was released during May - Mental Health Awareness Month.
Mental health issues affect more than one in four Americans. Today, more people die from suicide than traffic accidents and homicides, and we lose 25 soldiers for every soldier lost in combat, according to Emergence Health Network in El Paso.
Stark chose to deal with his panic attacks without the use of prescription medication but did appear to seek therapy. (Read a psychology professor's analysis of Iron Man/Tony Stark and his panic attacks at http://bit.ly/116kfdp)
Watching Stark deal with his anxiety and panic attacks hit close to home. I had my first panic attack almost 10 years ago after a concert in Houston. I was in the hotel room when I jumped out of bed. It felt like my heart was beating so fast and erratically – like it was going to burst from my chest.
Pacing the room, I tried to catch my breath – convinced it was a heart attack. It felt way longer than the few minutes it actually lasted.
Over the next eight years or so the panic attacks became more frequent – going from one every few months to a couple a month to even several in one day.
Much like Stark, the worst usually happened while driving. I once spent two hours at a gas station 10 miles outside of Tucson dealing with a panic attack that crippled me during a road trip.
Stark talked to a new friend on the phone while he had a panic attack- looking for a little comfort and perhaps even distraction - another situation I was all too familiar with.
There was one panic attack in early 2011 that lasted several hours even though it wasn’t one of the stronger ones. I remember how it all started with my eyes twitching, as they had been for a few months. But then in the afternoon my right palm began to twitch uncontrollably.
I went home and it twitched more and my face felt warm. Things just spiraled from there. With no sleep that night I finally went to see a doctor about getting anti-anxiety pills.
They seemed to help, but I did have to work from home for a few days because I developed agoraphobia—a fear of public spaces.
I’d have good days and bad days. I started to see a psychiatrist who recommended going on an anti-depressant because he thought depression was an underlying cause of the anxiety and panic attacks.
Improvement didn’t come easy or overnight.
I’d go to concerts, one of my favorite activities, and end up having to leave early because of a panic attack. In my mind the crowd was too large and the venue too packed that I had racing thoughts that something bad would happen or I’d get trapped.
I’d recognize they were irrational thoughts but couldn’t stop them.
Slowly, I’d make progress.
Earlier this month I was in the pit for The Killers concert at the Abraham Chavez Theatre. We felt like sardines in a crushed tin box and the pounding of the bass and drums of the opening band was relentless.
I seriously considered leaving before The Killers set. Then I closed my eyes and took deep breaths, repeatedly telling myself that there was nothing to fear or be anxious about.
Not only was I able to stay, but I thoroughly enjoyed one of the best shows I’ve ever attended.
There were times when the panic attacks were at their worst and I didn’t see any hope of ever improving. I even thought about ending it all.
Now, when I feel those butterflies that signal the start of my anxiousness, I challenge myself to stay calm and focused, whether it be appearing on TV or returning to a stage to be a part of a band again.