When I Realized These Physical Sensations Were My Version of Panic Attacks

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For so many years I had no idea what they were. It has only been in the last two weeks that I have made the connection of the physical sensations I’ve experienced and how they coincided with anxious times in my life. Everything I ever remember hearing or reading about panic attacks mention shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest tightness/pain and hyperventilation. I have never had any of these symptoms, so when I have had extremely anxious experiences, I thought they were not actual panic attacks. I would try to explain them away.

Recently, I was blown away when I realized that my trembling, sweating, nausea, hot/cold flashes, lightheadedness and dizziness were my version of a full-on panic attack. Thinking back, I can remember times in my life when these symptoms would come on inexplicably — most memorably when coat shopping at Macy’s when I was 23 and getting ready to travel north. I vividly recall sitting down with my back against the counter and thinking the room was spinning and I couldn’t decide if I was going to pass out or die of heat. The sensations were intense, and my mom was with me and very concerned. It passed in a matter of minutes, and I was able to return to my shopping, albeit a little more tired and disoriented.

This has happened before taking tests, giving presentations, going to parties or conferences, on the first days of school (both as a student and teacher), on airplanes, in crowds, at extreme heights (I should stop here as the list could go on and on)… and I never, ever associated them with my anxiety.

Just as I have written about depression in the past and how my outward symptoms were not “typical” (although I am reading more and more about “high-functioning” and hidden depression, which I resemble incredibly), I shouldn’t be all that surprised that yet again my anxiety is different, too. My friends and family can attest that their is little to nothing that is “normal” or “typical” about me. My younger daughter proclaims on a regular basis, “Normal is boring.” However, I think I might like to try it sometime. I do think I will have to radically accept that’s not going to happen and move forward with a new awareness.

Now that I know, I hope I can (remember and actually) do the following the next time I have a panic attack:

  • Give myself permission to acknowledge rather than question what is happening in my body.
  • Accept that something triggered my panic and not blame myself for bringing on the symptoms.
  • Wait and stay in the situation (for a little) to take the time to consider different options.
  • Breathe deeply, ask myself what are the odds of what I am fearing actually happening… And remember that I am fearing a future possibility and should try to reengage in the present.
  • And when it ends, I will be grateful that it has ended rather than critical of myself for having anxiety.

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Taking a 'Sick Day' When You Have Anxiety

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I may look absolutely fine, but inside I have a knot in my stomach. My mind is racing with a million different thoughts. Most of them are about how to get to a safe place. I can’t breathe, and the panic is slowly building. I have to get out. I have to get out now.

Calm down, the voice of reason inside my head tells me. You’re OK. You’re just trying to have a panic attack. Now, breathe.

Breathe? That’s not possible right now. Oh, and did I mention I’m driving? Yeah, I can’t have a panic attack right now.

I start to try and slow my breathing, telling myself I need to calm down long enough to pull over. I’m half way to work. The closer I get, the harder it is to breathe. I’m not going to make it there today. I glance at the clock, 8:20 a.m.

Ten minutes until my shift starts. I shouldn’t be this nervous. My job is simple. I’m a cashier at a resale shop, and half the time, I’m just hanging up clothes. So why am I freaking out?

That’s the thing about anxiety. It doesn’t always make sense. Maybe it was the comment my supervisor made the other day. He probably didn’t even mean for it to sound critical. Yet, I took it to heart, and now, I no longer feel comfortable at work.

There it is. The root of my anxiety. Logically, I know I need to go in and go to work, but mentally and physically I can’t. At least, not today.

I’ve pulled over into a parking lot. Trying to breathe. My face is wet with tears. My hands are shaking. I don’t have any tissues (I never seem to have tissues when I need them), but I’m beginning to calm down. I’m letting myself not be OK. I’m letting myself not have to pretend I’m OK and go into work with a smile on my face. I’m giving myself a break.

Now, how do I explain this to someone who doesn’t have severe anxiety? How do I explain to my boss that I need to take a sick day because I physically couldn’t come into work today?

I’ve tried. I’ve tried to tell the truth when this happens. Then, I get the “talk.” I need to be more reliable, consistent, dependable. They can’t depend on me because I can’t predict when my anxiety will show up.

