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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Trying to Balance School and Anxiety

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Put simply, dealing with anxiety and school at the same time sucks. It’s a cycle of feeling so anxious you have to skip lessons, then feeling more anxious because you’ve missed a lesson and then thinking you’re going to fail everything. It’s feeling like when you go to a lesson you’re an idiot, but when you don’t go you’ve let everyone down. It’s having to make the decision between taking care of yourself and going home and resting or sitting in class holding back tears so your attendance mark won’t go down.

Personally, I find it difficult to think in a straight line at the best of times. My thoughts rarely follow from one another and more often jump from worry to insecurity to pay attention to what you’re supposed to be doing. Attempting to follow a lesson is…interesting.

I have found that there are two types of teachers when it comes to anxiety: the ones who just seem to get it, and those who don’t. While the ones who are understanding can help to ease the pressure to a level that is just about manageable. Those who don’t can make the hard days almost unbearable. There is no experience quite like sitting in a classroom holding back a panic attack and being called on to answer because you looked like you were daydreaming, or having a teacher be ridiculously vague about the work you have to catch up on from the lesson you missed because you were in an empty classroom sobbing.

For most people, going to school is probably a mild annoyance getting in the way of having fun or a place to go to see your friends and aim high in your goals. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize how incredibly privileged I am for the opportunities I get in terms of my education, but for people living with anxiety, going to school can be a nightmare.

Between thoughts that I’m never good enough, being judged by everyone and keeping up with homework, revision, lessons, and socializing, so much brain power goes into appearing “normal” that there is little room for anything else.

I have written in my previous posts that I am coming to see myself as more than just my grades, and about how my teachers have been incredible in helping me, but that doesn’t mean I’m enjoying school.

If you’re reading this, and you are a teacher, please consider what I am about to write. One in four people lives with a mental illness. That means that if you teach a class of 30 students, it is likely that at least seven of them may have a mental illness. While you don’t have the power to make it all better for them, you can help. Your actions can either drastically reduce or massively increase negative feelings your students may be having. Show your students you care.

If I had to list the top things my teachers have done to either help or hinder my mental illness recovery, it’s this:

Offer an ear or even an empty office.
Knowing I have someone I can go to if I’m feeling anxious makes more of a difference than I can explain. It helps me manage my anxieties and know that you’ll listen to me lifts a weight off my shoulders. I often find it hard to get myself out of a panic attack, so having you there to help me minimizes the emotional damage and exhaustion. Similarly, knowing I can go to your office even if you aren’t there is a privilege I greatly appreciate. It gives me an escape and a place to hide when I need to. It helps me get away from the watching eyes of others and gives me the headspace I need to be able to talk myself back to reality.

Be flexible.
I’m not always able to make deadlines. Sometimes, I plan to do something but am thrown off. This might be because I’m too exhausted to process thoughts, or because in the time I had allocated to this particular piece of work I ended up panicking. Knowing that I will be able to hand in a piece of work a couple of days late if necessary reduces my anxiety so much that even just knowing I have the opportunity to be late can help me get my work in on time. A flexible deadline takes away so much pressure. If you’re the sort of teacher who is lenient, thank you.

School is hard. Mental illness is hard. Put the two together and it’s like adding gasoline to a fire – too much and it will explode. If you’re a teacher, please take the wellbeing of your students into account before laying on the pressure. By being there for your students, you might just save a life.

If you’re a student, hold on. Be kind to yourself and take a day off if you need to. Find that teacher (or another adult) that you can open up to and who can help reduce some of your anxiety. There are people out there who want to hear your voice, you just have to find them. You might not be where you want to be, and you might not end up where you expected to be, but you’ll end up where you were meant to be. It’s okay to not feel okay, but it will be okay in the end.

Thinkstock image via Monstrillustrator.

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Top 10 Things You Do Because of Your Anxiety

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1. You always cancel plans, even if you really want to go.

It could be as little as going on a shopping date with your friends or your mum, and you will be out for just a few hours, but you seem to have canceled it more times than you can remember by making up some lame excuse. In reality, it’s because of your anxiety. I have missed out on countless things because of my anxiety. It definitely stops me from doing what a “normal” 20-year-old should be doing at this age. Before the event, I build myself up for whatever it is by thinking of every single possibility that could happen. Some are far too extreme (which I know) but I still convince myself otherwise. So, by the time the day comes around, I have made up a huge scenario in my head, like how when I get there I am gonna have a major panic attack in front of everyone and make a fool of myself, resulting in me “keeling” over and pretty much dying right there. No wonder I cancel all the time.

