While I was listening to a friend the other day talk about the paralyzing anxiety she feels at times when she is least expecting it, I was reminded of the horrible anxiety and panic attacks that I suffered from throughout most of my life. I've not felt it quite so much nor quite so often within these past few years, to that degree. But starting in my midTeen years and lasting to my early forties, anxiety and panic lurked, loomed, seized me, and basically made my life pretty unpredictable.
Anxiety, fear, panic; those can be good preservation skills, protecting you from danger. But when that anxiety begins to escalate and spin out of control, when it affects your ability to function; then it is passed the "pay attention" stage and can be debilitating.
My first experience with unbidden, unstoppable, out of my control panic that seemed to come completely out of the blue happened on my first day of tenth grade at a new school. I was fairly sensitive as a child, but as an adolescent, I would become volatile at times and by the time I in neared sixteen, explosive rage would consume me. I generally had pretty good control of it, that I wouldn't lash out and hit or scream others was remarkable because I certainly felt like it an amazing amount of time. I think that not investigating those feelings in a safe place or way led to some other problems like overwhelming panic that implodes with little to no warning.
I totally freaked and lost my shit, on the school bus, at the end of the day. It was alarming to me, to all the other students on the bus, and to my bus driver. The level of the noise that triggered it was so bad that my bus driver pulled the bus over and parked on the side of the road. Since the driver decided to assert and establish her domain on the bus by telling us that she would not move the bus until we all quieted down, the students' noise escalated, and I could feel myself getting dizzy, short of breath, sweating, and so I tried to get off the bus. The bus driver blocked the way and I lost my shit. Was it handled well? No. But the thing is, it was only a matter of time before the anxiety got the best of me. If it wasn't that day, that incident, that bus driver, then it would have been some day, some incident, some body.
The next day, I could not make myself get back on the bus. It felt horrible that I was having this reaction and I was miserable. I went home, crying, and woke my father with my panicked sobs. His reaction was to ask me if I wanted to be like my crazy aunt, who everybody knew was a hypochondriac, and that I best get control of myself right.NOW.
Over the next few years, I became hypersensitive to everything. Sensory overload made me feel like I was aware of every.single.thing. Every detail of every nanosecond bombarded me. That's when I became aware that time is taffy, stretching and shrinking, but mostly streeeeetching.
In my twenties, shopping became a nightmare. Too many options and choices would overwhelm me to the point I would flee and return to my apartment, shaken and feeling cowardly and bewildered. In my thirties, I would awake in the grips of a physical panic attack, blood racing, mind revving, nerves jangling, unable to catch my breath.
That was an especially horrifying and frustrating time. It was frustrating for me because I couldn't figure it out. It was also frustrating because counselors would say that I must be worried about something and it was my mental state that brought about the physical state. In actuality, I tried to explain but was often dismissed, it was my physical state that brought about the mental anxiety to match the physical anxiety. Regardless of the chicken or the egg, I wanted it to end, or at least to understand it so that I could somehow figure out what to do to get thru it.
The secret? Sometimes the only way out is thru. I am not the first to have said that, but it certainly seems to be the case for panic attacks. I had begun to fear the fear itself. I would panic because I was panicking and that never seems to end well. So instead of trying to stop it, get off the train barreling down the track; I'd reassure myself that this is not going to kill me and most everything that can happen during this moment is fixable. I also learned not to care quite so much about not embarrassing others who were with me when it happened, because it's not about them, and they are the ones choosing to be embarrassed by something they have no control or ownership of.
For a time, thru my thirties, I took medication that was specifically aimed at reducing anxiety and panic. I still do, tho the medication that I take now is not quite as strongly sedating. I don't like that drugged feeling and that would actually cause me to be more anxious rather than less so. I also stay away from highly addicted medications that are for acute panic attacks, like Xanax. The thing with that is that the effect escalates quickly, peaks, and then drops just as suddenly. Which then means that folks are more likely to feel they need it more often and that can be not only habit forming, but ineffective, and not the best way to cope with shit.
I also was receiving counseling. Still do, most for maintenance and reality checks. I've a complex set of disorders that require lots of self monitoring, which I manage pretty well. But sometimes I need to make sure that something was an appropriate reaction or just to check in and have a more objective observation than my own. I'm in my own head, so I can't exactly get out of it in quite the same way that someone who is outside of me can, ya know?
I learned a ton of coping skills that work for ME, because just like my experience with any one drug is going to be mine and not necessarily everyone else's, some coping mechanisms work for me that won't work quite as well for others. And I learned what my triggers were more likely to be, so that I could prevent a building of anxiety by avoiding those triggers or limiting my exposure to them.
Sleep became a hugely important issue and diet and exercise also factor in as well. Do I still get anxious? Yes, of course. Some anxiety is normal and to be without it means that I would be dulled and affectless which is not desirable at all.
The thing about this sort of anxiety that becomes panic is that it can happen for NO discernible reason what so ever. That's the thing that most people don't seem to understand. Chances are that you aren't choosing to panic, you aren't choosing to be anxious. And it becomes extremely frustrating for you and those around you. Your spouse might be completely puzzled and not get that if you could control this, you would. Oh you so would.
I understand their confusion, because I felt that way too. As a child, I had been raised to value logic and reason above intuition or feelings. I was constantly told in a myriad of ways that being sensitive was a bad thing and that I needed to toughen up. So I often ignored those things about myself, until they became so explosively overwhelming that they demanded my attention. So I would ridicule myself in an attempt to make myself listen to reason and stop all that nonsense, what am I crying about anyway? It's just noise, it's just a crowd, it's just this and that, it's only ...
But the truth is, sometimes, enough is enough is enough and this is just too much. So the next time you're handed a straw, it might be enough to break your back. So if you feel this approaching, sure, do what you can do to head it off. But you might also be to the point where there is no building up, there is no approaching to sense; because you go from calm to being panicked in a nanosecond, much like a vehicle that goes from a stand still to 120 in one minute. You're not meant to move so fast, and that can wear you out and break you down.
Being balanced in many ways allows me to function and flourish. Find your balance range, in your ways. It took me a looooooooooooong time, with more than a few setbacks, and lots of assistance to get to where I am now. Your journey does not need to be nearly so long. Resources are available, you can do this. I have the utmost confidence in you.