The Time I Had a Panic Attack at a Wedding (Without Anyone Realizing)

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I was running late. I don’t remember the exact details of why I was late, and they remain an ever elusive blur, but I remember checking my watch while getting my hair done. I had 10 minutes to finish getting ready, and I wasn’t even halfway there. My dress lay un-ironed on my bed, makeup products strewn across it haphazardly. It would take me at least 40 minutes to get ready, which would mean I would be half an hour late. I checked my watch again, smiling nervously at my hairdresser. My mind raced. How did this happen? I counted minutes, backtracking the events of my day, searching for the mistake. Why did this always happen to me? I began feeling lightheaded but brushed it off. I was probably just hungry — being late meant I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, which would be served at the reception.

I raced out of the hairdressers and put on my dress, zipping it up with shaky hands. They began to get clammy, and I wiped them on my dress. “It must be the heat, it’s just hot in here,” I thought to myself. I put on my makeup with great difficulty, the tremors spreading up my arms making the meticulous work of drawing on eyeliner a challenge. I did it nevertheless, checking my watch every few minutes. I was already late, but each time I watched the minute hand move, my heart hammered even harder in my chest. Forty minutes late. What would people think? I strapped on my heels. 43. My mom was driving me there, and she wasn’t ready yet. 44. I knocked on her room door, reminding her for the 10th time that we were late.

Finally, we were in the car. 49. We reached the venue. 63. By the time we had reached, my mom and I had gotten into an argument about why we were late and whether she could have gotten ready sooner. I felt faint and dizzy. “Must be the low blood sugar,” I thought. I was an hour late and hadn’t eaten yet. I stumbled out of the car and slipped into the ladies’ room, smoothing out my curls and touching up my lipstick. My heart was racing so fast, it felt like a robotic hum in my chest. “Must be the excitement and the stress all rolled up into one,” I thought.

I walked into the reception hall, spotting a table of friends and acquaintances sitting together. One of them waved, and I walked over briskly, smiling and waving back. I said hello, my voice a pitch higher than usual. I babbled on about how busy my day had been, how lovely everyone looked and how beautiful the venue was. I bent down to hug one of the seated friends, gripping the back of her chair as I felt my knees weaken. My knuckles turned white. She grinned and told the girl next to her how characteristic it was of me to be “bubbly, excited and full of energy.” I was full of energy all right. Nervous energy.

I stumbled around the room meeting people and making small talk, feeling like an untethered balloon. I couldn’t sit still or stand in one place for more than a few seconds. The lights were bright. I looked at my watch. 75. I felt disoriented and suddenly overheated. Why was I still counting? It struck me that I had a plate of food in front of me and I hadn’t eaten a bite yet. I didn’t remember being served or what I chose. I blinked, confused. 80. I suddenly felt cold. I held a shaking fork up to my lips and felt it drop.

Months later, I looked back and realized I was having a panic attack at that wedding, and I didn’t know it. People met me, told me how lovely I looked and how nice it was to see me. I laughed and talked so they wouldn’t see the turbulent emotions I felt inside. I told myself it was hunger, low blood sugar, excitement. Nobody else seemed outwardly perturbed or distressed, so I mirrored their calm and tried to hide it not just from everyone else but from myself. I realized later that being late made me anxious, and on that day it built up and turned into a panic attack.

To others, I looked excited and eager to mingle. Sociable, chatty. I had on a fancy dress and expensive shoes. They didn’t see the shaking hands, the sweaty palms, the weak knees. They couldn’t see the disorientation hidden by fake smiles and small talk. They couldn’t hear my racing heart and ragged breaths or the battle I was fighting with my thoughts. On the outside, I looked like I was enjoying myself. On the inside, my mind was spinning out of control. I buzzed around the room, exuding nervous energy people mistook for confidence.

I see now that I might have been too scared to acknowledge what was happening. I’m not scared anymore because I realized I’m not alone. I still get anxious, especially if I’m late to an interview or big meeting, but now I try to pay attention to the feeling and notice it building up. Each time I notice it and acknowledge it, I feel it lessen, and that is something I don’t want to hide.