2. You feel extremely guilty when you have to cancel on people.

This could be anything — a date, going out for a meal, going to a party, going shopping, going for an interview. It could be literally anything. You beat yourself up about it until you feel ashamed and guilty, especially if it is a regular occurrence. My boyfriend is a lot more outgoing than me; on weekends, when he’s off work, he likes us to go on adventures and spend time together but sometimes (seems to be becoming a lot more regular) I don’t feel like going out and just want to stay at home. This makes me feel really guilty, and like I am holding him back. He assures me it’s OK and that he understands, but I can’t help but beat myself up about it.

3. You constantly doubt yourself every day, and your head is filled with “what ifs.”

Thinking of the worst case scenario in every situation seems like second nature to me. As a person who struggles with health-related anxiety, I know about “what ifs” all too well. I constantly think my headaches are something more serious, which causes more headaches; it’s a vicious cycle which seems to never end. I have been back and forth to my doctors four times about them, and each time they have “reassured” me it’s nothing more than tension due to my anxiety, my mind just doesn’t accept it.

4. You obsess over conversations you have had that day.

This is one of my favorites. It could be literally any conversation you have had with a friend, work colleague, your boss, or even a bus driver. You go over it in your head in detail and convince yourself you sounded or looked stupid when in reality you didn’t. You think about what you should have said or beat yourself up over it, thinking things like, “Why did I say hi like that, they’re gonna think I’m weird.” You think about it until you cringe. We need to stop being so critical of ourselves.

5. You struggle to hold down a job or stay in education.

I think this is personally one of my main struggles. I am now on job number five, I am starting university for the second time around and I am only 20 years old. Each time you “quit” it gets harder and harder to pick yourself back up again, but I am determined to better myself. Since the age of 12 I have wanted to be a nurse, but of course anxiety got in the way of that. I am now working towards helping others who struggle with mental illness, which is one of the reasons why I write – I have a huge heart and love helping others.

6. Things easily get on top of you.

Sound familiar? Oh yes, I have a minor breakdown if my bedroom’s untidy, and I feel like the littlest things suffocate me. I can only deal with things bit and bit, otherwise I feel like everything is crashing down on me.

7. You get agitated easily and have a short temper.

Following on, once things get on top of you (however minor it may be) you easily “snap.” It is usually on those who you love, which leaves you feeling guilty. It feels like it is all one big cycle and there is no way getting out. So, if you didn’t feel bad enough about canceling on people all the time, thinking “what if” in every situation, going over awkward conversations and being jobless, you are now in a mood and snapping on those who you love. Gotta love anxiety.

8. You’re either extremely exhausted or completely wide awake.

… Or both. Personally though, if I am being completely honest, I hardly ever struggle to get to sleep. I am the polar opposite — I struggle to stay awake all day without a nap. I spend most of my day tired and looking forward to bedtime. The only time I struggle to sleep or stay asleep is when I have something major on my mind like an interview, the first day at a new job, an exam or an appointment at the doctors the next day. For anyone who struggles to sleep though, I recommend an app called “Calm.” It has its own sleep section which I find really soothing. Other tips I find helpful are a hot bath before bed, a nice warm drink, or having the fan on (the light breeze and sound of it relaxes me). Opening your window it has a similar effect. I love listening to the rain whilst going to sleep.

9. Some days you really struggle to get out of bed and face the day.

All I can say to that is well done if you got out of bed today. Some days it seems near impossible and all you want to do is climb back in under the duvet with your cat — well, that’s me! I try to avoid sleeping in as it makes it harder for me to get up if it’s already later in the day. I also give myself a task for the next day too, so I do actually have to get up.

10. And finally… you are your own hero.

There is nothing more scary and uncomfortable than fighting a battle inside your own head every single day but still managing to paint a smile on your face. Take each day in your stride. You can do this.

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Unsplash photo via Fade Qu

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An Inner Dialogue With Myself During an Anxiety Attack

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I don’t know. Well, I do know.

I had coffee. I shouldn’t have had coffee. But I like coffee. I meant to get decaf, but I don’t know… I didn’t forget to get decaf. I just wanted coffee. And now I pay the consequences.

I tried using my skills — “Who, what, when, where, why, and how” — but then it ended up with me internally yelling at myself.

I think I’m just lazy. Yeah. I’m lazy. I can’t have depression, I’m always laughing. But when I’m not laughing I’m beating myself up. Blaming myself for every little mistake I make. And I feel so empty and lonely. I’m just lazy.

