TW: I don’t recommend anyone reading this in an anxious state, come back later love.
I was at work, I sat in my office chair and looked over the day’s invoices I had to finish. The night before I slept three to four hours after returning from a rowdy night from the bar with friends. As I sat there I started to feel a little light headed, I thought to myself, “Oh wow, I feel this way because I haven’t slept. I haven’t eaten much either have I? Oh God, I can feel my heart beating quicker.” Panic instilled in me like it never has before as I sat in the office alone. Chills went down my spine and the hairs on my neck stood up. “What is happening to me? Am I going to pass out? Oh Christ I feel like I am!” My heart was beating so quickly I knew for certain I was going to faint. I asked my coworker to grab me water as I searched for YouTube breathing videos. I drank some water and focused on my breathing which did eventually calm me down. “What was that?” I thought to myself, I had never experienced anything like that and I didn’t know if I had to call for help. During those minutes of calmness and awareness of what had transpired, I fell into it again. “What is going on with me? Am I not drinking enough water despite the few cups I’ve already poured myself? My hands are clammy again and my head is burning-WHAT IS GOING ON WITH ME?”
That was my first panic attack. Without much prior knowledge of anxiety or panic attacks, my head burned and my thoughts of terror consumed me into my fight-or-flight response and took over completely, leaving me without control of my own hands. I had my coworker call for a supervisor of a different department who I confided with frequently. I explained to her that I couldn’t breathe and I showed her my extremely clenched fists.
“Am I okay?” I asked her like a kid asks their mother when they’re afraid.
She calmly explained to me that I had just experienced a panic attack, “Everyone goes through them at some point, they just learn to control them better.”
This year I’ve been learning a lot about what I can and can’t control. Some situations you can’t control, the past or future? Forget it. In the words of Maya Angelou, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
It’s been a brutal battle for me and anxiety. I was fearful of it in the beginning, especially of getting another panic attack. Anxiety has been in my family for so long, I called my mother that day I experienced my first panic attack to explain to her what happened. I cried while telling her, I felt like a baby getting their first shot. She shared with me her experience with anxiety firsthand, she even went to the hospital as she had no control of her attack.
No control, that’s what terrified me. Having no control of my own life, driven only by the fear caused inside my mind.
That week I was in a state of depression and anxiety, I couldn’t accept that this would be my life now. “I am not this person, I am adventurous, unafraid of the unknown, unafraid of myself, I couldn’t be this new person that worried about losing control. It drove me mad, until one night, I gave up. I was tired of fighting anxiety, of pretending that everything was alright on the outside. I let the cortisol overpower me, the erratic heartbeat and the sense of losing my mind, I surrendered.
And it went away in minutes, the pressure in my head, the intrusive thoughts and the clammy hands, once I gave up control, it crawled back to whatever hole it derived from.
Wretched thing, I thought but, this was the start of using brain over brawn. In a boxing fight, a fighter might wait till their opponent tires himself to throw the first punch.
In the battle of Brownstown, 200 American troops were attacked by only 24 Indigenous people who were hiding in the forest. The Americans lost 17, the Indigenous only lost 1.
So I began to educate myself. Anxiety is not an enemy, in fact, it is very much a normal emotion that is a response to stress. You might get anxious when you have to give a speech or have a job interview, it can be as natural as when you enter a crowded supermarket.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illness affecting 40 million people in the U.S. Anxiety disorders can be intense but, fortunately there is treatment.
Psychotherapy and medication have been tested numerous times to be proven helpful in diminishing the intensity of anxiety and may even be proven to be advantageous.
So, I spoke with my psychologist, got prescribed medication and am currently trying cognitive behavioral therapy.
The big one that has helped me the most is embracement. Embrace the emotion, embrace that you are having an anxiety/panic attack. You don’t have to view as an enemy, see it as a visitor checking into your hotel for a quick stay. Do not think you are losing control, that type of thinking only makes it a frequent visitor. To those struggling ,be kind to yourself, I promise you, it will get better. My battle with anxiety is far from over, but here I am, writing this in a coffee shop without the debilitating fear or shortness of breath. I am adventurous and I overcome my fear by living my best life everyday. I tell myself that every morning before I stretch. I am grateful at this point for my anxiety as it has led me to develop better habits for my person.
I believe that you will get through this because knowing is half the battle. You’re not alone and help is there for you.