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Thinkstock photo by Hill Street Studios

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When Anxiety Tells Me Everyone I Love Will Leave Me

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Living with anxiety for me means living every day with the constant worry that everyone in my life who means something to me will one day up and leave me. It means needing to insistently talk to and interact with everyone in my life. I feel like I am holding a bundle of helium-filled air balloons, and the more I talk to someone, the tighter my grip on the string gets, and the less likely they are to get away.

Yet, life and experience have taught me this is the exact thing that makes people want to leave even more. The more I smother and pull, the farther away they get. My constant insecurity of being alone drives me to push people out of my life. Now isn’t that ironic?

I’m scared to be alone because that means I will be alone with my thoughts — the worry and the constant running to-do list that will never be finished. My anxiety makes me high maintenance, and there is nothing people hate more than dealing with someone who is high maintenance. It is exhausting, I have to live with myself every day.

This downward spiral of not wanting to be alone has gotten to the point that if I don’t talk to someone every day, I have accepted the fact that they hate me and have rid me from their life.

However, reality has taught me people just get busy — for days, weeks, or even months at a time, and that doesn’t mean they don’t love you anymore. You don’t need to talk to someone 24/7. It’s smothering. My goal is to start living in the moment with myself more.

My goal is to try and start controlling my anxiety and channeling it in different ways than tethering myself to everyone around me. I want to be able to let myself fly away sometimes. Let myself worry but talk it out with me. I want to be able to start troubleshooting my own problems and trust myself to be alone again. I want to be able to enjoy being alone, entirely and solely in touch with myself and how I feel. I’m hoping this will start to allow me to trust others more and believe in myself.

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Thinkstock photo by rubatos

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To My Parents, Whose Daughter Struggles With 'High-Functioning' Anxiety

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Dear Mum and Dad,

I know it is difficult for you.

No parent wants to see their child in pain – whether that be emotional or physical.

As parents, you taught me how to walk and to talk, you taught me the importance of love and kindness, you taught me values in life that are important to success and happiness.

You didn’t know one day, your little girl would slowly corrupt all the things she had learned from you, as her anxiety enveloped her in a bubble. Too scared to wake up. Too scared to leave the house. Too scared to tell you how she really felt. I was somehow distancing myself more and more from two people who loved me. You saw my pain. I couldn’t explain why I felt the way I did, I just knew it was becoming too much. Overwhelming me with no answers. I tried to disguise it; it was a futile attempt.

You knew.

By facing my mental illness with me, you certified that I wasn’t alone. Countless nights of midnight panic attacks. Days, weeks, months on end of you comforting me as I cried over the hopeless thoughts I’d encompassed within myself, providing help through it all. You were always there. Your love and reassurance became my support system throughout all of the bad days in which my anxiety affected us all. You reminded me there will be an end — or at least one day it’ll diminish into something I can manage and control at ease. You reminded me I would be far stronger upon reaching the other side of my journey. You reminded me that self-care is important – something I had forgotten along the way.

Because of you, I am able to achieve success, despite my illness. Without your positivity and encouragement, I’d have taken a different path.

I know my “high-functioning” anxiety is difficult for you. I understand that you are often lost upon knowing what to do and what to say to me. I am aware this is very much your battle, as it is mine.

Thank you for always being there for me.

Thank you for accepting my mental illness.

Love always, your daughter with anxiety.

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Thinkstock photo by moodboard

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When Anxiety Convinces Me Everyone Is Judging My Appearance

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My anxiety has dictated my schedule for a long time.

Almost everything I need to do outside the house — school, work, grocery shopping, the occasional haircut, etc. —is within 10 minutes of my house. Because of this, normally I wouldn’t need to wake up until maybe 20 minutes beforehand — get up, dress in five minutes, and I’m out the door.