I just want attention. Those posts about me trying to help people understand my anxiety and depression is just for attention. I don’t need help. I’m fine. compared to homeless people and starving children. I’m fine. Peachy perfect. I’m a-OK. I’m good. Good in the hood.

I don’t know. My mom came in my room earlier asking me to turn off my phone. And I did. But I just started yelling at myself. In my head. Having a conversation. You’re just lazy. You stay up late on your phone. That’s why you’re always tired. No, it’s not because of the phone. It is. No, it’s not. Yeah, it is. Why can’t you just be normal? I stay up because of my thoughts! What thoughts? These thoughts! And then my inner self went quiet. It sounded like a movie. I don’t know.

Because of this, no one will want to deal with me. I’ll be alone. Yeah, I have my parents… mostly my mom… sometimes my mom… I don’t know. But who’d want an anxious girl at 3 a.m. and a depressed one at 4 p.m.? That’s why I don’t have confidence in myself. Because of this.

Breathe. Breathe. Just breathe. I am breathing. Yes. I am alive. But am I living? I think I am. I don’t know. I’ve been afraid of living lately. No, I don’t want to die. I just want this to stop. I’ll be OK. I think. I don’t know. What if this kills me?
What is life? How can I live and enjoy life with this? I am not my diagnosis. I think. I’ve been very unsure about what I’ve been saying recently. I’ll be OK. OK? OK. OK? OK. OK? A-OK.

I need to pee. But if I get up I’ll wake up Ma and then Pa will ask me if I’m OK, and what if i cry? I’m not OK. Wait. We just went over this. I am OK. Why am I not tired? Go. To. Sleep. I need to throw up. No, I don’t. What I need is: to cry. But I’ve been crying too much. Just gotta bottle it down. Just like every other time. Except yesterday and the day before and the day before that. I don’t know. They say crying is OK, but then they see me as weak. I’m not weak. I’m strong. I am resilient. Yeah. I’ll be OK. If not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then the next day. And so on. There has to be a day that I’ll be OK. One day. Maybe. I don’t know.

I think I’m calming down. The thoughts are stopping. What if I get anxious tomorrow morning. Ma and Pa will get mad if I don’t go. I’ll just say I’m fine. I’ve faked that for years now, and they seemed to have believed me. Yeah. I’m fine. Yeah. I. Am. Fine. If I say it enough, maybe it’ll be true one day. Hopefully.

It’s 12:39 a.m. OK. If I go to sleep exactly right now I’ll have six hours and 21 minutes. Yeah. OK. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. I. Can’t. Sleep. I really need to pee. Oh my goodness. I won’t stop shaking. My fault. I’m gonna go pee.

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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Why My Anxiety Means I Take a Week to Get Ready for a Night Out

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I don’t look sick.

If you were to see me out and about, you would likely see a pulled together individual. I’d be cracking jokes, enquiring as to what people have been up to, and you’d be forgiven for assuming I’m doing a great job of navigating my way through my mental illnesses. In fact, at the weekend I was talking to people about my mental health and had three separate conversations with people who were surprised to learn I struggled with it.

This made me think: is that a good thing?

I don’t want to ruin a social event by showing the world just how terrifying I am finding it. Believe me, there would be no better way to throw a wet blanket over proceedings than to let people know what is running through my mind when they are chatting away to me. That said, I want to share how hard it is for some people, as I feel this is how we will raise awareness and understanding of mental health. I also feel it would be good for us to know how many people out there are struggling with the same battles.

young woman wearing make up and glasses holding stuffed animal

When I went out on Saturday, this above photo was “me.”  Makeup on, hair done, joking about while clutching Albie (my “Anxiety Blob”).  I was out for about three and a half hours, and I’m quite proud to say I held it together for that time. Anyone who knew me well may have been able to pick up on my constantly moving hands (so my shaking wouldn’t be as obvious) or the occasional catch in my throat (as I reminded myself I needed to breathe), but to everyone else I kept my secret hidden.

The thing I want to share is that behind those three and a half hours was some serious preparation. The week prior to it had been a tough one.  My anxiety had been sky-high, and my motivation to join the real world each day was low on the good days. I have been trying to record my reality of mental health, and the following photos were taken in that week on two consecutive mornings when I was really struggling to get on with my day.

On these days I did yoga, I meditated, I went to therapy on Tuesday. All week I journaled, I practiced gratitude, I had time curled up on the sofa trying to rest. I ate healthily and I drank lots of water. I did every conceivable thing I could to try to “feel better.”

