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What My 'Functional' Anxiety Attacks Are Like

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When I’m having an anxiety attack, you would never be able to detect it. You may think I’m tired or distracted, but you would never guess my brain is trying to fight itself to the death. I’m still functional, I’m still talking, I’m still able to engage enough with the company that I’m with to not raise any suspicion. I’m not crying or screaming, pulling my hair, scratching myself or any of the “typical” signs of an anxiety attack. I’m able to still be present in the situation I am in and seem as if I’m fine. I’m still conversing and expressing the proper emotions. But what’s really going on is that part of my brain is trying to tell my body it needs to die.

Half of my brain is filled with the most terrifying and destructive thoughts it can come up with. That part of my brain is trying to tell the rest of my brain and my entire body that the world is ending and it should just give up while it can. It should give up before it gets destroyed by whatever external element it’s fixated on at the time. The smallest thing can set off an insane attack that’s completely irrational until fear takes over. The fear and the doubt is what the anxious part of my brain feeds on — it needs it in order to be able to thrive. And in these photos, it is thriving more than you could even imagine. There’s enough fuel for it to not only affect me mentally, but also physically. My blood pressure rises which leads to a headache and sometimes severe bruising from my weakened blood vessels rupturing. I can’t breathe, I feel like I’m being crushed and suffocated at the exact same time. The anxiety feels like a thousand pounds on top of my chest, squeezing and compressing it so that my lungs can’t expand. Having lungs that can’t expand means I can’t inhale any oxygen which means there isn’t any oxygen-rich blood traveling through my system or up to my brain which causes extra panic to set in and makes the tightness and hyperventilating worse. My anxiety brain tells my heart it has to either fight or give up and my heart decides to fight. I’m tachycardic by now with a resting heart rate of anything between 150-180. I’m freaking out, I’m panicking. My brain is telling my body that it has so many things to be afraid of that I can’t control or avoid. The anxious part of my brain is trying to scare my body into thinking it isn’t worth the fight and that it should just give it up. But there is another side to my brain, the part that wants to survive.

Even during the worst anxiety attack, there’s a part deep in my mind that wants to fight and survive. It is telling me this will pass and that no matter how scary it is, I will get through it and my body will survive. Logically I know there is nothing compressing my chest and there is nothing filling my lungs. I may feel as if I’m unable to breathe, but I also know the absolute worst thing that could happen is I pass out. And if it comes to that, my body will take over. Once I lose consciousness, my body’s natural instinct will take over and make sure I get enough air into my lungs and enough oxygen throughout my body and stay functioning at a healthy rate. My heart will be able to reset itself eventually, the tachycardia will go to a more manageable range. At some point the arrhythmias will go away and I will have a normal rhythm. My heart I have to monitor more closely than my breathing because I have POTS. And if for some reason my heart isn’t able to reset itself, I know I can get to a doctor and they will be able to do it. They will be able to make sure I am physically safe and secure. I just have to gain control of the mental aspect of the attack which is harder because of how powerful the anxiety is. It has done such a good job of convincing my body to give up that it tries to convince my entire brain to. But I won’t let that happen — I can’t. I have to combat the fears. I may not understand my purpose or what I’m doing here or why I even exist, but I’m able to find something to keep me going.

I have my dog, she’s my best friend and she helps me through so much. She needs to be fed and taken outside to run around the yard and get some energy out and to relieve herself. There’s no one else around so if I don’t do it for her, it won’t get done and she needs it. That’s my job which means it’s a purpose of mine in life. It sounds like such a small thing, but sometimes it’s all I need to know in order to reground myself and get just enough energy to fight. I know she loves me and needs me and will sit right by my side throughout this fight.

These attacks can last for hours and I’m completely exhausted. I feel like I don’t have any energy left and that there’s no way for me to get through this. But I’ve gotten through every single anxiety attack I’ve experienced so far and I will get through this one. Please don’t think I’m rude because I seem like I’m not paying attention and that I’m out of it because I promise you, that that is not the case.  I’m in such a huge internal battle I am determined to win every time.

Originally published: March 21, 2018
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