But because of my anxiety, it takes an extra 30 to 40 minutes to make myself believe I can leave the house. I have to do my makeup — something I never used to do and still find irritating —and carefully analyze if I look “good enough.” I have to second-guess the clothing I chose last night (with a similarly long decision process) and often end up changing… despite having loved that outfit choice the night before. I have to double and triple check I have anything and everything I might need (which usually involves taking multiple items I won’t require, “just in case”). I fiddle. I remake the bed, I re-check that the cat has food, and I debate whether or not I have the stomach for breakfast, even though by this point, I usually only have the requisite five minutes before I must leave, and there isn’t time anyway.

Then one day, I stopped, and I forced myself to sit down and really think carefully about why I was doing extra steps. Why was I sacrificing sleep at night repeating over and over what I had to do the next day? Why was I waking up an hour early to drag myself out of bed prematurely to do things like eye shadow and blush when I didn’t particularly care about decorating my face (it’s not at all that I don’t like makeup — I think it looks beautiful. But I really am just as all right with my face as is.)?

I knew why. It’s because no matter how much I know my schedule, I look forward to my daily activities, I like the clothes I wear and I’m OK with my own natural face… I just assume the outside world is picking me apart.

The minute I leave my front door, I am aware of eyes. I have neighbors. There are often workmen up the street or people walking dogs and getting mail. I hit the stoplight — and there are other cars whose drivers and passengers must be endangering themselves to turn and stare at me. Cataloging whether or not I took the time to take care of my appearance and whether or not I know where I’m going and what I’m doing. All of those eyes are on me, and they are mocking.

Except, I know they’re not. No one cares about little old me leaving to go to school. At the end of that drive, I know my classmates are also tired, worn out by their day, wearing sweat pants and dirty jeans and comfortable t-shirts, and they couldn’t care less what I wear or do. If I do not want to wear eye shadow for my three-hour class, I do not have to; they do not think less of me.

On the other end of the spectrum from that overwhelming self-consciousness, my anxiety does something else to me. It leaves me stuck, afraid to get out of bed for fear of messing up just by walking around my house. It leaves me scared to look at the clothing I selected, in case I realize how ridiculous I would look in the light of day. And when I’m rushing to leave the house, having stayed in bed far too long, it reminds me no one cares enough for me to waste time and make myself late over foundation and eyeliner.

But that’s the thing — it isn’t that no one cares. It’s that I don’t have to impress anyone and anyway, no one is critiquing me that closely. I know that, and I can tell my anxiety that as I grab my keys and backpack, barefaced and wearing whatever I want.

No one is going to look at my pale face with its sort-of freckles and pink cheeks — man, do I have a rosy complexion — and say, “Ha, you didn’t put on makeup, you failed today.” In fact, for a long time when I was young people mistook my very pink lips as me always wearing lipstick, so I suspect I have some natural assets in that department.

And because of that alternative side of things, where my anxiety is the very reason I don’t dedicate morning time that would have been spent on sleep, or visiting with my husband, or checking email to putting on beauty products I don’t particularly want to wear, I’ve learned to look in the mirror differently.

This morning, I overslept. I got up, realizing everything I have planned today is casual and that I am free to be comfortable in my own skin for it. I put on clothes I feel good in, and I washed my face and brushed my hair, then stopped, and stared at that white-skinned, pink-cheeked face, with sleep-deprived shadows under the eyes and tiny marks here and there that I would normally dab concealer onto.

But really, who is going to look at me and say, “You look too human. Go pretty up?”

Only me, I suspect.

So today, I’m going without makeup, and I am doing so with confidence. Because this is me — anxiety and sleepless nights and self-consciousness included. Let’s go grab a coffee and talk. I feel OK today.

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Thinkstock photo by pecaphoto77

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My Life With Anxiety: A Poem

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Every morning is waking up
to another day of thinking,
putting myself down, nothing
else but a smile covering a
sad man.