Sometimes I find it most unfair that doing all these things and putting in the effort doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. The truth is though that while it does not make me “better,” it does stop me from getting worse. young woman crying anxiety

It is also worth being aware that it is not only gearing up for an event like this that takes planning and consideration.  The aftermath needs to be planned in too. I was so mentally exhausted after being in “I’m OK!” mode on Saturday, that Sunday was a washout. I spent it on the sofa, in trackies, watching Harry Potter (the first, second, third and fourth films). This may sound like a lovely lazy Sunday to many, but Sunday is the only day Mr. BuBakes and I have together every week. I wanted to be out with him, doing fun stuff and laughing – the reality was that this was never going to happen. young woman crying anxiety

I guess there are a few main points I want to get across from sharing this today:

1. If someone who battles with their mental health can only commit to “maybe I’ll come along” then often it is not that they aren’t bothered, it may be that they literally do not know if they will be able to manage it.

2. If that someone does manage to come out, be flattered; it must mean a lot to them and a great deal of work may have been done in getting them there.

3. If this is the case, the occasional squeeze of the arm and a “you’re doing amazingly, how are you feeling” goes a long way.

4. If the person needs to suddenly leave, let them know that is OK, and that you appreciate the time they spent there. No doubt the second they go they will be berating themselves for not being able to stick it out for longer, so the assurance that their time spent out was valued goes a long way in stopping the shame cycle.

It is hard for everyone to truly understand how everyday occurrences can take so much, and that’s OK.  No one expects those without a mental illness to simply “get it,” but people acknowledging it is a wonderful thing.

In a previous blog post I wrote:

“Sadly I know there have been comments by people questioning how I can do all my baking and set up BuBakes when I am “sick,” and to those people, I can only say that they perhaps don’t understand the kind of “sick” I am. That’s absolutely fine — I didn’t understand it before, and I still can’t fully get to grips with it now.”

… and two years on this is still entirely true.

My sickness is still one that is hard to explain. It is one people still can’t see unless they know what they are looking for, and it is one I am still getting to grips with.

I think I will be constantly learning about it for the rest of my life, and that is OK — not only because my self-discovery will be ongoing and that is a wonderful thing, but also because it means I can continue to share what I learn as I learn it, in the hope it may help raise awareness and understanding of mental health.

Lots of love to you all.

Bu xx

Follow this journey on bubakes.co.uk.

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Unsplash photo via Cody Aulidge

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As Someone With Anxiety, This Is How I Fall in Love

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This piece was written by Kim Quindlen a Thought Catalog contributor.

As someone with anxiety, I fall in love the way many people do – instinctively, quickly, often easily. The only difference is while I’m falling in love, my brain is also coming up with a million different reasons why this is also terrifying and dangerous and so easily broken.

As someone with anxiety, I fall in love slowly. And with a strange sense of guilt, because of the thoughts that won’t shut up. The thoughts like, This can’t possibly last. This can’t possibly be real. This is too good to be true. Something’s going to ruin this at some point. 

As someone with anxiety, I fall in love while feeling a strange mixture of hope and dread. Hope — that I’ve finally found someone I can talk to, someone I can depend on, someone I can trust, someone who will maybe bring me back when I feel trapped and suffocated in my own mind. And dread — that I will not be good enough, that I don’t deserve this, that my heart now sleeps peacefully in someone else’s hands and could end up being shattered at any moment.

But as someone with anxiety, I also fall in love wholeheartedly.

I fall in love fiercely and absolutely with the commitment to something that is finally light and exciting and real. I feel scared, but certain. Out of control, but also lighthearted. I feel an immediate instinct to protect my person in every way possible with the knowledge I now care about someone else’s life more than my own.

As someone with anxiety, I appreciate the big stuff, but I fall in love during the little moments — quiet car rides, deep sleeps, telepathic looks in the middle of a boring party. I fall in love during reassuring conversations. I fall in love from hand holding that puts me more at ease on a turbulent flight. I fall in love during a Saturday nap and a breakfast date that is just a bagel on a bench and a weekend spent with a family that starts to feel a little bit like my own.

I fall in love during the little things because the little things make me feel normal. The little things with someone special remind me it doesn’t have to take much to bring me back from a dark night or a panic attack or a work meltdown.

As someone with anxiety, I fall in love the way many people do. I fall in love intensely and vulnerably and wholly. The only difference for me is getting to a place where I believe I truly deserve it.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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Thinkstock photo via Ivanko_Brnjakovic.

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