I can’t breathe. My heart’s pounding. I look up at my Fitbit and my heart rate looks like I am on the last sprint of my 5 Km run. But, I am sitting on my couch. Or bed. Or at a party. Watching a movie. With my friends. On a holiday. I want to cry. It’s there, I can’t stop it. If I am luckily on my couch or bed and home alone, I give in. Break down and not understand why. I wonder if I am PMSing. It’s the only time when I think like most men and want to blame it on the woman’s hormones. But, it isn’t. That makes me so angry. Not because I am ashamed of it. Because I have been working so hard. To make myself and my life better. To work hard and cope with living with anxiety and depression. And this feels like a setback.
But it isn’t. Panic attacks have become a part of my life. I have Panic disorder, which essentially is episodes of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes. Attacks can occur unexpectedly or can be brought on by anxiety or a trigger, such as a feared object or situation. Most times I can’t figure out what’s causing it, other times it usually is an impending event or coming across a situation, person or memory which is my trigger. They sometimes last days and nights with episodes of insomnia, and bouts of anxious behavior and to mask it I become snappy, rude, even more short tempered than I normally am (Lord save the ones around me!) But inside my head, I am screaming and sobbing at the same time. I want to run away to a place where I can breathe.
Why am I writing this? Because I am having my worst panic attack in the last few months. Writing about this is my catharsis. In a normal measure, anxiety is an alarm system and a motivator, the push needed to finish a project on time or meet a deadline . But when anxiety exceeds its benign function as a temporary motivator, flooding the mind with toxic thoughts and poisonous worries and monkeying with the body’s stress hormones, havoc ensues. And havoc it is my friends. I remember all the wrongs I have done, all the wrongs done to me. My heart and mind is exploding with the memories of them and of what I should have actually done. The realization that those moments have passed and now I can’t go and correct them. Are they that apocalyptic? No. Sometimes, it’s just something as trivial as my choice of a word or a sentence in a correspondence. I can’t undo that mail or text sent. It’s so silly, but I don’t think like that at that moment. Maybe after a few days when the panic has subsided.
It usually lasts days for me. Days without sleep but I feel like I am on Coke, not the one you drink (I have never done drugs so I don’t know what Cocaine actually does. But, I remember my pharmacology lessons a little and know it’s an amphetamine. Which means increased energy and alertness. Plus the shows and movies have helped me get my information. 🙂 ) I have to just go about without making a monkey out of myself and wait for it to wear off.
While we’re on the subject of panic attacks, let’s talk about how they actually feel. Of course, everyone experiences these episodes in different ways, but there are some symptoms that every sufferer will recognize all too clearly. The surge of awful dread and fear comes over you out of nowhere. Suddenly, you’re completely gripped by the sense that all is not well; something truly terrible is about to happen. You can barely breathe, you feel hot, your heart rate quickens, and you want to leave the place that you are. It physically hurts and you feel you have no control. And this barely scratches the surface of what it feels like to have anxiety.
Anxiety not only begets anxiety, it also causes physical reactions. The body responds to anxiety and fear by releasing cortisol and other stress hormones that can lead to a buffet of symptoms ranging from dizziness, heart palpitations, sweating and light headedness to nervousness, flushing, trouble concentrating, rashes and more. Moreover, living with anxiety can be a lonely and isolating experience. Sadly, if it’s not visible, people don’t understand it and too often think willpower can make it go away.
Now I know and understand that I have had anxiety from a long long time. Since I was a kid. I have always been too proud to admit or let people see any weakness (cause I wrongly believed it was a weakness) in me unless you are in my inner circle. If I have let you see me during one of my attacks and confessed what it was, hell you are one in 7.7 billion! Yup, one human and both my dogs. Only living beings who have been privy to this part of my world. I think in a way, anxiety helped me achieve a lot in my life. Not knowing what it actually was, I believed it to be an internal alarm system giving me a heads up. Almost like a premonition. This would drive me to pour all my attention, efforts and energy into whatever I was doing then. So, say hello to the “always trying to over achieve life” with gold medals, multiple jobs and business ideas and now, certifications and workouts. Not too bad eh?
I wish it always was about the positive. Most times it isn’t. Anxiety most often brings along it’s best friend, Depression. The worst part is the unpredictability of it all. Not knowing when it would come or what would initiate it. http://www.mind.org.uk explains it very well.
” You know that feeling when you’re rocking on the back legs of your chair and suddenly for just a split second you think you’re about to fall; that feeling in your chest? Imagine that split second feeling being frozen in time and lodged in your chest for minutes/hours/days, and imagine with it that sense of impending doom and dread sticking around too, but sometimes you don’t even know why.”
When is anxiety a mental health problem? (ref: mind.org.uk)
Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem for you if:
- your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
- you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
- your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
- you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety which could include panic attacks
- you find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy.
But please, do not self diagnose. If you feel anxiety and panic attacks are something you are struggling with, please see a therapist.
Meanwhile, If you are someone like me who knows what it is and is dealing with it on a daily basis. Here are somethings you can do.
- The rule of 4 3 2 1: Tune into 4 things around you that you can see, 3 things that you can touch, 2 things that you can smell, and 1 thing that you can taste (you can carry around mints, or gum, to use in this situation). You will distract yourself from the anxiety that is trying to take over your body.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Using relaxation exercises can be an effective way to reduce your stress and anxiety. Alternate between tensing and relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body. Tensing your muscles is a common symptom of anxiety and by learning to immediately relax those muscles you’ll program your body to relax when it feels the tension. My yoga classes have taught me an effective ways of doing this.
- Focus on one single task at a time. You will instantly feel less overwhelmed. If you are in the car, focus on staying in the middle of the lane. If you are at work, take care of the most important thing you need to do that day. Focusing on a single activity distracts your mind from the anxiety it is producing. This also means you can pick up a hobby like colouring or knitting which would help you during such times.
- 100s by 3s: Count backwards from 100 by 3s. For someone like me who barely passed her high school maths, this activity totally takes over my attention, helping me drive away the panic. 😀
- Avoid the triggers: If you have specific situations, locations, memories or people who act as your trigger, keep them out of your life as much as you can. It’s not a show of strength to try and overcome them. You will one day. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Well, look who’s talking about this! (rolls eyes at self) I am constantly making this mistake and I beg you to not be like me in this matter. (In a lot of others, please be! I am pretty cool! :P) But, I am also a human and making mistakes is part of my genetic code.
Just writing this post has brought down my anxiety levels by a notch. The single minded focus it needed, the little research I had to do. Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, and 260 million suffer from anxiety disorders—many of whom live with both conditions. So, you aren’t alone. See a therapist, talk to a friend, if you know someone else (someone kind and empathetic) battling it, please talk to them. Only the one who suffers can understand it all.
One step at a time. Just breathe! ❤