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The Anxiety I Feel With My Entire Body

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Anxiety. We all have it. However, when my anxiety is bad, I pass out. I throw up. I get dizzy. I lose my vision and hearing and feeling in my body and become numb.

Anxiety isn’t just being nervous about a big exam. It is, for me, a physical response, coupled with an unknown autonomic nervous system disorder I have that can paralyze my entire body.

Imagine waking up in the morning and not being able to move any part of your body. Imagine waking up barely able to breathe and feeling like there is a boulder laying on your chest.

Anxiety isn’t just sweaty palms and rapid breathing. Anxiety is waking up drenched in sweat because you can’t face the day ahead of you and standing up only to sit back down because you are so dizzy and cannot breathe.

Anxiety is more than just being nervous for an exam. Anxiety, for me, is not knowing if I will become violently ill while walking the dog or working in the lab carrying harsh chemicals.

Anxiety, for me, is a full body response where my body becomes so confused it doesn’t know how to respond. It is a response my body has to an external or sometimes internal trigger. I sometimes wonder — will I even be able to survive?

Anxiety, for me, is not just in my mind. It is in my body.

So next time you are trying to talk to me and you see my eyes glaze over, remember it could be my anxiety acting up again.

Please just understand that it is not you, it’s me. And my anxiety.

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Thinkstock photo via Rutchapong

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The Roar of My Anxiety Only I Can Hear

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Pay attention to your body and what it tells you.

But that isn’t always easy, especially at times when your body is rebelling. When it’s doing things that don’t feel good. That you feel you have no control over.

I’m in a dark room right now. Everything hurts. I want to sit at my computer to type this out, but I can’t physically bring myself to do so, and emotionally… the small screen of my phone feels safer somehow.

I want to pay attention, though. I want to fight this. Anxiety is wearing me down. I can’t manage it anymore. Control of it slips further and further away, like a feral animal through a gate in the night.

So this is what my anxiety feels like. This is me paying attention and putting it to words. This is my experience. It may not be someone else’s. But keep it in mind the next time someone says they have anxiety and you think they look fine.

I start pretty OK. I had a meeting to attend this evening, and I expected it to be pretty low-key. I felt a low level of nervousness, just in regards to getting the kids where they all needed to be, making sure everyone would have dinner, and then getting myself out the door in time.

At the meeting, shit went sideways. Nothing awful. The outcome of the meeting was not affected at all. But dismissive language was used.

My eyes welled up. My breathing felt tight.

All because I knew I was going to speak. There was no way I would sit there and not speak up.

I used a break in the meeting to step outside. I sat in my car in silence. And I wrote out a two-minute speech.

The meeting resumed and I gave my speech.

By the time I got back to my seat, I felt lightheaded. As soon as the meeting was over, I left. Quietly, but immediately. Halfway to my car I felt tears on my cheeks.

I wasn’t upset.

The speech went really well, and I was proud of what I’d said.

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Tears are just how all of the pent-up anxiety finally starts to release. Everything I didn’t allow anyone else to see. Like a pressure cooker finally releasing some of its steam.

There isn’t anywhere else for it to go. It finds its way into two tear drops that drag themselves from my soul in a bid for relief.

By the time I get home, just 10 minutes later, my head is aching. My shoulders are in pain.

By the time I get in bed, two hours later, I have a full blown migraine. The back of my neck is sore from the pain radiating out of shoulders. My lower back feels like I’ve spent the day moving into a new home.

And I’m silent.

I don’t make it known. I may mention I have a migraine as I take ibuprofen. Other than that, I try not to make a big deal of it. As if ignoring it might make it go away.

Tomorrow I’ll be exhausted. Physically wrung out from the emotional turmoil.

Which always perplexes me. I spend the day in awe of my body and its reaction.

How can I experience so much physical fallout from something nobody else can see?

A roar only I can hear.

Follow this journey on Allison Writes.

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What My Panic Attacks Feel Like

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At first, little things trigger my anxiety more and more. My senses heighten. My mind and body go on full alert. I feel chilled, though my face is flushed. I feel like a deer caught in headlights, overwhelmed by the blinding lights of a situation I’m trapped in.