So, I lie. I text that I woke up with a cold. A stomach virus. Something physical that they can understand. When I go into work tomorrow, I’ll explain it must have been a 24-hour bug.

In reality? This anxiety is something I’m going to have to continue fighting for the rest of my life.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Living With My Bipolar Life.

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What My Anxiety Is and What It Isn't

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Anxiety kills me slowly. I have good days and bad days. I feel alone even when I am surrounded by people. I am fighting an invisible battle that you will never see. I am my own worst friend.

Anxiety tells me I am worthless and I am hopeless. Anxiety tells me I am unloveable. Anxiety sometimes feels like my best friend because anxiety is evil and tricks me.

Anxiety tells me it’s OK to sleep all day because you’re tired and deserve rest. Anxiety tells me I don’t need to eat dinner because I am full with worry. Anxiety tells me to stay in on Saturday night so I can go to church Sunday morning. Yet, then, it tells me I am a loser for staying in, and there is no point in going to church.

Anxiety tells me to make a to do list so I feel better, and then, it tells me there is too much to do and I should give up. Anxiety tells me to use my time wisely and clean up before leaving the house. Yet, then it yells at me for being late to work. Anxiety tells me it’s too much work to go check the mail box. It’s probably bad news inside anyways.

Anxiety tells me I am a loser if I do not get my master’s degree, and then it tells me I am a loser for trying. Anxiety tells me I am blessed to have found a career I love, but I should feel ashamed because it is not a real job anyways. Anxiety tells me I need to take a bath so I can relax, and then it fills my head with what ifs. Anxiety tells me to use alcohol to relax and be social, and then it fills my head with regret the next morning because that was not the real me.

Anxiety is trying to pray to God, but not being able to drown out anxiety’s voice. Anxiety is not being able to choose what you want at the store, buying all of it and then feeling worse for spending money. Anxiety is waiting too long to make plans and to text back. Anxiety is watching the phone ring, letting it go to voicemail and then being too embarrassed to listen to the voicemail.

Anxiety is crying because you are crying, worrying because you are worrying and stressing because you are stressed. Anxiety is shaking uncontrollably because all of a sudden you do not recognize your own body. Anxiety is like watching yourself on the floor crying and not knowing how to help yourself. Anxiety is knowing what anxiety feels like but not understanding any of it.

Anxiety is feeling too overwhelmed to stop and get gas when the light comes on. Anxiety is wanting to do your hair pretty, getting books on hairstyles, pinning pins on Pinterest and building your own vanity just to sit there and not feel like trying. Anxiety is meal prepping and buying healthy food just to watch it rot in the fridge. Anxiety is making plans and then canceling. Anxiety is feeling motivated and inspired while stuck in quicksand.

Anxiety is a pounding heart, a sweating body and a fake smile. Anxiety is buying plants because they are suppose to relieve stress, potting them, placing them in the perfect spot and then over thinking something as simple as watering them so they die. Anxiety is forgetting to take anxiety medicine and then getting brain zaps. Anxiety is wishing for a quick fix.

Anxiety is tired of explaining what anxiety is like to love ones. Anxiety is wanting to run away and start fresh. Anxiety is stressing out after a dream that felt real. Anxiety is fearing the unknown and stressing about what’s planned. Anxiety is replaying conversations over and over in your head wondering if you said the right thing. Anxiety is being stuck in the future and the past and never living in the present. Anxiety is feeling overwhelmed by too many toothpaste options at the grocery store. Anxiety is not being able to choose what to wear and crying and sleeping instead of going out.

Anxiety is lonely. Anxiety is exhausting. Anxiety is hurtful. Anxiety is misunderstood. Anxiety is the shadow I am learning will never leave me.

However, I am also learning anxiety is not always right. Anxiety is not always in control. Anxiety is jealous and doesn’t want me to share. Yet, I am sharing because I know so many people are struggling like me. I always have been, and I always will, but having anxiety does not mean you have to do it alone. You are not alone. You are brave. You will be OK. This too shall pass.

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Anxiety: The Monster on My Land

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Welcome to the jarring world of anxiety,

The world of fear, what ifs and instability

Where no moment is ever yours to hold

“You can’t do it” is what you’re told.

