Imagine you’re walking home alone, late at night. None of your neighbours’ lights are on, no one seems to be around at all, and it’s just completely dark out. Suddenly, three very large men appear behind you with weapons; a pipe, a knife, maybe a chain. You walk faster, trying to put some distance between you and them; they speed up. You start to slowly job, while they loudly laugh and quicken their pace to match yours. Soon, you’re in an all-out sprint through your neighbourhood, wondering why no one is coming outside to help you. You run, you scream, you call for help, all the while these three are slowly closing the distance between you. Your heart feels like it’s about to burst through your chest, while your lungs can’t seem to take in air fast enough. Your head is spinning, your legs feel like they’re about to give out at any moment, but you keep trying to push yourself forward just a little bit longer. The men chasing you are getting closer and closer, until you can almost feel their breath on the back of your neck. You can feel them reaching for you, touching your hair, laughing at you.
Picture everything your body feels in that exact moment: the fear, the exhaustion, the panic, the almost overwhelming urge to curl up in a ball and cry and vomit and wait for the world to go away while you just pray that nothing bad will happen to you.
Now imagine all of these feelings, this intensity, come to you suddenly while you’re lying in bed on a Monday morning. THAT was my anxiety attack Monday morning.
I misheard something Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend mumbled to himself while he was getting ready for work. He’s a total grumpy asshat first thing in the morning, and tends to say random things that are pissing him off. Neither one of us knows exactly what he was rambling on to himself about, but I thought I heard a few words in there about me. I sat and thought about that for a little while after he left for work, and then the panic set in.
The worst part of it all is that I KNOW that it makes no sense. I know that there is no reason why my heart should be racing, or why I should be sweating like crazy when I’m just sitting still. I can tell myself that the thoughts racing through my head are just stupid and make no sense. I can tell myself all this, I can know that it makes no sense, but that doesn’t stop it.
The thoughts that go through my head are crazy too. I thought AAB mumbled something about our sex life. The next thing I know, I’m sitting here imagining that we bought a little house, and I was pregnant, and he was so pissed that I was going to have a baby even though we both want one. I’m sitting there imagining that he would leave me, that he would hate me, that he would want nothing to do with me. And that just made the panic worse. No matter how much I told myself that these thoughts made no sense, they just got worse and more intense.
I like to think I was lucky, though. I had my panic attacks happen while I was at home this time. Aside from a roommate chilling in his own room, and my kitten faithfully watching over me, I got to sit here all alone and deal with this the way I know I needed to.
You see, people want to help. And they really to mean well, honestly. They just don’t help though. One friend would just constantly tell me to calm down, as if her ordering me to do so would stop this whole mess. AAB’s first instinct is to kiss and cuddle me. As amazing and awesome as he is, him doing that is probably the worst thing he could do. I know myself that part of my panic leaves me feeling claustrophobic, and his snuggling up to me makes me feel even more closed in. My head on his shoulder, or laying with my head on his chest, where I am the one deciding how much space we take from each other, is fine: anything else just makes my chest tighten. He is really trying to help when he does that, though, just like all the other people who have tried to help me over the years.
And telling people not to help me just makes me feel worse. Suddenly, on top of all the other thoughts flooding my mind, “They’re just trying to help and show they care, why do you have to be such a bitch, you’re pushing them away from you, they’re going to stop coming around if you treat them like this” rushes in there to join them.
Now I know for many of you out there, none of this makes any sense. If you get thoughts like these in your mind, you can make them stop. If your chest starts tightening up and your heart races, you go to a doctor. For someone suffering from anxiety, though, these things don’t work. I’ve had doctors suggest all kinds of things to “help” me: yoga, tea, meditation, reading, long walks, deep breathing……… and yes, these help me to feel a little more balanced sometimes. None of these things stop panic attacks, though, and none of them help once one has started.
For years, I felt completely alone in all of this. I had people tell me I was overreacting, that I was doing it for attention, that if I didn’t stop I’d be thrown in the “loony bin” and it would be on my “permanent record” that I was crazy (where the hell is this permanent record anyways?). I was made to feel like I was the only one in the world having this problem, and that I was selfish for not stopping it myself. It took many, many years for me to find others who share my problem, who are open about their anxiety. I now know that this is a condition that there is no complete cure for, but there is plenty of support around me when I need it.
So Sunshine, if you suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, please know that you are not alone. And if you know others who suffer from this, here is a little insight into what may be going on in their minds and bodies. Everyone’s panic is different, there is no one right way to have a panic attack. Please take care of those around you, in a manner they need and are comfortable with.