Panic Attacks R Us
A short while ago, I called out of work due to a massive panic attack. It had been a minute since I had one like this where I felt I was unable to leave the house and go to my job. I am normally so skilled when they come, I could be having one right now and you wouldn't know it.I called out of work before for this reason at a different job a while back. When asked why I was out, I told my coworker I had a massive panic attack and just didn't think waiting tables would have been a good idea. They responded by saying , "Nice! That's a good reason for a day off." When I realized they were making a joke regarding the reasoning for my absence, I explained that it was not just an excuse to play hooky. I had a horrible day filled with dread and begging my body to feel normal for five minutes and would have much rather been at working making $200.I became aware that a few people do not understand what exactly a panic attack can do. My husband was one of them when they first started affected me. He would give suggestions of how to make it better (go outside, listen to music, why can't you go to the post office?) and it was always difficult to explain that's not exactly how it works. When he woke up with one a few years ago, the lightbulb finally went off as to how bad they can be.
Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
I understand some people are lucky enough to never have experienced a panic or anxiety attack. I've had both. I find the panic attack to be the worst of the two as it is normally unprovoked and unexpected. At least with anxiety, I can usually pinpoint what is the cause and attempt to avoid it or at least lessen the fear. I have them right before I fly because I hate flying. I know what that is. The panic attacks I have are usually large, long, and scary. I am envious of people who have never been in the depths of one. They will never understand why calling out of work or canceling plans is not only a logical but absolutely necessary.For those of you who don't know, here's the best I can do.I woke up in the morning before my alarm and knew it was coming. I heard my husband getting ready for work and I lay still, trying to breathe. I have a few exercises I do that sometimes help but this one was relentless. My husband came back into the bedroom and I considered not telling him but he said something to me and I let it burst out. I started crying and panicking more. Then it got worse.It feels like something crawling up from my toes to my skull. As if spiders were inching their way up and I can not do anything to stop it. I can only watch and feel their little legs climbing up to my brain where they will electrocute it. My chest tightens and feels like I am being crushed slowly. I can breathe but it hurts, like someone is trying to press down and stop my chest from rising. It is like a trap where there is no escape. It is being outside my body and looking down and watching it happen and knowing I can not do anything to stop it.My arms and legs tend to shake and twitch when I am in the thick of it. I usually cry because I can't control any of it and I feel weak and stupid. That might be the worst part for me. I beg my body to make me normal, to stop this. I apologize to my husband who is now late for work because he is holding me, touching my pressure points, whispering it is going to be okay. I keep apologizing because I am ashamed. Because I should be stronger than this. Because I am texting my boss that I can not come into work because I do not feel well which is true but also a lie. But I worry not everyone believes panic attacks are enough to not operate as usual so I hide it. Most of us hide it.I remain in this state for several hours. The shaking stops at least. The cats snuggled up with me are comforting. At this point, I feel out of it, fuzzy. My brain, having been electrocuted by the spiders, is now like snow on a TV screen. I keep thinking I am dying because you always think that. The tight chest, arms sometimes tingling, mouth dry, eyes hurting like they have been staring at the sun for some reason. Death must be coming for me because I can't string two sentences together. I feel weak, spent, like I'm the Earth having just been through an earthquake.It is unstoppable, unrelenting, a demon on a motorbike just racing up and down your entire being. It feels like it will never end when you are in the center of the storm. Sometimes the waves are high and crash down hard. Moments I think I am okay, I find I am not as another comes barreling in. Sleep helps if I can manage it.I have had people tell me to go out and do something. Occasionally, I do if I am able. A lot of times it feels like having a bad flu where I can't leave my bed. The world outside the bedroom door is horrifying and the idea of stepping outside where people can see you just freezes you to your core.If this sounds dramatic, it's not. This is how it is for me. This is how I feel when it comes for me. This is more than a self care day with facial masks and reality TV shows. It is self care in its truest form. I knew I was suffering too much to put myself through even a routine day at my very stress free job. Sure, self care can be your favorite meal plus favorite movie and some wine and perhaps my day looked similar. I took my herbal supplement that helps with anxiety (Rhodiola for those who need it). I drank water. I ate a very light, very simply as it was a struggle to get up and make anything. I stayed in bed, with my cats, and watched a familiar movie. Sometimes I try and read but my head is so fucked up, I can't focus. Harry Potter helps because I know it by heart or Lord of the Rings. Anything I know that I don't need to absorb and process is the only thing that can help. Since I usually can't sleep because my mind is going through every memory and word I've ever spoken and how fucked up I feel, familiarity helps to quiet it all down.Mental health is finally being talked about on many platforms in a supportive and educational format. It is important to openly talk about it so bosses, friends, family, whoever, understand that when you say you are suffering from a panic or anxiety attack, you aren't exaggerating. You aren't trying to get a free day. You are trying to take an actual mental health day because going to work or to a party or just downstairs can make it even worse.When it's over, I am drained. It's like having a hangover but even more exhausting. Everything is difficult, even getting up to brush my teeth. I did get up and shower and that felt good but I went back into bed when another wave came along. This was a long ride. I can always tell when it isn't going to stop any time soon. It made me even angrier that it had been a while and here I was, for no reason, incapacitated in my bed. The shame always comes after the first wave.Being an artist, this is can be a difficult reality. Patti Murin wrote a beautiful piece when she called out of Frozen on Broadway one night about why she had to and that there is no shame in doing so. There might be a performance, a deadline, an audition and an attack. Same as I mentioned before, it is reason enough to cancel or call out. It isn't me when I am having one. I have oftentimes become a shell of myself, a creature cornered in the dark waiting for it all to end. Having done a performance during a panic attack, I can tell you I have no memory of it whatsoever. I got through it and no one noticed but it wasn't a full performance to me as I didn't feel it, I wasn't present, I didn't give everything I usually do. I won't ever do that again.I should have said I was having a panic attack when I said I couldn't come into work. I should have admitted it was happening and called it by its name. As Dumbledore says, "Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself." I should not be ashamed about something I didn't ask to have. All I can do is try and prevent them and heal myself as naturally and efficiently as possible with professional help. But sometimes, I need a day to let it take over and run its coarse so I can get up the next day and be thankful it's gone.It is not a weakness or a shameful secret. I don't know where they came from or why I didn't have them my whole life. Even now, I want to cry knowing I have them living inside me, waiting to escape like the scene in Alien when the chestburster comes out of Kane. But there are here now and part of me. At least I know I am not alone.