Have you ever had a scary dream?
You wake up with your heart, like a caged bird, beating wildly against the walls of your ribs. You’re sticky with cold sweat and your stomach feels like it’s sinking in on itself, soon to become a black hole that will swallow you completely.
Have you ever woken up from that dream, taken a moment to calm your breathing, relax and soothe your heart. Once you righted yourself did you think back about what made you so afraid. Did you remember your dream and acknowledge it for what it was. Yes, it was scary, but only barely.
Perhaps, upon further examination, the plot of the dream wasn’t scary at all, but merely normal, mundane even. You were just scared and you can’t understand why.
This is what anxiety feels like for me.
Maybe I should have known it was coming. With the slow accumulation of hopes, and dreams, and steps and action plans. With my footing growing shakier, my knowledge of where I am going to be and what I am going to do becoming fluid, swirling around me.
Times of major change in life are anxiety inducing, but things have been changing and moving for so long.
I thought I could slip by, unnoticed by the worry monster.
That didn’t happen.
The first time it happened I was at work. On the 18th floor, sitting at my desk. I look at my watch, 3:15. I’ve been at work for 9 hours. I didn’t plan to stay here this long.
My chest feels tight. I’m all of a sudden conscious of my breathing, wondering how it has worked this whole time, calling into question if it’s going to keep working.
My heart is speeding up, knocking at my sternum. I get up to go to the bathroom. I sit back down. The walls, like my chest, feel tighter, no longer breathable.
I have to get out.
Outside, on the New York streets, the first thing I do is call my sister, or maybe cry, probably both at once. Crying feels good.
The thing that scares me the most is that I can’t understand it.
It doesn’t make sense to me.
A few minutes ago, I was doing the exact same things I have been doing for the past 4 months, then the world started sinking in on itself.
I cry, and tell my sister everything. Then I walk home. I cry again while hugging Alex as tightly as I can.
The next day I am shaky, but mostly normal. It happened on a Friday afternoon so I’ve got the weekend to recover.
I distance myself from that person.
After all I am a strong, hardworking person. I can handle these things. I’ve been handling them already, and things are going well. I’m not struggling under the weight of piled up, unmanaged commitments. I’m managing my commitments, my bills, my family relationships.
I’m balancing, easily, but with care, on a modest pedestal of hopes and dreams which I have created for myself. As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t fallen off.
Also, it is a modest pedestal (I’m not one to set all my hopes on distant dreams), so falling wouldn’t be that bad either.
I spend the weekend reassuring myself.
By Monday I know myself to be strong and capable.
By Thursday I’m at the doctor’s office.
I can’t keep my world in line with my thoughts. Things keep swirling out of proportion, subway cars have become trunks, and myself a kidnap victim within them. Elevators are now square asylum rooms with padded walls. Even a simple visit to the doctor’s office is impossible without Alex there to calm me down.
I can’t calm down.
I know what you’re thinking. I haven’t had any caffeine for a month. I go to bed early, usually get 6 to 8 hours’ sleep. I do yoga in the morning before work.
I love my job. I don’t feel stressed about my work.
I can’t understand what’s wrong with me.
I told my parents.
They comforted me.
I told my grandparents.
They accepted me.
I told my friends at work.
They supported me.
I told my supervisor at work.
She commiserated with me.
I started seeing a therapist.
Things started getting better.
The last panic attack I had, I was able to control it. When my heart started racing and I felt the walls trapping me, I breathed slowly. I put my head down and focused. I beat back the black hole itching to swallow my stomach. I was still nervous, still not myself, but I was able to get through it.
I was able to minimize anxiety’s effect on me.
It takes a conscious effort, but I’m doing it.
I’m changed because of this experience.
I’ll always be concerned with maintaining my mental health. Just like physical health I need to give my thoughts exercise and recovery time. I’m working on understanding what things are affecting me and why.
Friends and family are a big help, but there’s something else, crucial to getting me through this.
Years before I had my first panic attack, I saw others go through this.
I watched strong, competent women and men have anxiety.
They talked about their struggles.
Talked with me personally. They talked through a YouTube channel, article or tv show.
Many people in my life talked about mental illness, and mental maintenance. They told me what worked for them, and what didn’t.
This is what gave me direction.
Helped me understand that I wasn’t alone,
that I could work through this
be stronger on the other side.
To all the men and women who confided in me. Who let me know I wasn’t alone, before I even had time to feel alone.
Thank you for asking for my help.
For showing me how to ask for your help in return.
I couldn’t have done this without you. I wouldn’t know how.
If you’re reading this post and you’re worried about me,
don’t worry too much.
I’m doing better.
If you’re reading this post and you have anxiety,
talk about it.
Talk to whoever you need to.
You’re not alone, and you can get through this.
I’ll keep you updated.