As I was finishing my workout today, I noticed a storm rolling in. I could see the lightning striking frequently only a few miles away, and I went outside to watch it for a bit. It made me forget why I was so worried and why I came to the gym in the first place. The gym had always been my sanctuary — a place to forget and let go of everything. But today, it wasn’t working. Today, I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t rid my mind of the plaguing doubts and fears. But for some reason, this storm did it. The rolling of the thunder calmed me, made me forget of my anxieties of the day.
There was peace within the powerful forces from the storm. There was peace within the raging winds and pouring rain. There was peace in the couplings of lightning and thunder. It was a peace I couldn’t explain as I watched after-work commuters race home, hoping to beat the incoming storm. I shook my head at their impatience and their lack of appreciation for the sheer beauty God created. I wondered what they were rushing for, who they had waiting on them, and why they were so eager to dismiss this
beautiful thing that had consumed me.
I couldn’t comprehend their rush, but I was suddenly overwhelmed again with the day’s pressures, problems, and anxieties. It made my heart pound harder and my throat get tighter. So I turned my
attention back to the storm and embraced it. I let it take over. I felt the thunder in my chest and the lightning in my veins. I let the storm empower me and calm me all at once.
And that’s when it hit me. My anxiety is like a storm. Sometimes you can see it coming from a mile away, and sometimes it comes out of nowhere. Sometimes it’s just a light rain, and other times it’s raging winds and hail. It can happen all day or strike only in the dark of night. My anxiety is like a storm.
Sometimes you embrace the storm; sometimes the storm embraces you.
Shopping with anxiety is like playing a game of Pac-Man. You’re trying to catch all of the dots before the ghosts get you!
You prepare yourself for the shopping trip way before it’stime to actually go, even if it’s just to Walmart or Target. You’ve already ordered what can be ordered online, so you don’t have to go to the store at all but have come to therealization there are a few things you need to get so you get mentally prepared.
You have to decide if what you are wearing is appropriate to wear in the store but not too flashy as to draw unnecessary attention to yourself. Once you have your list of things you want to get (which will be very few to avoid unnecessary time in the store), you do a mental check in your head to see if there’s anything you may beforgetting. You look at the time to make sure it’s not a “peak” shopping period, so the possibility of running intosomeone you know is minimal.
OK, so you have your clothes, money, shopping list (paper or phone because either can be used as a barrier or excuse not to talk to someone). Now we can drive to the store, listening to whatever theme song of the day to pump you up or calm you down to get in and out of the store at record time.
So, you have arrived at the store and are now racing to get all of the dots before the “ghosts” see you. Your feet might as well be roller skates because you’re walking so fast. Even if you see someone in the parking lot, they’ll see how fast you’re walking so they should know you don’t have timefor chitchat. You quickly grab ashopping cart, even if you won’t need it because it can be used as a barrierlater.
You walk into the store and scan from right to left to make sure you don’t see anyone you know, and if you do, you’ll go in the opposite direction. And if you make eye contact, you’ll look at your list or look around as if you’re in another world andkeeping walking away from them.Whew! They didn’t see you!
You slow down to catch your breath because your heart is beating a mile a minute, but you can’t stop walking because someonemight accidentally bump into you and then you may have to talk to them! So, you pick back up the pace to continue on,ever watching for anybody that may pop up, racing through the store to pick up everything on your list as if your life depended on it.
You Spot a Ghost
You see someone you know. Ahhhhhh! Inside your head you are screaming and your palms are starting to sweat and you are quickly running possibilities through your mind on what the best course of action is because they cannot see you. The person is far off from you so you have time to run. You duck into another aisle and pretend tolook at something and watch from the corner of your eye to make sure they have passed. Whew! You see them pass and you go another way to continue shopping just in case they forget something and may turn around and see you.
You’ve done all of your shopping and are headed to check out. You avoid those “death traps” if at all possible — you know, the registers that have people there. You quickly scan the self check-out line tomake sure there aren’t too many people over there and that there is no one youknow.
When the coast is clear, you dash in and ring everything up as quickly as you can without looking up because someone may see you and you’llhave to talk. If you don’t have cash to pay, you’ll have to use your card, so you make sure your total amount due comes under $50 — anything over will require a signature and that’s more time in thestore.
If by chance you go over, you’llquickly scribble something on the signature line so you can get out. You’ve already bagged up the items and havethem loaded in the cart by the time the receipt comes out. You grab it out of the machine as quickly as you can and walk quickly, almost running as if someone was chasing you, out of the store to your vehicle, which you purposely parked as closely to the door as possible for a quick getaway.