Anxiety is the monster in my brain

It fights for sovereignty over my terrain

Day after day, night after night

It won’t give up without a fight.

A fight that has cost me dear,

Because anxiety won’t let anyone near

The walls it has built for me are too high

To get to me, well, why would you even try?

A shape shifter this monster is

Sometimes a thick heavy mist is what it fits

My mind and my heart in its fold

No moment, no memory is free from its hold.

Sometimes, strong black ropes it wraps around me

Tightly binding me so I can never be free,

“Stay with me,” it gently says

I obey, and watch my dreams waste away.

Anxiety is possessive, you see,

It wants me and only me

It has for me a world created

A world where I am always hated. 

It weaves around me a spell,

A world where no one wishes me well

Where I am no more than a fleeting thought

As relevant as an ugly moth.

Sometimes, anxiety becomes me.

It tells me, “This is who you will always be.”

It whispers that it will never leave

This is a lie I almost always believe.

It tells me, “I am you, you are me.

That’s all the world can see.

Broken, flawed and alone you are,

Stop the fight, give up the war.”

But anxiety, I won’t let you win,

Even when you wear me thin.

Bruised, broken and alone I will still stand,

Fight to protect my own land. 

Image via Thinkstock.

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What It’s Like to Live With Anxiety as a Teenager

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Most worries come and go quickly, and you are conscious of their entrance and exit. Your heart rate leaps, your breaths start quickening, your fingers start tapping. And then something comes along – perhaps an answer or source of comfort – and you realize your worry had been unfounded. You’re going to be fine. Yes, others wouldn’t have reacted in the same, startled way you did… but that’s OK.

But sometimes, out of the blue, a thought you hadn’t looked at for months makes an appearance. And you can’t let it go: it lingers, stuck to the inside of your mind, begging you to roll it over on your tongue again and again. If you try to forget, your mind ignores – and makes sure it’s right there when you’re reading or eating or trying to concentrate. There is a flurry of unrelated, incapacitating thoughts that has infused itself in your skull; and the more you try to tame it, the more powerless you feel. 

At one point, you become conscious of your worrying – but still can’t seem to stop it. You notice it’s disrupting your daily routine, making you more forgetful, prompting you to retreat into isolation. You hope it goes away – that overnight or after a meal, the dark shadow in your mind will be lifted and blown away. You know deep down, your anxiety is baseless and entirely unhelpful, and conjuring worst-case scenarios is doing you more harm than good. Your negative thoughts are intrusive, almost as if they’re at war with the happy, optimistic side of yourself. At one point, you feel like a puppet; and the strings controlling your body and thoughts are at the mercy of your anxiety. 

You want to stop worrying, but you can’t.

The future is brimming with uncertainty, and you dread that. A part of you is excited about the new people you’ll meet or the new things you’ll learn. But the other part can only focus on the potholes or the darkness that pervades the bottom. It can be so hard to trust people sometimes. 

Ironic as it sounds, your anxiety becomes yet another reason to worry (and it also happens to be the biggest reason). Sometimes, people tell you that you’re overreacting and need to calm down. They tell you life is going to throw bigger curveballs at you and you can’t afford to stress out over every aspect of your routine. They tell you there are people with bigger problems, and you shouldn’t think about yourself so much. They tell you to read the news, so you can “gain some perspective on life.” They tell you you’re going to have high blood pressure and a stream of physical illnesses in the future. But those people don’t understand. You do realize you’re hurting yourself physically. You do read the news, you do realize your problems are relatively small and insignificant, you do try to sweep your problems under the rug and immerse yourself in the issues stalking humanity. 

But if it doesn’t work, why try? 

Sometimes, you look at the laughing faces around you and wish yours could look like that, too. You hear laughs or giggles and wonder why they come out of your mouth so rarely – it seems so effortless for most people. You wonder what it feels like to say something without fear of being judged or criticized. 

Movies, dystopian novels, or videos become your solace during your worst times. It’s easier to drown yourself in other people’s problems, rather than your own. Escapism. 

You wonder what it feels like to not have those awful voices in your head, telling you something is not right – or that something is about to go horribly wrong. The voices that sometimes prevent you from functioning properly, that lead you straight into a terrible period of inactivity and helplessness.

