I become incredibly mentally verbose during panic attacks. Something about the physical paralysis of my limbs versus the mental acrobatics of my mind can result in some fantastically well-articulated prose. Of course, the paralysis part means that I rarely am able to get my thoughts down in writing, as the only movements I can usually persuade my body to make when I’m in the grip are sort of jerky reflex spasms. So instead, I try to lie down on my side, and curl up with my teddy bear, and as much as I can direct my racing thoughts towards the positive. Or at least, I resist spiraling toward the negative with all my might. I never thought I would write about my anxiety. I know journaling is encouraged as a way to process, and at times that’s helped, but I’ve never been good at writing (or doing much of anything) without a purpose. It just seems like a lot of effort when I’m already exhausted. But earlier today, I was wondering if my experiences with an anxiety disorder and depression (and I acknowledge that on that spectrum I am much more fortunate than many, being able, for the most part, to function day-to-day with minimal accommodations) could be shared. The more I learn about anxiety and depression, the more grateful I am for those brave enough to share their experiences. Even if no one reads my blog, it gives me purpose to put these posts out into the world as an effort at normalizing struggles with anxiety and depression. So many people work through issues much more serious than mine every day, and I feel that I must respect them and support them by being open and honest about my own experiences.
Today’s panic attack seemed so unreasonable. I received an email from my chair telling me that my letter (a request for travel funding) was too brief, and didn’t I write something more detailed on another occasion? A completely reasonable request. And yet, within thirty minutes I had an upset stomach, a tension headache, and felt pressed down by a wave of exhaustion so powerful I didn’t know if I’d be able to drive home. I acknowledge that this reaction wasn’t caused by the email itself, which was actually fairly innocuous. It was all of the triggers I’ve built up over the past three years of graduate school. So I made it home, put on comfortable clothing, and curled up in the best nest I could make (which happened to be an air mattress, because I’m in the process of moving, which has been a major stressor by itself). And yes, since I’m being open and honest, I took the medication prescribed by my doctor for these occasions. As I lay in my nest one of the many strands of thought running through my mind was about how strange it was that my body felt frozen while my mind felt like it was exploding. This reminded me to focus on my body, the tingling in my hands and feet, the jerky movements of my arms when I tried to tell them to move. I felt my shallow, rapid breathing, and tried taking a deep, slow breath. It made my chest hurt. But it helped. And I reached for my laptop. I still feel conflicted about posting this. I’m a very private person, but I don’t know if my tendency to hide is self-protection or paranoia. I’d like to think that I’ll post this. It felt good to quickly write down my thoughts without too much self-censoring.
Patrick Roche’s “The Perfect Panic Attack” is a must-watch.