It starts in my head.
Words scramble. Thoughts disappear. I become overwhelmed, irritable, and withdrawn.
I can’t focus on my work so I take a minute to take care of myself. I exercise, take a shower, play a game, take a nap, watch a show, read a book, all of the above. Sometimes it works and I use my anxiety to power through my busy life, a side effect of “high-functioning” anxiety itself.
And sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I have an anxiety attack.
It starts in my head, and then it moves to my heart. My heart rate, normally a beat so slow and quiet I’m not even sure it’s beating at all, doubles its pace and echoes in my ears. This is when the panic begins, when I’m sure my heart is working wrong and I’m going to die.
My lungs hear my heart and struggle to keep up. I gasp, cough, hyperventilate. With the lack of oxygen, I start feeling woozy, a mix of nausea, lightheadedness, heat, and headache. I feel like I am dying.
Now I’m crying, except crying isn’t quite the right word for it. No, this crying is full of shaking hands, darting eyes, and hot, racing tears. It is a type of crying that mourns my temporary loss of clarity and control over the one thing I have taken for granted to be mine: my body.
If I’m alone, this is when I jump out of bed and grasp at the closet handle. I pull out running shoes and, shaking, take hold of everything I’ll need for my temporary escape. I leave the room, let the door slam shut because I’m already down the stairs, and take off out the front door. There is no warm-up; there is only running, sprinting, escaping, until I can pinpoint the reason I can’t breathe.
It never works; it’s a race against your mind and you will never win, or at least I never have. I run until my focus shifts, stop, and take a shower. The anxiety is still there under the surface, waiting to bubble up. All I have done is bought myself some tainted time.
Once, I was not alone. No, I was laying on the floor next to a girl I had met some three months earlier. The window was open and out it, lights from a concert in the park flashed. We’d just gotten back from dinner and a short walk. She was scrolling through her phone and I, hiding under a blanket (literally), was trying desperately to keep my lungs from making audible noise. I don’t know if she looked at me, if she thought I was weird, if she questioned why I was hiding my face, but I knew it would certainly raise questions if her friend of a few months sprung up, hyperventilating, shaking, crying, sweating, and sprinted away.
So I stayed. I texted my best friend and explained to her what was going on. I opened a mental health app on my phone. I picked a coping skill. And I stayed.
5 Things You See. The blanket. The ceiling. The lights. My phone. My fingers.
4 Things You Hear. The concert. The air conditioning. My friend’s breathing. The people outside the window.
3 Things You Touch. My toes. The carpet. My pants.
2 Things You Smell. The stale air under the blanket. The fresh air outside of it.
1 Thing You Taste. Salt.
I breathed. I noticed details. Instead of running, I stayed. My heart rate slowed sometime along the way and I stopped feeling sick. In fact, I felt better. I remember smiling and texting my friend I was OK because that night, I won.
Stay. Even if you’re alone, even if you have every chance to run, stay. Give yourself a chance at victory.
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Thinkstock photo by demaerre