I’ve sort of mentioned in passing that I have an anxiety disorder, and I thought maybe I’d come back to that and talk about why anxiety is basically the worst thing of all time. I mean, if you have an anxiety issue, then you already know. But maybe we can commiserate about it together, then.
It was 2003 when I had my first panic attack, and I remember having no idea what was happening to me, except that it was terrifying. I couldn’t breathe, and by the time I started to think that maybe I needed to go to a hospital or something, it was gone. The next day, I decided a trip to the doctor was in order. But I was lazy, and there was a walk-in clinic so much closer to my house than my family doctor’s office was, so I went there instead. I explained to the clinic doctor what had happened. She listened and then said “You have an anxiety disorder.” Oh, okay, I remember thinking. So obviously, this doctor is a total quack.
I called my family doctor and made an appointment.
Cut to: a week later, I’m sitting across from Dr. L, who has been treating me since I was just a kid. I tell him all about how I was fine, and then I wasn’t, and I couldn’t breathe, and how I went to this “doctor” who claimed I had an anxiety disorder, and that is ridiculous, right? Right? He tells me that it sounds like I have an anxiety disorder. I give him the “slow blink” and demand to be sent for tests to find out what is happening with my lungs. So Dr. L. sends me for asthma testing, lung capacity testing, stress testing, you name it.
And guess what?
Every test came back perfect, because I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the last ten years as an anxiety-sufferer:
Everyone seems to experience panic attacks differently, but no matter how different panic attacks can be, they always, always suck. There are a ton of different symptoms that people experience, and sometimes just when you start to recognize a certain symptom as a panic attack, your panic attacks will decide to change things up and throw in a new symptom or two, just to throw you off your game.
People are going to tell you that it’s all in your head. They’re going to make you feel like you’re weak because you can’t just “turn it off”. If you’re on medication, you’re going to hear about how you shouldn’t be – you don’t need it – it’s not helping you. Ignore those people. Do what works for you.
Panic attacks go away. They always do, no matter how awful they are in the moment. Maybe it will be ten minutes, or maybe it will be an hour. Mine tend to ebb and flow – it’s really intense, then it starts backing off, then it comes back with a vengeance, then I calm down a little, then it start picking up again, and so on. Sometimes that can go on for hours. But eventually? Eventually it will stop. They always stop.
Sleeping helps. There have been attacks that I just couldn’t get a handle on, but I took a nap and woke up on the other side feeling a whole lot better. (It’s part of the reason I feel so strongly about napping.)
Be prepared to feel like crap the next day. Panic attacks, although short-lived, are physically and emotionally exhausting. I almost always end up with a migraine the next day. (Anxiety: it’s the gift that keeps on giving.)
And last, but not least:
I’m not alone. You’re not alone. You’d be surprised at how many people have experienced anxiety attacks on some level. I know people who have been really lucky and have only had an attack or two in their entire lives. I know others who have gone through in-patient treatment because their anxiety was so intense. I swear that more than half the bloggers I follow have anxiety or depression (or both). Find a buddy. I know that sounds weird, but seriously, do it. Sometimes when I am right in the middle of a panic attack, no matter how hard I’m trying to fight it, I need someone to know. I need someone to know that I’m struggling and tell me that I’m going to be fine and that it’s going to stop. Sometimes that person is George, and sometimes that person is my mom, and sometimes that person is this chick. It doesn’t matter who it is – but find one.
If you don’t have anyone, I’ll be your panic attack cheerleader. I’ve got your back.