When My Mental Illnesses Convince Me I Need Them
Last night I had a panic attack. Today, I feel exhausted and sad. I don’t know how to describe the day after a panic attack, but it’s like being hungover. Your head often feels heavy, you are tired, your eyes hurt and you spend time trying to piece together the night before. You may have some amnesia. You usually remember how you felt, you remember the obsessive thoughts, but you don’t quite remember the things that surrounded it. You might also look back and feel silly. Because with the new day, you are fresh with the tools to understand your anxiety.
When I am in a panic attack, I do know I am being irrational — that my brain is lying to me. But at the same time I feel like the anxiety I am feeling is making me safe. My anxiety lies to me. It makes me fear losing it. I want to clutch to it like a security blanket. My anxiety and OCD are my security blankets and without them I feel unsafe. I feel out of control of the things around me.
When anxiety and OCD team up on me, they convince me I need them. The anxiety tells me I need OCD to feel prepared and the OCD tells me this is how to make the anxiety go away. Except they never go away. I have tools I am supposed to use to help me when I am in a panic attack. I am supposed to move around. I am supposed to look around me and touch something, smell something, hear something, taste something and see something, and continually repeat that until I am able to be calm. But anxiety is relentless, it convinces you that those things are just things to distract you from being vigilant, from solving the problems at that moment. I feel cut in half, one side completely understanding that this is a panic attack, that I have to use my tools and I will calm and rest. The other side that feels like a rational thought to an irrational need.
Yesterday, I woke up, had a wonderful day, rested most of the day, then went to a diner in the city with a friend in the afternoon. I was feeling great. Wonderful, actually. I entered the city and immediately started to feel dread, a sense of despair washed over me. Then I saw the projects and the feeling just dug deeper. My heart was burning for the people who lost their lives, the lives that have been forever changed.
I arrived at the diner and tried my very best to focus on the decor, conversations and delicious food. I tried to ignore it in hopes of it passing without incident. I finished my meal, drove home, got home and cozy and put on a show. And everything continued to pile up.
I watched Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and a scene with anesthesia made me sick to my stomach. The next episode was about freaks at a carnival, and then I felt so shamed. And before I knew it my heart was racing and I was having difficulty catching my breath.
I was frustrated because at this point it was bedtime, but my brain was alive and was causing my body to burn. My brain reminded me that sometimes people don’t get to live their best life before dying. And when I was able to dismiss that thought, my brain reminded that life is unpredictable and people die in car crashes and accidents and then I was able to dismiss that. Then my brain said try and dismiss this: at any moment a bomb could go off in the middle of the night and you could die in your sleep. My brain then reminded me that the world can be hostile and I have absolutely no control over it, but I must figure out a way to control it.
There must be a safe place. And my anxiety tells my OCD to keep repeating these horrors until I do something about it — until I figure out how to keep me and my family safe. I can’t figure it out and I know this isn’t real, that I am not in any immediate danger and my brain is playing tricks on me. And I just have to get to sleep and wake up the next day and all will be well again. But before I had the courage to walk to bed and force myself to sleep, I paced and cried in my kitchen. I even tried eating some carvel ice cream cake — trying so hard relieve this pain, this burden.
I went to bed and watched a comedy show which finally put me to sleep. I didn’t sleep well, and had bizarre dreams. I tossed and turned. And then I woke with a panic attack hangover.
I spent my day trying to figure out why I was set off and how I could be better in the future. The next day is never easy — I feel confused. I feel sad and exhausted and I feel even closer than the day before to another panic attack. And I realize that I wasn’t happy I fell asleep, just happy I woke up.
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Unsplash image via Thought Catalog