My body is frozen in place, but ready to flee. My thoughts curdle and scatter in a million directions. I hear an alert sounding in my head. Danger, danger! Escape, escape!

I become hypersensitive to sounds, movements, voices, darkness and light. Everything feels too close and too loud. Words people say jump out at me. Small movements people make feel like assaults against me. When people come close to me I jump back, startled.

Everything begins to fade to black. I am overwhelmed by everything around me, but I feel very alone, lost inside my body.

My chest constricts. I feel a weight pressing against my chest, preventing me from breathing correctly. My heart pounds wildly. My breathing is sharp and shallow. I gasp for air, as if I were drowning.

I feel light-headed and dizzy. Everything around me starts to spin. I feel disconnected from my body for a moment. The world feels painfully loud, bright and dissonant. I feel trapped and overwhelmed by the world, yet separate from it since I feel so different. I see so many colors at once, so many people talking at the same time. My rapid heartbeats and shallow breaths sound very loud to me, as if they echo throughout the room. I am aware of too much at once, and then suddenly only aware of my own head, my own body, my own attempts to survive this crisis.

The world stops behaving normally. It seems to freeze for a moment, and then start again at different speeds, at different volumes. People’s faces seem distorted, movements exaggerated and strange. For a moment, my heart beating seems louder than anything else in the room, and I feel like everyone is looking at me. But then, the world seems extremely loud, and me silent and ignored.

I realize I need to leave in order to survive this attack. I instinctively cover my face and head and go. I leave quickly, trying not to catch anyone’s eye. Outside, I take large, shuddering gasps of air. My body relaxes and I start to feel safe again. I sit somewhere, overwhelmed, as the blood rushes back into my head and the weight lifts off of my chest. I gasp for air again and again. Air never tasted so sweet as in that moment.

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Then I find a place I can relax for a while and be alone. It takes time to heal from a panic attack. It usually takes me a few hours. I rest. I practice my breathing exercises and muscle relaxation exercises. Eventually I recover, and am ready to come back to the world again.

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Thinkstock photo via khiria.

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The Best Thing I've Learned to Do for My Mental Health

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The best thing I’ve ever learned to do for my mental health is also one of the most difficult things I’ve ever learned to do: practicing self-compassion.

I first learned about self-compassion through reading “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion” by Christopher Germer. Since then, the concept has become my refuge in the tumultuous journey of anxiety and depression. In some ways, it has even formed the basis of my spirituality. I love knowing no matter what life throws my way, the experience can be softened by simply treating myself kindly.

That being said, practicing self-compassion is often difficult for me because it goes against the grain of how I’ve treated myself for so long. My anxiety is almost the antithesis to self-compassion. Although I think my anxious thoughts are trying to “protect” me by preparing me for the worst, they end up being abusive by the constant way they make me feel like crap. For me, anxiety also coexists with negative self-talk, making me think I’m a horrible person and can’t handle what comes my way. Beyond just learning about self-compassion, I’ve had to practice it repeatedly, almost as if it’s a new musical instrument I’m trying to learn from the very beginning. Thankfully, when I remember to practice it, I tend to feel a sense of softening and relief almost immediately.

The biggest way I practice self-compassion is through letting it seep into my self-talk. I try to notice when I’m struggling and when I do, I usually realize I’m also having negative thoughts about myself. Then, I’ll try to say something kind to myself, like “Ouch, this really hurts,” or “I’m sorry, sweetie.” Sometimes I don’t even have to say anything to myself. I can just put a hand on my heart, or even just having the intention to be kind to myself makes me soften a little bit. It doesn’t take the pain away by any means — sometimes it actually makes me more aware of the aching in my heart — but it makes me feel like I’m not the enemy, that I’m not fighting myself. It helps me remember I’m here with myself, I’m my own friend and we’re in this together. It gives a little bit of breathing space to the painful experience.

