Monday, September 21, 2015

A Personal Tale of Anxiety

Hi, my name is Anna, and I like to make people laugh. I'm upbeat and lighthearted and bringing joy to others through humor is very satisfying to me. Call me for a good time (not in the writing on the bathroom wall kind of way, in the belly laugh and jokes kind of way)!

This is a truthful introduction.

Hi, my name is Anna, and I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, to the point that it sometimes feels debilitating.

This is also a truthful introduction, and it goes on.

There's a healthy level of anxiety, it makes us get things done and think about consequences to our actions. I typically sit one or two notches above that healthy level. Not to where it interferes with my life, but is mildly uncomfortable.

There are times, though, that the anxiety ratchets way up. Sometimes this is a panic attack which is an explosion of agony, a catastrophic amount of internal pain that feels like it is actually  killing you. Sometimes it is the anxiety sitting right around an 8. The problem with this type of anxiety/panic hybrid for me is that I feel like it's the worst of both worlds. Panic attacks, for me, burn bright and hot but flash out fairly quickly. This perpetual level 8 is a long, hard boil that feels like it will have no end.

You are a prisoner in your own mind and body. Your skin is sweaty and chilled at the same time; pieces of it feeling like they are crawling in different directions. You want to pace, you want to curl up in a ball, you want to do anything to stop the building pain. Of course, your chest is tight and your heart beat is doing something weird (mine actually slows down if it's not a full blown panic attack). You can't totally swallow, there's no room for food. Sleep alludes you and you slowly lose your grip on logic. Every thing in your life looks different - why hasn't this person called? what are those people talking about? why do I feel this way, am I sick? The paranoia mounts to a point where your whole world is washed out in places but piercingly bright in others. Everything feels 32 degrees off, and you are fighting as hard as you can to hang on to the ground. You want to cry but there are no tears; everything feels explosive, yet stuck at the same time. It's like you are the big bang, but got frozen three seconds in.

And you have no idea when it will end. It's the moment before the panic attack, but you never get to the full boil, which is great because you don't end up stuck in a laundry basket, but agony because there is no release.

You try everything. Deep breathing, holding ice cubes, stretching, going for a walk, reading something funny, reading the Bible. You ask for help, you tell others. Nothing helps.

Sometimes you are a therapist and in your own therapy and logically you should be able to beat this. You have the tools, you know the techniques, and you have the insight in to your childhood about why you struggle with anxiety. None of it matters. The anxiety grips every one of your cells, you are a prisoner. You are trapped in the catastrophizing of your mind, chewing up and spitting out everything that is good, and in your body because it hurts so bad physically.

Why am I writing this? To be cathartic. To remind myself that it ends. I will get back to my happy 3 or 4. To help those who don't struggle with this to begin to understand. Largely because people don't talk about it. To let others know they aren't alone. It's national suicide prevention month. Many people don't "get" suicide. I don't totally "get" it on a personal level. However, I do  know how it feels to feel like you are no longer a passenger on your own ship, let alone the captain. I know how it feels to stay silent, because your problems feel too big and too unrelatable. I know desperation, the voice screaming in your head, "fix this! Fix this however you can!" I know silence is never the answer.

So, my words to you are, you're not alone. If you struggle with anxiety or depression or OCD or a personality disorder or any number of mental illness. You are not alone. And you are not broken. I have all the tools and training and support I "should" need to not struggle with anxiety. It doesn't matter, mental illness is not always in our control. I know you don't want sympathy or advice, but I do know that I understand on some level. You are not alone. You are worth fighting for. Your flavor of crazy is not too much for me.  

Hi, my name is Anna, and I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, to the point that it sometimes feels debilitating. But that's not the entirety or the end of my story, and it doesn't have to be yours either.

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