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What I Want Those Close to Me to Know About My Severe Anxiety

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I’d like to let you know how my anxiety and panic attacks affect me. I would like to explain why I can’t leave the house sometimes, why I might seem unreliable and why I might have to cancel plans at last minute. I’d also like you to know how you can help.

Firstly, I want you to understand what severe anxiety and panic attacks feel like. Anxiety is not about feeling nervous or worried about something. It’s more extreme and it affects me both physically and mentally. Severe anxiety is ongoing. It can last for hours, even days. These are the times I find it hard, even impossible to function. Panic attacks only last a short time, but they are more extreme and can happen anywhere, usually completely unexpectedly. They are terrifying, both for me and for those unlucky enough to be around me when they happen.

Both severe anxiety and panic attacks are awful, crushing experiences that feel like someone is piling paving stones on my chest or like there is a massive snake wrapped around me squeezing tighter and tighter. Then I often feel like I can’t get enough air, may faint, or become frozen to the spot. I always get to the floor asap and stay there until I am OK again. Sometimes I need medication, and sometimes I need someone on the phone with me. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. And sometimes, perhaps surprisingly, I need to be alone.

After severe attacks I am usually exhausted. I am unable to drive or do much at all. This means I often have to change plans at last minute. I feel exhausted and I feel like a mess. Oh, I look a mess too: such a pretty picture of a ghost like complexion, red eyes and mascara smudged down my face. I sometimes need help to breathe, to calm down and to get me to a safe place.

For a while after a panic attack or after a period of severe anxiety, I may need to rest completely. I may need to be alone. I may not be able to maintain contact with everyone immediately. This does not mean I do not think of you or that I care about you any less. If I can leave the house, I may need to stick to very familiar places and only be with a very small number of people I can trust unconditionally.

I hope I have helped you to understand severe anxiety and panic attacks and how they may affect me and others. As I have described, they can be horrific experiences both while they are happening and afterward. So I am genuinely sorry if during and after these times I cannot function properly. Again this may feel to you like I am making excuses, like I am avoiding you, or like I am letting you down. I’m really don’t mean to. It is just a part of my condition I have to live with. I really hope you can live with it too.

Originally published: September 2, 2016
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