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When I’m really struggling, sometimes it’s hard to change my self-talk. When that’s the case, and when I remember to do it, I’ll try to practice self-compassion by doing soothing activities. This can mean taking a bubble bath, watching a show, cuddling up under lots of blankets, drinking a hot mug of coffee or tea, getting into comfy clothes, putting a heat pack on my stomach, writing a message to a friend — anything that makes me feel like I’m being a mother to myself.

Self-compassion has given me a completely new way to relate to myself and to my struggle. It helps me open up to the pain, accept it and most importantly, to be kind to myself while I’m feeling it. It helps give me a shred of peace and comfort when things get really hard, no matter how hard things may be.

If you are interested in learning more, I recommend beginning here.

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What My Anxiety Feels Like, a Letter From Your Anxious Friend

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Dear Friend,

As you probably very well know at this point in our friendship, I bail on plans at the last minute, make excuses to stay in bed, attempt to plan everything down to the last second and experience sudden and overwhelming sobbing. I always want to know everything about everything, I mumble when I speak and sometimes don’t filter and talk faster than I can think. I’m restless, have the bags under my eyes, have a constant need for caffeine and find myself stress eating. I have an inability to make decisions and fear of anything new. I say “nothing” when you ask me if something is wrong, I have an inability to go anywhere myself, I wear sweats for days and I try hard to hide the fact I’m scared.

Very few things calm the anxious spirals I get into — you know, the bad ones where I ramble about my future, the choices I made years ago and whether or not we’d survive an apocalypse. Being around people helps. Hugs help. Talking helps. Crying helps. Distractions of fields trips, walks and watching silly movies help. Sometimes I just need to be reminded I am a real human and not an anxious ball of anxiety. I am writing this in an attempt to be fair to you, because on the outside my behaviors may look “insane,” tightly wound, frustrating and annoying — to say the least. I know you can’t always see why I do what I do, but I appreciate you trying to. I want to explain the reasoning behind the way I act to give you some background.

When you give me advice, it isn’t always me ignoring you. Sometimes it is because I am stubborn, but not always. I know my emotions are hard to deal with sometimes. I know I can go from cracking jokes one minute to being a monsoon of depressed feelings in a blink of an eye. I know I intensely focus on things — much longer than is best for my mental health — but especially than is better for yours. I know our relationship isn’t easy for you and being friends with me can be very challenging. For that, I feel like I owe you this letter.

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Anxiety is hard to put into words but here goes nothing:

Anxiety feels like a raging ocean. It hits over and over and over, and I always struggle to keep my head above water, just grasping for an ounce or two of air to make it through for a little bit longer. I always feel overwhelmed, like I am one second, one movement away from falling into the deep, dark abyss and never coming out. And sometimes I do fall in. The ocean is bigger, deeper and darker than I can see. And when I struggle, the higher and heavier the water gets.

Anxiety is a constant battle within my own head. Every worst-case scenario spins around — especially at night — toying with my mind and
often wrecking my sanity. It never shuts off — even when I sleep. I remember dumb things I said today, fights I had years ago. I worry about my future and what people thing of me. I have anxious thoughts during the day. I have anxious nightmares. If I go to sleep anxious, I wake up anxious. It is the most overwhelming, frustrating and at times, scary, thing in the world.

It is not something I chose for myself and not something I would ever wish on my worst enemy, yet it is a part of me. I can’t turn
it off — not now, not tomorrow, not ever. These emotions, worries, fears, panic attacks and stress are not something I welcomed into my life — they just barged in uninvited. I am not a victim, I have an illness. It is not something I can have full control over.

I have spent a large portion of my life learning to cope with my anxiety. To be a productive student, citizen and friend. Most days it is OK. Most days I take my medications, drink some coffee from lack of sleep, hug my friends and get through it. However, there are some days where I can’t quite cope as well as I wish I could.

On those days I am sorry for the “hot mess” I am. I am sorry for the leggings that are probably covered in coffee, the running mascara, the dirty hair pulled into a messy bun, the shaking, scared facial expression. On days like these, let me know you see my anxiety is pulling me under, give me a hug and tell me I can do it. It is days like these when friends like you — ones who believe in me when I don’t or can’t — are so important to me.