The headaches, nervous stomach,
the tingling feeling in you body.
The weakness is my legs, the feeling
of going “crazy.” The chest pains,
Incapable of sleeping. All this because
Of my dear friend Anxiety.

Thinking of different subjects
In my mind through out the day
The feeling of losing Someone
you love so much and
she probably doesn’t even care.

Everything I do to make someone
happy always seems to turn out to
a mess. Trying your best to get better
but the closest person you have,
has no time, doesn’t encourage you.
All I see is people walking away.

I never thought I was good enough for
anyone. I think a lot about who really
cares about me and who will support me.
I don’t want people thinking this is a joke.
All I want is to be good and to be the best
example for my amazing son.

After all one day of thinking has a gone
by, and feeling every possible mood,
goes to bed the same tired and sad
man, who cries himself to sleep.
I will never give up.

My life with Anxiety.

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Thinkstock photo by FL-photography

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When Anxiety Is All-Consuming

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It’s 4:16 a.m., and I’m lying here, unable to sleep.

I’ve dealt with anxiety disorders for over six years now. You’d think after all this time, I’d have gotten used to it. But no. I still feel the same fear entering my heart whenever the fluttering feeling sets in.

Sometimes it’s just that – butterflies in the stomach.

But even then I fear. Why?

Because apart from multiple chronic illnesses, I have also been diagnosed with major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety, to name a few. And needless to say, anxiety affects every aspect of my life.

Not a day goes when I don’t get panic attacks. Sometimes they are mild and pass quickly, and even then they leave me so restless, so frightened that the mere thought of it makes me shudder.

And when they are severe, I’m left breathless, extremely dizzy with pain in my chest until I eventually pass out.

The fear that the world is going to end and that I’m going to die, the feeling that nothing will ever be all right, and the unexplained, unnatural and scary thought of an impending doom makes me feel sick to the point I actually start believing this attack could kill me.

I often compare my depression to an ocean, the black waters of which continuously torture me, giving me only two options – drown or spend my entire life caught in its rusty, dreary shadows.

While my depression is like an ocean, with anxiety I feel like I am falling off a cliff.

It’s all beautiful and green surrounding me, and then all of a sudden, I see my life slipping away.

I feel like I’m in a free fall, going down and down and down — fast enough that I cannot make sense of what is happening, and slow enough to make sure I experience every single moment with full intensity.

I keep falling and falling.

My chest becomes too heavy and too tight, as if something strong and heavy is sitting on it, pulling breaths out of me — one by one.

I get this horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, constantly making me feel like I want to throw up.

The nausea, the fear, the chest pain, the trembling, the tightness a panic attack brings is something you cannot imagine.

It’s so terrible, so frightening that it haunts you long after the original attack has passed.

I feel anxious every day. Sometimes all day. And it is dreary — to not be able to breathe and to feel like you’ll pass out — and then the actual passing out.

Living with anxiety is a nightmare. A nightmare that becomes reality and tortures me day in and day out, consuming my life in all of its entirety, making breathing the most difficult task ever.

If you are struggling tonight, please know I am here for you.

The whole purpose of writing this is to let you know that no matter what happens and no matter how hard things get, you are never alone.

There’s always someone somewhere going through something similar, if not the exactly the same thing.

You need to know that no matter how horrible and how powerful anxiety feels like, we are always stronger.

I have so many things I like to do to distract myself in case of a panic attack or when I feel the first signs setting in.

They don’t always help. But they don’t always fail either.

Sometimes just listening to an audio book (which is by far my favorite and most helpful technique when it comes to anxiety) or taking random pictures on my phone helps prevent an attack that would have occurred if I had kept still.

I have noticed that just living in the moment and taking things one at a time, I feel more grounded and relaxed.

You could also have something that might help you.

I’d really love if even one person feels less alone reading this.

Because I know how it feels.

And because I never want anyone else to feel the same.

Also, if you want someone to talk to or just vent to, I’m always here.You can message me on my Instagram @its_little_ayra, my chronic illness recovery account) anytime.

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If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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