When anxiety strikes
December 17, 2019
*Trigger warning* – If reading about anxiety/panic in detail is triggering for you, then be sure to read this with a trusted friend or loved one. Also, if ‘colorful adjectives’ are offensive to you, then don’t read it. It has plenty of four letter words…because its honest.
Beautiful autumn afternoon. Crisp blue sky. Everything is flowing nicely. Not a complaint in the world. It’s one of those days. Love. It.
I’m sitting at a cafe in the city center and writing an article. I stop because I suddenly feel the need to take a deep breath. My chest feels a bit tight but nothing too bad. I think, “Okay, that’s weird. Anyhow, moving on.” Less than 30 seconds pass before I have to again stop typing and take a breath. The breath was so deep that I’m pretty sure everyone heard me exhale, with a nervous sigh at the end. This time it’s a bit different. All of a sudden my heart is racing but I keep trying to stay focused and ‘normal’ and just tell myself again, “Okay, this is odd. No worries. All good.” But it’s not all good. Despite my sincere attempt at convincing myself, it isn’t working. By the time I grudgingly admit this obvious fact, I’m already heading down the rabbit hole into Alice’s weird world of anxiety. And that’s when the questioning begins: “is this really anxiety? Maybe I’m having a heart attack or stroke or something major?
By this point, it’s becoming difficult to swallow, I can feel my heart pounding so fast and with such force it’s about to burst through my chest, my hands are drenched and I feel like the rest of me is sweaty, but I also feel cold at the same time. Lump in my throat. Cotton mouth. Dizziness. Rubbing my eyes a little too hard for a touch of perspective. Taking deep breaths to slow my heart rate. Not working. More dizziness and tunnel vision. Crossing my left leg. Crossing my right leg. Total inability to sit still. Then, total inability to move my body because I’m afraid. Scared. And now the nausea. Just. Fucking. Great.
Still tumbling down the rabbit hole when…..the thoughts and bargaining begin. “I have to go to the bathroom. I’m going to be sick, from both ends but I can’t move. Actually, I can move but I’m too fucking scared. I don’t know what’ll happen if I move from this position. I think I’m going to throw up. Please don’t let me piss or shit myself. I think this is more than anxiety, something’s not right with my heart and my fucking thoughts will not stop for one second! Shit, I’m going to cry. Or maybe I need to scream because I feel like I’m about to rip out of my skin. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I honestly can’t tell the difference right now. God, I can’t move. Am I having a heart attack? I’m too young for that. Maybe it is a heart attack. Am I about to pass out? Maybe I should tell someone just in case. No, maybe this is just anxiety. just panic. It’ll pass. No way I’m crying wolf if it’s just that. For fuck’s sake, catch a deep breath. I gotta get up and move, like, now! Just get some air outside. Walk around a bit. No. Stop walking. It’s making it worse. Just squat down and try to get that deep breath. You look like a crazy person, stand the hell up. People are starting to stare. Oh god, I’m shaking everywhere. What the hell is wrong with me? I’m going to call 911.”
Then all of a sudden I think, “That’s weird, I just caught a deep breath. And another one. Okay. I’m not cold or jittery anymore. I’m exhausted but it’s not dizziness. Alright, I think I can walk around a bit. Yeah, I don’t think this is a heart issue. That’s good. Wait, is it good, though? Because that means, once again, I just flipped out in panic mode. I don’t know how many more of these I can take. I’m reaching the end of my wits. It just comes out of nowhere and my beautiful crisp blue sky autumn day turned black, and now it’s just a dreary gray. I’m at my rope’s end with this shit.”
From what I can remember, that’s how it was for me on that specific day, and that entire dread lasted about 1 minute and 45 seconds. Might as well have been a month because just the fear of a possible next attack kept me from straying far from my home for weeks.
Alright everybody, here’s the good news: with the right help, and of course perseverance, you can get your anxiety attacks (panic attacks) under control. I know that for many of you that last sentence sounds ridiculous. I get it, I really do. I never believed that I’d be able to get mine under control, and too many times in my life I have turned left instead of right, looking for that control in the wrong places (i.e. six years of alcoholism…a left turn if I ever took one). All I can do is offer you my personal advice based off of my own experiences.
First, if/when an anxiety attack strikes, do not fight it. In my personal experience, it’s the worst thing you can do. Let it happen. I know this may sound strange but try to calm yourself enough so you can ‘talk’ to your anxiety. Instead of thinking of it and treating it as something abstract that’s happening to you, make it more personal. Say, “Okay, you again. I remember. I’m not really sure why you’re here but I know ignoring you won’t help. So, go ahead and do your thing. I’ll give you a few minutes but that’s it. I’ve got a busy day and I really don’t have much time for your nonsense.” In other words, think of anxiety as an annoying person you personally know, who occasionally swings by to bother you. You can’t get rid of him immediately but if you let him talk for a few minutes, no matter how annoying, he’ll eventually finish and move on. Once I learned how to visualize my anxiety and treat it just like an annoying person, it all got easier from there.
Second, always remind yourself that what you are feeling is temporary – it will pass – and no matter how scary it can be you are not going to die. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. It’s just a nasty but temporary physical and mental feeling. Say, “I know what this is. I’m not going to die. Basically what’s happening is that way too many neurons are firing at once and that’s why I’m feeling this way.” Once again, speak to it. Tell it, “Look, you’re a real pain in my ass but I know you can’t hurt me. So get on with your thing so I can get on with mine.”
Third, talk about it! Do not hide these things as if it’s something to be ashamed of. There is absolutely no shame – zero – in struggling with anxiety. Be open about it with everyone you feel comfortable speaking to. You may be surprised at just how common anxiety is or you may be surprised to hear how, whomever you’re speaking with, has also experienced it. Talking helps, and I mean it helps a lot. Possibly more than anything else. Why? Because you turn it into what it really is: a normal physical and emotional occurrence that’s just part of life, rather than this ‘foreign thing’ that happens to you and makes you feel ‘weak’, ‘shameful’, or ‘weird’.
Lastly, always, always speak with a licensed mental health professional. I recommend – at least at the beginning – both psychiatrist and psychologist because you may need medication for ‘x’ amount of time. As for medication – and this is important – never, ever, ever get advice from anyone unless he/she is a medical doctor. Even your psychologist will tell you to speak with your doctor about medication because psychologists are not medical doctors. I don’t care what website you’re looking at or how reputable it may be – there is no substitute for real medical face-to-face advice from a doctor, following a conversation and most likely bloodwork.
As I’ve tried to express in other blog entries, I really do know how you feel. You have my sympathies because i know how difficult the struggle can be. I can only tell you, from my personal experience, that it does get better. Just be sure to talk about it! Make it a normal topic to discuss…because it really is that common.
As always, sending lots of positive energy,