I’m sorry I’m so intense sometimes. I’m sorry for the countless times I have sobbed on your floor or in public places or called you in tears or texted you incessantly. I am sorry for the hours I whined to you about the same problem when you had a hundred other things to do. I am sorry I am not always the most fun to be around. I am sorry I worry about stupid and silly things sometimes. I am sorry I have trouble letting things go. I am sorry for dumping my problems on you as if you were my therapist when I know you are not. You are my friend, and it was extremely off base for me to do that to you and I will stop.

Thank you for always being there, no matter how hard it is — trust me, I know it is hard. I appreciate everything you have done for me and I appreciate you being my friend, especially when I don’t deserve it. Having friends like you is one of the main ways I keep my head above water and I truly don’t know what I would do without you. Both you and our friendship mean the world to me.

Love,
Your Anxious Friend

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Why I Actually Love My Panic Attacks

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I have slept in LAX more times than I would like. One year, I spent 15 different trips in Chicago midway but have only seen Chicago once. I stayed at a motel where there was a murder the morning I arrived. I have met a world-famous cat photographer, got sex advice from a porn star, and have spotted Snoop Dogg twice; I’m hoping there will be a third time and I will be close enough to fangirl out on him. I have spent countless days in random coffee shops working, I’ve met people who instantly became my best friends and others who were not for me. For 12 hours I was stuck in an airport that did not have any heat and had to share a blanket with a stranger. I’ve never loved someone so much as I did that night. After a snowstorm that caused flights to be canceled at a small airport in Idaho, a dance party broke out and the bar gave everyone free drinks. One time, I watched a football game in a hotel bar, and even though I do not like football, I had made so many new friends that I had to cheer along because they were my family for one night.

My life sounds adventurous and I sound like I am a free-spirited person. I am not, though. For more than half of my life, I was terrified of the world. My life has been a series of panic attacks. It was not until I was 29 that I realized my whole childhood and most of my adult life had been affected by anxiety. Fear ruled my life. I did not sleep, I was afraid to be alone and was convinced everyone I loved would die. The thought of traveling by myself, let alone as a career, sounded like my version of Hell. 

I have come to love and accept my panic attacks. I have also learned to how to tell when my body is going to get one. I get symptoms two or three days before I have a panic attack. It starts with a pit in my stomach, like I’ve done something wrong, and then moves on to my eating habits. I either eat everything in sight or nothing at all. I stop sleeping. I’ll fall asleep for an hour then wake feeling like I am going to throw up. Then at some point, after a few days, I’ll have a panic attack. My most recent one hit while bringing in groceries. I have no warning, I get a lump in my throat, and my entire body goes numb. It lasts anywhere between 1-3 minutes. My heart rate gets ridiculously high, I end up on the floor gasping for air, and I have to remind myself over and over that I am not dying. It sounds dramatic, and at the moment it is, but once it is over I get up, wash my hands and face and continue doing whatever I was doing.

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That is the thing about panic attacks. They come, and they go. It is the worst fear you can imagine. It feels like the whole world crashes in on you. It physically and mentally hurts so bad. I survive it, though. That is why I will always embrace them. It took 29 years to realize what I was experiencing was a panic attack. I used to try and ignore them or push through them. Now I let them happen. When I stopped fighting and just let them be, my entire world changed. The common anxiety I had been experiencing is no longer holding me back. Making friends with a stranger in a hotel bar is not scary anymore. A flight delay or spending the night in the airport is not the end of the world. Panic attacks have taught me to embrace life as an experience. Sometimes it is scary, but it always passes. Life keeps moving. When you are focusing on taking one moment at a time, focus on just taking a breath and experiencing whatever situation you happen to be in, you realize you have the ability to live a life of adventure too. I would never have started traveling or had any of the above experiences if I did not take a lesson from my panic attacks and learn to love them.

Everyone has a different way of handling panic attacks, and there is no right way to deal with it. I had spent so much of my life fighting them that the only way to deal was to accept and embrace them. Sure they are inconvenient, but for me, they are necessary to keep things in perspective. They come on fewer and fewer these days, but when they do come, it is because I have forgotten to live from a place of love and have given into fear.

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