This is what living with anxiety feels like.  

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4 Things That Define My Anxiety

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So awhile ago I wrote about having depression in your 20s and the response I got was amazing! I didn’t do it for myself. Instead, I wanted to give others the confidence to admit what they are going through and not be ashamed. I struggle with depression that’s pretty minor compared to how prominent my anxiety is. I know lucky me, right? Depression and anxiety? I’m basically collecting them all.

What’s it like to have anxiety? It’s one of those things that is difficult to explain unless you have been through it yourself. However, I think it’s important to try and explain what it’s like so people around you, your friends, your family and your loved ones are sympathetic, and more importantly, understand you aren’t your anxiety. It’s just a part of you.

Everyone’s anxiety is different. I’m going to explain mine. What better way to write this than now, when I’m having a rough week of anxiety attacks.

Have you ever woke up from a night of heavy drinking, where you can’t remember what you’ve done the night before? Did you dance on a table, say something silly or just be a drunken mess? You know that panic you go through where you imagine every bad possible outcome? Well, that’s what it’s like to have anxiety, but intensify it by 10 and having it 24/7.

1. Anxiety attacks are sporadic and seemingly without reason.

My anxiety can come at any time in the day. Sometimes, I don’t have it for weeks at a time. Then, bam! Anxiety attack. A constant stream of tears, hyperventilating and the feeling of being suffocated. I can’t tell you what’s wrong because I don’t know, and I can’t fix it. This is the worst part for your friends and your loved ones because they want to help you. It’s natural, but how can someone help me when I don’t know what sets it off? Sometimes, there is no reasonable explanation for it. Personally, I’m still working on figuring out my trigger.

2. It’s a daily struggle.

On a daily basis, my anxiety means I’m constantly overthinking, but I’m not actually concentrating on anything. Sounds bizarre, right? I can be in work, but I will be on autopilot. Instead, my mind is working at a 100 mph thinking about anything and everything at once. It ranges from random thoughts, such as what shall I do at the gym to what am I doing with my life. It’s exhausting. I used to be the most organized person who would take on as much as I could and get it done no matter what. Now? I forget everything. I find it difficult to concentrate. Instead, I procrastinate like a university student doing exams.

Sleep? That’s a thing of the past for me. I get about three to four hours of sleep a night, and I always wake up at least twice. If on a rare occasion I do sleep, then I’ll wake up with scratches on my face from when I’ve been anxious, I sleep walk or have nightmares.

I’ve got into this bad habit of over exhausting my body and not allowing myself five minutes peace because five minutes to myself just means I end up in my head. Whereas, if I’m constantly busy, then I’m distracting myself. I don’t watch television. I can’t watch films and most of the time, people think I’m ignoring them when I’m not. I’m just thinking about other things. Yet, I’m learning to deal with it. I have found it so helpful to talk about it. Luckily, I have the most amazing friends and family who are supportive and understanding, even during times when I am the worst person to be around.

3. It affects your ability to be “normal.”

“Normal” 20-year-old girls love going out with their friends, working and dating. All these things come so natural for most people. You don’t even think about it. You just do it. Social anxiety is a b*tch. It’s so easy to cancel plans and stay “comfortable” in your own surroundings. No one can judge you there, right? You’re safe. Nothing can set you off. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

My friends are understanding when I cancel on them now, but my best friends make the effort to get me out of my comfort zone. Something I’m always grateful for. Dating? Well that’s is a no go for me. I recently found someone who understood what I was going through and was so supportive of my episodes.

And what did I do? I pushed him away of course. In my mind, no one wants to date that girl with anxiety, right? I made things so much harder than they should have been. I wasn’t honest about how bad my anxiety is, and I couldn’t control it. I don’t blame him for walking away, and I don’t blame myself for the way I am.

4. Music helps create a blank space during anxious moments.

As cheesy as it sounds, music is my little savior. It’s the only time I can get out of my head, stop thinking and instead focus on the words. My song lyric knowledge is impeccable. If I ever feel anxious, then I put my headphones in, whether it’s to sleep, in work or at the gym. Headphones on. World out.

I have anxiety, but I’m not my anxiety.

Image via Thinkstock.

This story originally appeared on The Law Foodie.

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