I have finally found the best way to describe anxiety: It’s like walking a tightrope made eggshells, (up on your tiptoes, cringing all the while), over a dark, roiling sea of panic without a safety net. You feel like you’re skittering dangerously on ice, and no one sees or understands the heart pounding panic seething through you. It’s all you can do to keep your mask in place and act normal when others are around. All you can think is: “Please go away I need to be alone my mask is slipping stop talking go away oh god don’t ask me how am”. All the while, you’re feeling the panic ramp up another notch, and you’re doing your best to keep it contained.
Anxiety is weird. Often times, the more you try to calm down, the worse it gets. You could be having a great day, then get totally broadsided by the freight train that it is without notice. It just comes out of nowhere.
Anxiety is cruel. It makes you worry unnecessarily about even the most inconsequential things to the point that it triggers a panic attack at worst, or keeps you on the edge of tears, off balance, and skittering on that ice again, at the least.
Anxiety doesn’t care about your plans, your work schedule, get togethers with family and friends, errands, appointments…not one damn bit.
In fact, it revels in broadsiding you out of nowhere, thereby ruining your day. It delights in every hour you spend in sick dread, on the verge of tears, feeling weak and vulnerable. It is the most common form of mental illness, as, in its various forms, it affects around 40 million people age 18 and older. It develops due to complex risk factors, such as genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events. Women are twice as likely to suffer from it, and it’s common for anxiety sufferers to develop depression. Additionally, PTSD and OCD are closely related to anxiety disorders, so can also suffer from those, as well as the depression.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor. Try the breathing/grounding techniques, get therapy, take the meds. Do what YOU need to get better. Don’t just do nothing. There’s no one way to treat anxiety disorders, so be your own advocate, and get help-see your doctor. I cannot stress that enough!
I had my first panic attack about seventeen years ago. My husband had been in a horrendous wreck, and I’d been caring for him as well as working full time, and three or four days a week, I’d have to race home, get my husband, and go right back to town to get him to his physical therapy appointments. Everything was on my shoulders. When he was released to go back to work, it felt like the weight of the world was lifted from me. So much so, that I fell apart.
It happened one ordinary Spring evening. We were done with supper, I was cleaning up the kitchen, my husband was on the phone with a buddy, and our daughter was watching tv. I remember telling my husband I was going to go lie down for a few minutes, as I was just exhausted.
I lay down on the bed, and immediately started feeling weird. I could feel my heart pounding, my chest felt tight, and my breathing became erratic. I sat up, rubbing my chest, thinking, omg, is this a heart attack? The more I tried to calm myself, the worse it got.
I jumped out of bed, ran to the front room, told my husband, “I don’t feel right”, and promptly lost all strength and started shaking violently. My husband and daughter got me into bed, sat with me, and I immediately started feeling better. I put the incident out if my mind, and life went on.
After a couple of weeks, I noticed I felt really fidgety, my right eyelid would twitch, and I just felt off. When I went for my annual, I mentioned it to my doctor. I went home with a low dose, mild antidepressant.
I did feel better, no anxiety, no twitching, nothing. And that was the problem. I. Felt. Nothing. I didn’t care about anything. You could have told me the world was going to blow up in ten minutes, and I would have just shrugged. I took meds for a year, and spent that year learning the signals that my anxiety was ramping up and how to calm and distract myself when I felt them coming on. I describe the way it made me feel then, and still does occasionally, as “the vomity blackness”. I felt that if I were to fall to my knees and vomit, it would be all this blackness.
I dealt with it pretty well over the next few years, using techniques I learned during the year I took the meds; deep, slow breathing, grounding, distraction with something requiring focus, writing…and, for the most part, I had few episodes.
That all changed in 2008, when I came home to the front door kicked in. Fortunately, they only took my husband’s pain meds and an old .22 revolver from the 50’s that was my dad’s.
This set off a new round of anxiety, which, after about six months or so, developed into a fear of leaving the house. It’s something I still deal with, not as much this past year, but I know that if I get over tired, I’ll have an episode.
It was really bad for a while. I would generally use up all my PTO within the first few months of the year. I would be ready to leave, had my coat on, purse, lunch, totebag, truck running…and there I’d be, standing in the kitchen, tears streaming, feeling shaky and sick…as soon as I made the decision to stay home, it would be like a huge stone being lifted off my shoulders, and I would feel better immediately. Other times I’ve left for work, late, my pace getting slower and slower, until, about a mile from work, I’d turn around and go back home.
For me, meds are off the table. I don’t like the mindlessness of them. I deal pretty well with my anxiety these days, though I still don’t like leaving home, and sometimes social situations, even with people I know and love, flip me out, and I stay home. In the crazy world we live in, home often feels like the only safe place.