If you’re like me, you have the need to know: to know exactly how things are going to play out, how you’re gonna get from A to B (and C and D and E…). You spend most of your time anticipating the future, planning and daydreaming. You might worry about the possible outcomes. A lot.
I’ve always been a relentless planner. I truly enjoy piecing together a calendar like it’s a puzzle. I love crafting plans of all shapes and sizes and daydreaming about their outcomes. This is the fun side of my anticipatory nature. The other side is not so fun; it’s where the anxiety comes in.
A few years ago I found myself sitting outside my favorite restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, with my mom. I’d just gotten my condo ready for some Airbnb guests, packed for a camping trip I’d planned for me and my friends and was preparing to give notice at my stable and by all means “good” job to move away and travel Europe. To top it all off I was awaiting some potentially scary medical test results. Pretty much all these things I was excited about (not so much the medical stuff), and yet when I finally stopped moving and sat in the hot sun trying to eat a pizza, I started feeling woozy.
My mom and I moved inside thinking that would do it, but the room was spinning. I abruptly interrupted my mom as she spoke, barely sputtering out the words as I asked her to just stop talking. I hung my head low in an attempt to regain some balance. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but immediately all the worst-case scenarios started flashing through my mind. I could stay here and risk an embarrassing public scene or try to stumble my way home in the heat. I opted for the latter and left my mom to settle the bill. With guests scheduled to arrive at my place, I went to my mom’s where she comforted me as I trembled in her guest bed. I’d experienced something like this just a few weeks before but had written it off as a bad hangover. A friend had suggested it might be something else, but I still didn’t want to believe it; I was having a panic attack.
I dug myself further and further down the rabbit hole as I lay there, unable to move, scenes of my upcoming European adventure flashing through my mind. All I could think was, “What if this happens when I’m out there? What if I’m in a foreign city all by myself and lose complete control of my body? What if I’m hanging with my cool new Euro friends at a music fest and start acting like a ‘crazy’ person? What if my mind never returns to ‘normal?'”
It felt like hours before I could breathe normally again. I’d somehow escaped the trap that was my own mind. I nibbled on some food, convinced my mom I was OK and drove to Denver to continue on with my weekend plans. As my friend and I set out for our five-hour drive the next morning, that same dizziness took over when we hit some traffic. Needless to say, the journey was rough. My friends were extremely patient as we stopped so I could lie down on cold pavement for close to an hour, constantly shifting to a different place to get more comfortable and hitting the bathroom about a million times.
I survived the weekend without further episodes and Googled “panic attack” when I got back to Boulder. Wikipedia listed about 12 symptoms, noting that a person may have just a few during an attack. I had all of them and then some. Now that I knew what it was – and that it was survivable (though at times I honestly thought it wasn’t) – it seemed a bit less scary. But all of the sudden I had a new thing to be afraid of. I’d find myself in meetings thinking “don’t have a panic attack now” and imagining the worse case scenario, planning my escape route. I began avoiding certain situations for fear of my panic setting in. Anytime I felt a little dizzy or hungry or hot or tired I thought, “Oh shit, am I OK?” and started spiraling.
This was just the beginning of my experience with panic attacks; luckily it didn’t last too much longer. Years later I’ve learned that my diet, exercise, mindset, lifestyle and just about everything else plays a role in my anxiety. I can see now that all my anticipation was building this constant buzz of anxiety inside me. I operated like that at medium-level for years before the volume got cranked up and was too loud to bear. I’ve learned to take much better care of myself and to let go of that “need to know.” Anytime I feel that hint of dizziness or bit of nausea, I check in and realize I’m back to worrying about the future, imagining worst-case scenarios, grasping for control.
I hope these are foreign feelings for you, that you’ve never had the volume cranked up so high that you couldn’t see straight. But I think we all experience some low-level anxiety, a feeling of nervousness for the future, a need to control how things go and that worry of a worst-case scenario. If and when this happens, take a deep breath and notice where your thoughts are. Realize you are painting a picture in your mind of only one possible outcome. We have no way of knowing the future – which is now something I’ve come to appreciate because frankly if everything went according to my plans, my life would be a lot more boring right now. Find something to believe in, be it God, the universe or simply yourself.
Know that whatever comes your way, you will handle it because you’re badass and you’ve gotten through everything else that’s come your way. Your worst-case scenario is not likely, but if you keep focusing on it, you might just turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love to plan. I tried to shake that all together but have accepted it’s just in my nature, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I create a plan because it feels like a nice security blanket; it’s one possible road I could travel and something to daydream about. Oftentimes I find that having a plan keeps me motivated and calmer about moving forward. The trick is to stay open to any and all changes in the plan, to detach from that need to control every step of the way and trust that it’s all gonna be OK, to set your sights on a goal and then do what you can right now to work towards it because that’s all we have control over — how we act in this moment.
Follow this journey on MeganCuzzolino.com.
The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Share with us the moment, if you’ve had it, where you knew everything was going to be OK. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.