I've been dealing with anxiety for a while now. The earliest that I can remember was after graduating high school in 2003. In hindsight it sounds petty, but I had broken up with my high school boyfriend and I could not sit still. I had the need to feel like I was constantly moving. Whether it be dancing, walking, riding in cars or on the bus. I needed the sense of motion going through my body.
As I've gotten older I've kind of learned how to curb those erratic feelings that tend to control me in those situations. Not surprisingly, for me, it's the sound of ocean waves. When I can feel the anxiety kicking into hyperdrive, the first place that I go to is the beach. Whether I get in the water or not is moot. The simple sound of the rhythmic lapping of the waves calms my nerves.
But lately, I've been having more frequent anxiety attacks. The latest in a Barnes & Noble while browsing the magazines. Unfortunately, as far as I know, I'm the only person in my immediate family who suffers from it. My dad didn't even know that I had it until this past May.
I tried explaining it to him. He kept thinking it had something to do with emotions. Like, if I just choose to be happy, or try to not stress out so much, or not be around people who are energy suckers, then I would be okay and I wouldn't have attacks anymore. Totally NOT the case. I couldn't get him to grasp the fact that it has nothing to do with emotions.
So this is the point where I tell you that I've been seeing a therapist again and he's helping me tremendously. He's helping me find my triggers because I have yet to figure out what they are.
So for anyone who doesn't suffer from any anxiety disorder, let me tell you right now, you are lucky and I envy you. One of the symptoms of anxiety is worrying. A LOT. About little things. And overreacting to those seemingly little things that you're worrying about. Here are some other GAD symptoms.
Physically, this is what it feels like to me when I have an anxiety attack. First, my breathing gets deeper. By deeper, I mean using my diaphragm and stomach. Next, the actual anxiety sets in. I would describe this as that nervous feeling you get during an interview or before a performance/ speech/ presentation. Usually this manifests physically by my leg starting to shake or constantly tapping my fingers. (This is that sense of motion I mentioned earlier.) Once I realize these two things are happening, (because honestly it can take me a while before I even realize that I've been triggered), I immediately try to do my breathing exercises. This can go either one of two ways. The first being that it actually calms me down and a crisis is averted. (See the overreaction there?) The other being that it does nothing for me and my breathing goes from deep to shallow and rapid. Like as if you've just jogged a good 20 feet to catch up with someone who's walking ahead of you.
If the second instance is what's going on, then I know it's only a matter of time before the attack comes on. It's not a set period of time either. I've gone from okay to full blown attack in a matter of minutes and it's also happened over a period of 20 minutes. At this point, I know I need to get to a "safe" place, and if I can, I call CHPG.
If I'm in a public space, a "safe" place for me is usually in a small corner somewhere where I don't look like I'm going fucking crazy. I know I have to sit down though. There are times when I get tunnel vision, when I get vertigo, or I get light sensitivity. Naturally when that happens, one closes their eyes and so being in a seated position is usually best. You have less chances of passing out and hitting your head on something and getting a concussion (Still overreacting over here. Can you tell?) All this is going on while I'm still very visibly shallow breathing. By this time I'm usually crying too, or at least trying not to cry.
If I'm on the phone with CHPG, he'll walk me through it, telling me to breathe, telling me jokes trying to get me to laugh to get my mind off the attack, or just sitting there listening to me while I spout off about how I'm fucking crazy and questioning his reasons for liking me despite me being crazy. He typically responds with, "I jump out of planes for a living" which gives me perspective. LOL!
I get chills and most of my muscles tense up so that the only comfortable position for me is if I'm in a ball, which then makes me sad because an anxiety attack is essentially the body's natural fight or flight response, and that makes me think that in the eventuality that something were to actually occur, I would just die because my reaction would be to crawl into a ball and not fight. Here I go worrying about a situation that I'm not even in yet and how I'd potentially react!
My attacks last anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes from the beginning of the attack until I feel like I can stand up on steady feet again. The unfortunate thing about them though is that I get ridiculously tired and my body aches. It's like riding a HUGE roller coaster for the first time. You're jittery and excited and tired but you want to do it again (except that you don't want to) and all I want to do is eat, because also ironically it makes me hungry, and then go to sleep.
The constant thing I think about though while all this is happening though, is "Why me? Why do I have to deal with this? Why can't I be normal? Why am I fucking crazy? What the hell triggered me this time?"
And that's usually how they go. It sucks and I hate having to go through it, and I would never wish any anxiety disorder on anyone, even my worst enemy because although, it means you're constantly worrying about things, it also makes you put things into perspective and I feel you're actually more empathetic. I feel anxiety is both a blessing and a curse. You know what it's like to feel the lowest of lows, but you also know what it's like to feel the highest of highs.
Photo Credit: Porsche Brousseau