In my life, I’ve battled depression moreso than anxiety.
But anxiety is still there, lingering lightly. Even when depression isn’t around. Quite honestly, it’s livable. It usually does not hold me back. I assume it’s about the same as your average person’s anxiety level.
Ever so often, though, anxiety comes barreling into my life. Like I’m drifting down a calm river into sudden rapid waters with no way out. Scary. Intense.
Right before I left for California a week and a half ago, I had my first panic attack in years. I had forgotten what those entailed, and I was reminded that people who deal with this shit all the time are in constant battle. There is no snapping out of a panic attack. You must wait it out. And the aftermath is no cakewalk.
What does a panic feel like?
I’ll paint you the picture of mine.
It was the night before my flight. I’m pacing around the apartment cleaning, making last-minute recipes for an account I work for (not Violet Fog), going over my calendar to make sure I have everything I need while I’m out of town. Major multi-tasking going down.
In this moment, I’m thinking about a lot of things. Some random, some profound. But none the less, I’m getting consumed by the thoughts flowing to the forefront. Too much, all at once.
The lighting is terrible. Why even try for this photo?
Is X company going to post the content I created for them?
I just signed a new client, I better do well.
My parents are getting older, they need me more than ever.
Did I just pull something in my back? Oh no. No no no.
What have I done that I’m really proud of lately? I can’t think of anything.
I’m so f*cking lame.
Why do my stories on IG do well but my posts aren’t lately?
You’re a loser. Seriously. You’re a f*cking try hard nerd and people are SICK of you.
Wait– don’t be so hard on yourself.
Maybe not being hard on myself got me into this mess.
Why can’t I get it together?
I want a one-way ticket out of this life.
But I love this life???
You can’t spiral right now. Too much going on.
Have I been there for the people I care about? I’ve been selfish.
You’ve failed yet again to cross everything off your list this week.
You’re too scatter-brained to reach ANY potential you dream of. Give up.
And yet you don’t have time to make excuses! Tick TOCK. Move!!
I go into the bedroom and find Dan on his laptop.
I’m having a hard time breathing, I tell him.
Lay down. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
I’m trying and I can’t do it. Not enough air. My chest feels in a state of alarm.
Sit on the floor with me, he says. Let’s listen to a meditation.
I try to focus my brain but my heart is racing. I’m swallowing deep, my nerves refusing to lighten their grip.
Doesn’t work. Lay back down, he tells me. He’s petting my head and telling me I’ve been so stressed lately, so it’s just now boiling over. It’ll pass. He tells me he has been overly stressed and I’ve been absorbing it. He feels bad.
Eyes closed, I shake my head. It’s not you. But it is also him- I’m someone who absorbs what’s going on with the people I love.
It’s mostly me, I tell him. And I mean that.
How to stop a panic attack
??? I really don’t f*cking know. This isn’t my normal.
I need to leave for the airport in six hours and for the next three, I struggle to fall asleep.
How are you feeling? He keeps asking me. He’s trying so hard to help, and because of his efforts, I feel guilty I still haven’t come out of it.
Hours now, my chest feeling swollen. My stomach in knots. This is awful for my body. Awful for my mind.
I stare up at the ceiling. No sounds, pure darkness, I’m feeling halfway delusional. I’m bouncing around every corner of my brain to check-in. Focus on one thing. But I can’t.
I wake up three hours later. A long nap. Time for the airport.
Dan wakes. Here, drink water. He hugs me tight. You going to be okay?
I feel like a sponge that’s been squeezed out. But yet, a bit more of a grip on reality than a few hours ago. Sleep, even a few hours, is therapeutic.
I decide to be honest. I don’t feel normal. I don’t feel okay. But I’ll be alright. I’ll text you before take off.
I really have no other choice but to go, otherwise I’ll miss my flight.
I get in the Uber and ride silently. My body feels weak. As though it’s trying to rest after being strung out on overwhelmed nerves. Noises and smells are intensified in a way that offsets me. I don’t like it at all.
I get to the airport and check-in, not being my usual, upbeat self. Instead, I keep it to little words. Bare minimum, that’s all I got. I feel guilty about this, normally I try to make those I interact with smile. Not today. Can’t.
I sit and wait for my flight to start boarding. Headphones in. Really all I can do is listen to music right now. I could try to work, but to type right now… even my hands don’t feel right. Like I’m not fully in control yet. Like there are needles in them. Prickling.
That’s my body trying to come back to status quo, I tell myself. Awakening. Nothing more than that.
I get on the plane and thank God, window seat.
I rest my head on a balled-up sweatshirt and pass out the entire flight. Needed. Absolutely needed.
As I walk through the terminal I realize I’m starting to feel more composed. I’m about to see my parents and I want to show up as my best self for them. Best self ain’t happening. But warmth, gratitude, excitement and love… I can do.
I feel a little embarrassed I put Dan through that. Was I dramatic? I just don’t see how I could have been any other way.
That was scary.
I text him- thank you so much for being there for me.
I hadn’t had a panic attack like that for over four years. The last time, I was alone. Many people go through this alone. I put it out into the universe that- hats off to the people who go through this solo. They are damn strong.
Panic attacks don’t make you weak. Anxiety does not make you weak. But man… if it isn’t a hurdle. For some people, this is every day. I’ve always had a theory that people are burdened either with depression or anxiety, sometimes a mix of both, and always with varying degrees- but usually there is one they experience more. For me, it’s depression. So when anxiety hits hard, it’s uncharted waters for me.
I hug my Mom. Hug my Dad. As we wait for my suitcase at baggage I again decide to be honest with my mental state. I tell them I had one hell of a last twelve hours. And one hell of a week leading up to it. My Mom’s loving words that follow are like a dose of medicine. It does not solve my problems, but it’s something that keeps my head above water. I love that woman.
The brunt of a panic attack is significant. Ten days later and I still don’t feel completely at ease. I’m out of the panic state, but my nerves are still firing a few times a day from the aftermath.
Besides seeing family, a reason for that visit was to drive my parent’s old van from California to Texas. They had so sweetly gifted it to us, so Dan had met me in California days later to drive it back with me. Being less than a week after my panic attack, I had many moments during that four day drive where my breathing felt shallow. My chest felt tense. Enough to practice in through the nose, out through the mouth all over again as I tried to reground. A lot of that drive, I just didn’t feel right.
Upon stopping to see some friends along the way, my heart was bursting with love but my brain felt off in many ways. Multiple times I excused myself to (secretly) go splash my face with water. An act I rarely do, but it felt necessary to jolt me back. Thank God I was in the company of people I could relax around.
By the time we got home to Texas, I was sick. Physically sick. Anxiety weakens your immune system. I could have all the herbs and Vitamin C floating in my system (and I do) but if I stress long enough, and anxiety has overflowed– it’s going to be a battle. High-level stress is stronger than any adaptogen or herb or superfood you will ever take. That’s why managing stress is so important. That’s why talking about our mental health and being proactive about it is so important.
Do not put it off.
Today, as I write this, I have a grip. I am reminded of how strong I am. That I can get through anything. My routine is waiting and with belief in myself, I’ll get to spinning on the wheel again.
But damn if that didn’t rock me. Clearly, I have some things to work on.
So shaky and bruised, tattered and torn up, panic attacks or what have you be damned- emerge. Emerge from the rubble and STAND UP. You’re going to get through it.
|| Photo by @EatMyMedia ||