My anxiety is an intruder. It is a shape shifter. It gives me enough time to get used to one breed of panic attack before switching to a new one.
Some of the ways it manifests:
– The terrifying & persistent thoughts I can’t shake that I’m going crazy & will never be sane again – taunting me with institutional living, ECT or never being able to leave home again.
– Feeling like my head is expanding like a balloon & is going to burst or the headaches that feel like someone strong is squeezing the sides of my skull. Bright lights hurt, I must lay in the dark. A cold cloth on the forehead helps a little.
– The times I become sure I am dying, or am going to die. “There is something wrong & the doctors aren’t catching it,” my anxiety says to me, “by the time they do, it’ll be too late.” Occasionally, if Edward is home during this type of attack, he’ll give me a mini physical with his stethoscope, reassure me that nothing is wrong. “It’s just anxiety,” he’ll tell me.
– The times I feel in a very real way, though I know it logically to be untrue, that I am a ghost or that everyone – Edward. I, Sam & Lena – are already dead & we are in some kind of afterlife.
– The periods of time when I cannot get my arms or legs to follow my brain’s commands to move. They feel like they are made of stone. One time I got stuck in the backyard this way & got a sunburn.
– The exhaustion attacks which I just lay in bed & breathe through – too anxious to fall asleep & too frozen by terror of nothing/everything to get out from under the comforter. If I’m lucky, the dogs will come lie in bed with me.
The worst one I’ve ever had was last week. I felt it coming on. I took my three little blue Klonopin pills & went to lay down in bed. Our bed is a mattress on the floor as Sam (165lbs, our now 3-year-old Great Dane) & Edward (6’4”) sleeping on the same side of the bed caused our bed frame to break, then our box spring too. I had sensations I’ve never had before, not quite hallucinations but similar to a bad acid trip. I could feel the bed spinning clockwise in the cosmos. This part is not unusual – spinning & dizziness are often a part of it. But I felt that I was laying in the bottom of a wheel, a human sized hamster wheel, and I could feel the metal rungs hitting my spine as it spun, curled up with my knees to my chest. It hurt.
After this attack last week, I wanted to see a neurologist. I was sure there was a tumor in my brain. I’d never heard of anyone having these almost-hallucinations during a panic attack and, even scarier, neither had my psychiatrist. I called him that evening, after the spinning & the crying & the hamster wheel had stopped. He tweaked one of my medication’s doses. He said I should see a result by the beginning of the next week if it was going to help – two white capsules at night & one in the morning, Klonopin for when the attacks happen or I have to go to a doctor’s appointment.
The next day I didn’t drink coffee. I thought maybe the caffeine was contributing to my anxiety. I yawned all morning then had another attack around noon. I saw stars at the edges of my vision like a person who has been struck in the head. Edward said, “That’s normal,” then corrected himself, “None of this is normal, but you’re going to be fine.” We were at the doctor’s office but it was his appointment this time, not mine. We were getting impatient, they were taking forever to get us out of there, to give us his prescription slips. He placed his hand on my shoulder. I appreciated this correction he made, it meant a lot to me – this acknowledgement that these trippy & unsettling experiences I have so often are not something that I should just accept as a part of my days, as my fate. It was an attack despite no coffee, so back to drinking coffee it was.
I found a book that has been helping, though who can say how much is the medication change versus the strategies I’m learning from the book. It’s called “Dare,” & it preaches that when we resist the anxiety’s arrival we give it more strength. We need to welcome it. Now, when I am home & I start to feel the anxiety in my body – freeze, fight or flight sensations – I shout, “Welcome! You can join me but I don’t have time to listen to your prophecies today.”
When I feel the beginnings of a panic attack & am out in the world I keep to my original plans. I still go to the store to buy more fish for the aquarium, I still get my underarms waxed even if while I am alone in the room waiting for the waxer to come back I feel like I am underwater & my face is sinking into itself with each breath. I do not leave as quickly as possible or turn the car around and drive home even though the anxiety tells me to go home, to flee. I make myself go through with what I set out to do. The anxiety tells me, “You’ll have a panic attack in the store, in front of strangers, and embarrass yourself,” and I respond with to it with a “so what, whatever” attitude as the book has taught me.
I haven’t finished reading it yet & I’m honestly surprised I’m even reading it at all. Accepting things I do not like has never been my way of doing things, I’m more of a fighter. I call the police when someone brings an aggressive dog to the dog park. I started gathering legal evidence to go to court when the pipes froze in our apartment building in Birmingham two winters ago & we had no running water in our apartment (no toilet, no shower, no sinks) for three weeks because the landlord was basically a slumlord & didn’t want to pay to fix the pipes.
But maybe, after all of the times it’s been suggested to me by the universe in one form or another, I need to learn how to practice some mindfulness. I’ve had enough of daily anxiety & almost daily panic attacks. I’ll try almost anything at this point to make my unwelcome guest a little easier to live with, even radical acceptance, and so far it seems to be helping pretty solidly.