As today is World Mental Health Day, I thought I would share some of my experiences with anxiety and panic disorder. Whenever I have too much alone time, I start to sink into a well of sadness. It’s not something I’m proud of and I don’t try to dwell in it, but sometimes I think those days are needed. A few weeks ago, I had a pretty long, quiet week. My mom, who I live with, was gone in Mexico and I decided to do homework all week instead of hanging out with friends. On one particular night, I slipped on the sadness like a coat. My stress levels were reaching boiling point, that I ended up having a panic attack, laying on the kitchen floor, and crying my eyes out. The only thing that ended up centering me was turning on the changeable lights above our cabinets and watching them change color to my depressing music. (ALL BY MYSELFFFFF, DON’T WANNA BE ALL BY MYSELFFFFF)
Panic attacks are something recent for me. Last year, I was finally able to label the hard-to-breathe-can’t-see-straight feeling that I would get almost every month. If you’ve never had a panic attack, it’s a feeling that is difficult to explain. You start to feel like you can’t breathe. You feel disoriented. You feel like you’re suffocating in your own mind and there is no escape. Your heart is beating rapidly in your chest and you’re trying to calm yourself down but nothing is helping. You know it’s irrational and there is nothing to panic about, but nothing can calm you down.
One of my worst panic attacks was before I had to give a speech in my PR class last year. I’m not a media relations major. I don’t like speaking in public, especially in front of a class full of PR majors. These people have been working years in the industry and years towards a degree that I had no familiarity with. The whole day I felt a sense of dread. I felt weak. Didn’t want to eat and was shaky. My roommate would speak to me when she would come into the room, but I wouldn’t hear her because my heart was racing so fast and I felt that if I moved, I would throw up. It was an irrational feeling, but that didn’t stop me from laying in fetal position until I had to walk to class.
Thankfully, I ran into my friend Natalie who had some voodoo type medication that she let me use that calmed me down a touch..not much, but enough to eventually go to class and not skip it altogether like I wanted to do. I got through the class, made my presentation, and as soon as I was finished, I could finally breathe. I remember that it was Halloween night and I ran to my room, got dressed, and started drinking as soon as the memory of me panicking because I couldn’t remember the word “decrease” and instead said “un-increase.” Yeah, that really happened. And I still think about that memory of me forgetting how to say that word practically every week.
This past Tuesday, I had another, pretty bad, panic attack in a Starbucks. The music was too loud, the couple next to me laughing too hard, and the list of homework that I knew I had to finish was mounting. I could feel bile at the back of my throat and my hands started to shake pretty bad. I couldn’t calm myself down, ended up leaving, and crying in my car for close to an hour. And then ate McDonald’s which I haven’t done in years, and felt like shit. But, that’s another story entirely.
I’m not writing this to make people feel sorry for me, because what would you feel sorry for? A twenty-something who gets stressed out easily and is highly prone to panic attacks? Boring. I’m writing this as a way to remind myself that as bad as things look in those panic-stricken moments, things will be fine. They will. That presentation wasn’t nearly as bad as you thought it would be, was it?
If you’re prone to panic attacks or massive spouts of anxiety, let me know your methods of calming yourself down. One that works the best for me is tapping on my collarbone. I know, it sounds weird, but that repetition can center yourself and gives you something to focus on besides the anxiety. As today is World Mental Health Day, use the #dontpanicbutton and don a red button (any kind of red button) to show your support to those who are prone to panic attacks!
Have a great Friday.