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The Disquiet Disguises I Wear During an Anxiety Attack


Having anxiety isn’t something to be ashamed of, but one¬†doesn’t necessarily want people to witness an attack first hand. Sure, it’s¬†important to talk¬†about and inform people regarding the challenges, frustrations and solutions¬†associated with it, but that is far different than having a panic attack in¬†front of a group of strangers or even friends who may not know how to act or help with the situation¬†other than to stare, thus, making things worse.¬†

Personally, I think letting people see my anxiety only makes me¬†focus on the panic more while I’m trying to work away from it. I’m sure I’m not¬†the only one who puts on a face to negate the attention of those¬†surrounding when anxiety decides to suddenly place a firm grip on the mind. These¬†disquiet disguises or masks¬†for my¬†anxiety are something I use to work¬†through a situation as gracefully as possible without anyone noticing that¬†behind my eyes, some serious stuff is going on. While I’m sure there¬†are better answers¬†for how to deal with anxiety attacks in public this is¬†just one of the ways I found helpful in dealing with mine.

The Cool Disguise

This is probably my most used disguise because I found if I appear calm and collected my brain sometimes¬†eventually follows¬†suit. It’s a face of casual disinterest. I nod and smile and appear¬†to be listening to the person speaking to me while inside my head I’m saying, ‚ÄúOK.¬†Calm down and breathe. Perhaps we can order a glass of water. Everything is¬†cool.” Sometimes everything is cool, and¬†sometimes it isn’t, but the people around me won’t know the difference.

There¬†is only one time this didn’t work for me, and it was when I was on a date with¬†the man who later became my husband. I’ll never forget him sitting next to me¬†and suddenly asking out of the blue if I was all right. I gave him a small smile¬†and insisted everything was fine. Something in my eyes told him all was not¬†well, and he called me out saying, ‚ÄúYou’re having a panic attack aren’t you?‚ÄĚ I¬†don’t know how he cracked the code, but I guess this has something to do with¬†why he’s the guy I’m married to.

The ‚ÄúI’m having a fantastic time‚ÄĚ Disguise

To everyone around me, I’m just¬†another girl having an amazing time. Big smiles, laughing and shaking my head¬†while inside I’m thinking ‚Äúget me off this ride.” I liken it to getting a¬†tattoo done. You’re smiling because ‚Äúyou’re really doing it!‚ÄĚ but it doesn’t¬†feel good, at all. The energy behind this face definitely assists in my¬†focusing on what’s in front of me and less on what is going on inside, but¬†really it’s just a disguise in hopes the feelings of panic pass without¬†anyone ever knowing they were there. No one is really paying attention to me¬†enough to know anything is wrong. I’m just another smiling face, and I feel¬†safer knowing that.

The Phone(y) Disguise

When there isn’t a heck of a lot of energy on hand the old¬†standby of seeming engrossed in the phone is another mask helpful in¬†hiding episodes. This is when the anxiety has gotten to a point where I really¬†don’t want to talk to anyone around me, yet I don’t really have the ability to¬†up and leave. Perhaps there are too many people to say goodbye to or perhaps I¬†know there is going to be that one person who gives the third degree about the¬†early exit, but whatever the case, there is something important going on¬†via text or email so please don’t bother me until I’m done addressing it. Sure,¬†it seems rude, but I find people are reluctant to snoop and interrupt this phone¬†play by asking who I’m conversing with or what I’m reading. In reality, I’m probably¬†not reading. I’m probably scrolling through old photos or writing a grocery¬†list in an effort to divert my anxious attention elsewhere.

The Exit Strategy Disguise

When all other disguises fail, I am just not feeling the¬†surroundings and the room is starting to close in, it is sometimes necessary to¬†remove myself from the situation. ¬†I’m¬†either tired with a busy day in the morning or I have a zillion things I¬†need to do that I’ve ignored all day long and can’t possibly wait another¬†minute. I need to grocery shop, vacuum my house, feed the cats, finish drying¬†my laundry, etc. If I know I can get in¬†my car and get home fast, this is the best way of doing it. Thankfully this only happened to me a handful
of times, and I’ve otherwise been able to wait things out until the feelings
subside.

I’m sure there are many others out there who use similar¬†systems to help break through public situations. There are probably a whole¬†slew of disguises I’ve seen but never recognized before. Having anxiety is¬†tough, and for me, having someone in my face¬†asking if I’m OK and staring with that look of ‚ÄúI have no idea what to do right¬†now‚ÄĚ has not proved helpful. Perhaps for others it’s different and the support¬†of another person, even one unsure of how to help, is comforting. People mean¬†well. I’ll admit dealing with a friend having a panic attack isn’t a simple¬†thing to witness or to help with. I’ve been on both sides of the field, and¬†there is no definitive easy way of working through it.

We can only do our best,¬†and if that means hiding for a little bit behind a fa√ßade then so be it. This doesn’t¬†mean I don’t share the experience with my friends after the moment has passed;¬†it only means I needed a brief period to collect myself. The best thing to focus on is the episode¬†will most certainly pass, taking the disguise along with it.

 The Mighty is asking the following: Coin a term to describe a symptom, characteristic, aspect, etc., of your diagnosis. Then, explain what that experience feels like for you. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.