I filled up the gas tank of my car this morning, and the electronic display kindly informed me that I had “210 miles to empty.”
When I first filled the gas tank of the car a couple of years ago, I glanced at the display and read the word “empty” as “enjoy.” I thought to myself, “Oh, how nice, the car is basically telling me to have a good day.” Then I glanced at the display again and realized my error — empty, not enjoy.
To this day, every single time I fill up the tank, I think about that little error and laugh at myself. Today when I filled up the gas tank, I thought about the shift in perspective just one little word can bring about.
Empty versus enjoy.
“210 miles to empty” means how far I can drive or how many days I can make the tank of gas last. The full tank will slowly trickle toward empty as I drive the kids to day camp, therapy appointments, ninjutsu classes, aerial classes and coding classes.
It will also take me to and from work and to a variety of errands. My son’s anxiety levels are usually pretty high when we are in the car, so while we are using up the gas in the tank this week, I’ll also probably be diffusing his anxiety levels.
The car is also where my daughter has been hitting me with her most burning tween questions, so I will likely find myself having to answer a question I’m not necessarily prepared to be hearing. As the week progresses, the gas tank will slowly become empty as we live the day-to-day of our lives.
“210 miles to enjoy” means making memories when the miles are shared with my kids and savoring the rare moments of solitude when the miles are solo. The tank is full at the beginning of the last week of summer break. It’s a week where my kids get a final chance to pack in fun and friends without the added responsibilities of school and homework.
That tank of gas will take my son to a coding class we recently discovered and that he adores. It will also take my daughter to and from the aerial studio where she finds absolute joy. As the gas gauge gets lower, I will travel to and from a job I love and find a few minutes each day of rare time alone.
The car will get us safely to my son’s therapy appointments, so he can continue to figure out how to exist in a world that he often finds overwhelming. It will also provide a safe haven for my daughter to ask her most burning questions when we are the only occupants of the vehicle. There’s something about the combination of not having to look me in the eyes but still having me to herself that works for her little brain and heart right now. As the week progresses, that tank of gas will give us opportunities to enjoy the day-to-day of our lives.
And by the time the gas tank needs to be filled again, we’ll probably be well into the final long weekend of summer, enjoying time with family and friends.
I’ve heard myself say it a lot — “It’s not that easy.” Every time I say this, it’s pretty much always in response to someone telling me to just get up and do something.
As many of you who struggle with mental health issues (and physical health issues) know, getting over your obstacles in order to achieve a goal you have — whether it’s big or small — isn’t always simple. Even the smallest of activities can seem incredibly difficult when anxiety and other issues come into play. Sometimes the Nike saying of “Just do it” isn’t as easy as 1-2-3.
I know to some, the phrase “It’s not that easy” must seem like a huge excuse not to try. I agree that it in no way should be used as such. However, it’s not always just an excuse. Sometimes as much as we want to just be able to get up and complete a task, our anxiety just wont seem to have it.
I’ve talked to relatives about how I want to do something really bad but how I don’t feel like I can because I begin to over-think until my mind almost convinces myself that something bad will happen. My anxiety kicks in to such a high degree that it makes the rest of my body feel weak, so much so things I know deep down I’m able to do seem impossible or close to it. Sometimes my relatives try to be understanding, but even the most understanding of them sometimes say, “If you want to do it, just do it and don’t think about it!” To that I respond, “It’s not that easy” because, well, it’s not.
I understand that sometimes, people just don’t know what to say anymore. They try hard to help, but let’s face it, when you don’t go through something yourself, it’s hard to know what to say or do to help. Even the people who are the best at assisting others sometimes experience moments where they just don’t know what to do — I understand that. Heck, sometimes I don’t know what to do or how to help myself. Still, I ask that people please try to understand that while someone may be trying their hardest, it still may be difficult for them to just get up and get something done — even if to you the task is utterly simple.
To everyone who struggles with mental and/or physical health issues, I’m sorry that you go through this and you’re not alone. I understand that sometimes doing certain things just isn’t that easy. However, please don’t allow things not being easy allow you to stop trying. Never give up!
Sometimes, I can feel the anxiety building. Other times, it comes on suddenly and hits me like a ton of bricks. Whichever way it comes, having a panic attack is one of the worst experiences I’ve been through.
Usually, it starts with shaking. My hands shake. My body shakes. For some reason, I get this jerky, bouncy movement in my left leg, and only in my left leg. Before I know it, I’m like wibbly, wobbly jelly on a plate.
Then, I start to lose my breath. It feels like I can’t get enough oxygen into my lungs and I start to breathe faster and harder, trying to get as much air in as I can. My mouth goes dry from breathing so hard. This is usually when the tears start flowing. I get tingling sensations in my fingers, lips and right down my arms when it’s bad. I feel my heartbeat getting faster. Sometimes, I can actually hear it in my ears.
