The Mighty Logo

The Aftermath of an Anxiety Attack

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

There are some feelings we just don’t have words for.

I want it to make sense, the kind of sense where I can tell it to myself quickly and adequately before I get there. I want a pause button so I can take breaks in between the gaps of air I’m trying to swallow and tenseness I feel in my neck.

I know I need to keep a lid on my emotions so they don’t manifest into something I can’t manage, but I need them to slow down just enough so that I can make things seem OK. I need my mind to stop racing and my heart to stop charging along to its careless tune. But I can’t. I’ve started a sequence of events that need to play out.

I can’t rationalize how I got here. Maybe I could, but the words might run on too long or stretch out, too much pressure on a consonant, emphasizing it at all the wrong parts. My thoughts are punctuated by too many exclamation marks and not enough periods. I could say it in a tone that either dismisses how I feel or makes you think I’m being overzealous.

Anxiety is a chemical thing. With a doubt or a thought, problematic levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine are released — and I know exactly how that feels for me.

I need to unravel the rope I’ve laced through all the holes in the story and tear down the web I’ve tried to spin to hold everything that I’m feeling and thinking in place. It’s like an elastic that’s been stretched and wrapped too far; the tension is tight and it’s bound to break.

Snap. All the pieces fall to the ground and I’ll follow.

In the aftermath of an anxiety attack, I’m staring into a mirror, unable to recognize myself yet see a familiar face. I’m two-dimensional. My expressions are expressionless; they’re half painted pictures that are trying too hard to convey an emotion. It’s a depiction of something that isn’t true; a facade so complex with hundreds of different thoughts compiled into just one portrait that make it look simple.

I’m heaving, trying to get rid of the poisonous thoughts in my head, the ones I’m too afraid to speak and too worried to hear the consequences of. The words are viscous and they pop as they hit the air. They’re filled with shock and anguish. I’m wishing I could curl into myself to stop from shaking, so I hold my knees close to my chest until the cries turn into hiccups.

A wave of heat flashes over me and then it’s cold and I have goosebumps. I’m in a state where everything feels numb after feeling so intense. My adrenaline has run out and I can’t bring myself to any sort of comfort. The moments after an anxiety attack are feeling adrift while trying to find your way to shore. There is no more energy left to exert to get back to where I was before the tides of my emotions began to reign in and the heavy roar of panic washed over me.

You can’t carry on with what you were doing before because everything feels so heavy under the weight of what you just went through.

My fists are clenched tightly, my nails holding on to the palms of my hands as if they were clinging to a lifeline that was never even there. The pain and pressure distracts me from the flood of thoughts drowning my consciousness.

I can hear my heart still ringing like bells in my ears. There are alerts in my head of the running list of things I still need to do but it’s so powerful it almost ceases to exist. There is nothing but a heaviness in my stomach and a tightness wrapped around my throat.

My upper lip stiffens. I blink and it’s dry and tight. I’ll do it again, keeping my eyes closed and trying to regain the thoughts I had before the edges began to fade to black and I lost control.

There’s leftover emotion and a tinge of distress that lingers. I’m lightheaded and I need to remember how to control my breathing and how to stop crying. It is physically and mentally draining, so much so that I could fall asleep right where I fell apart. I’ll wake up in the rubble but maybe this time, I’ll find a way to make it work. I’ll find a way to shore and comfort before I get pulled into another anxiety attack.

Unsplash via Ricardo Mion

Originally published: October 3, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home