Boom, boom, boom.
By this stage, I usually have trouble moving. If I’m not sitting already, then I need to. I get light-headed and dizzy. I’m terrified if I try to get up, walk or move somewhere. I might pass out or fall over, which of course contradicts my other instinct to run away. Nothing is ever simple with panic.
My mind races at more than 1,000 kilometers per hour and doesn’t even make any sense. I can’t think. I can’t connect thoughts. I can’t understand what is happening. It is illogical. I know it, but still I can’t make it stop.
I have trouble speaking in the midst of a panic attack. This is partly because I can’t think straight enough to construct a sentence that will make sense to the person listening. It is also partly because I can’t get enough air in to breathe properly, let alone speak. At moments like this, the best anyone is going to get out of me is a “yes” or “no” answer.
Some things are helpful when I am having a panic attack, like someone being there, reminding me to breathe and breathing with me. Quiet definitely helps. In fact, it’s almost a requirement. Sometimes, someone holding my hand helps, but sometimes I need space. (It’s best to ask me on that one, bearing in mind it needs to be phrased so I can answer “yes” or “no.”) Patience. Bucket loads of patience. I’m fully aware of how irrational I can be and I really wish I could just turn it off but I can’t. So patience is definitely needed.
Some things are not helpful when I am having a panic attack: people talking too much, people expecting me to talk, being crowded (I really need my space) and too much noise. There are certain things that can trigger my panic attacks. Some of these things include crowds, loud noise, constant or repetitive noises, too much happening all at once and sometimes new places and people. None of these things are of any real threat to my safety. Yet, my brain seems to think otherwise.
Sometimes, though, panic attacks just happen for no obvious reason at all. I will just get this feeling of intense emotion I can’t label or define and bam! The panic attack is on. After a panic attack has subsided, I’m usually left feeling completely and utterly exhausted. I feel like I could sleep forever.
Below is a technical diagram of what a panic attack is like for me:
I hope this helps those who haven’t experienced a panic attack to understand what it feels like. You can see the shaking, the tears and even the hyperventilating, but there are other symptoms you can’t see, the racing thoughts and the tingling lips and fingers. While some people can speak through a panic attack, others can’t. No one should try and force that because it could make the panic worse. If you are helping someone through a panic attack, then it is important to know there are multiple feelings and sensations going on for the person. Remaining calm is vital in helping them also find calm.
I’d like to let you know how my anxiety and panic attacks affect me. I would like to explain why I can’t leave the house sometimes, why I might seem unreliable and why I might have to cancel plans at last minute. I’d also like you to know how you can help.
Firstly, I want you to understand what severe anxiety and panic attacks feel like. Anxiety is not about feeling nervous or worried about something. It’s more extreme and it affects me both physically and mentally. Severe anxiety is ongoing. It can last for hours, even days. These are the times I find it hard, even impossible to function. Panic attacks only last a short time, but they are more extreme and can happen anywhere, usually completely unexpectedly. They are terrifying, both for me and for those unlucky enough to be around me when they happen.
Both severe anxiety and panic attacks are awful, crushing experiences that feel like someone is piling paving stones on my chest or like there is a massive snake wrapped around me squeezing tighter and tighter. Then I often feel like I can’t get enough air, may faint, or become frozen to the spot. I always get to the floor asap and stay there until I am OK again. Sometimes I need medication, and sometimes I need someone on the phone with me. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. And sometimes, perhaps surprisingly, I need to be alone.
After severe attacks I am usually exhausted. I am unable to drive or do much at all. This means I often have to change plans at last minute. I feel exhausted and I feel like a mess. Oh, I look a mess too: such a pretty picture of a ghost like complexion, red eyes and mascara smudged down my face. I sometimes need help to breathe, to calm down and to get me to a safe place.
For a while after a panic attack or after a period of severe anxiety, I may need to rest completely. I may need to be alone. I may not be able to maintain contact with everyone immediately. This does not mean I do not think of you or that I care about you any less. If I can leave the house, I may need to stick to very familiar places and only be with a very small number of people I can trust unconditionally.
I hope I have helped you to understand severe anxiety and panic attacks and how they may affect me and others. As I have described, they can be horrific experiences both while they are happening and afterward. So I am genuinely sorry if during and after these times I cannot function properly. Again this may feel to you like I am making excuses, like I am avoiding you, or like I am letting you down. I’m really don’t mean to. It is just a part of my condition I have to live with. I really hope you can live with it too.