My Mental Illness

Surviving a Panic Attack

This past weekend, I had about three smaller anxiety attacks and one extremely one. They all happened within a 24 hour time. There are different kinds of panic attacks that I experience, or at least panic attacks express themselves in different ways. The most common being where I hyperventilate and am paralyzed by fear. I can barely speak, I can barely breathe, and I just struggle for breath. I can sometimes squeak out different words like “hold me” or “I’m scared” to try to communicate to anyone who is around me. I have others that range from sitting very still and trying not to shiver or cry, to a full on sob that I can’t stop. No matter what, I can usually tell it’s a panic attack because my mind is racing, I think I’m going to die, someone around me is going to die, or the world is going to end. While that may sound dramatic, anyone who has experienced a panic attack or extreme anxiety can understand.

Even though my panic attacks are scary, they are usually not dangerous to me. However, I had a very large, and scary one that hasn’t reared it’s ugly head in several years. I was driving to work, and even though I felt like something was wrong all day, like I had so much to do and everything wasn’t where it needed to be, I knew I had to get to work that afternoon. My breathing had been shallow all day and breathing in deeply only seemed to make me dizzier. The reason I was so determined to get to work was because the previous day, my job had been threatened. I had made some mistakes and it sounded like my employers were going to fire me (it turns out it was a big misunderstanding, they apologized profusely when they realized that they had made it sound like my job was in jeopardy after a few minor mistakes at a relatively new job). I didn’t want to give them another reason to terminate me. I thought I was fine.

When I got on the road, I seemed relatively okay. Nervous, and shaky, I drove forward. I kept telling myself that it was going to be a great day, that things would be fine, I would prove that I was a wonderful employee. I breathed deeply, slowly, doing everything I had learned in yoga classes and from psychologists. But once I got onto the freeway, it all seemed to get worse. My vision started to get darker, whenever I blinked, my head bobbed. I felt like I was going to pass out. With cars zooming around me, I just wanted to get somewhere. I pleaded with God to let me arrive at work safely. Suddenly, my left arm went completely numb. I could still move it, but only just. I knew then it was time to get off the freeway. I know I should have gotten off the freeway sooner than that, or that I shouldn’t have tried to drive in the first place and called in sick, but I was so frightened that they would fire me.

I pulled off the nearest exit and clumsily found my way into a random parking lot. I thought I was going to vomit, I could barely move my left arm, and my right arm was now almost completely numb as well. My head was spinning and my vision was darkening. I didn’t black out, but I was wishing I would so I could be released from this terror. No matter how deeply and slowly I breathed, I could not calm down. I was able to call work and tell them that I was sick. I thought I was having a heart attack, but what employer is going to believe that a yoga instructor in her mid-twenties is having a heart attack? I could only think to tell them that I had a stomach bug of some kind.

I’m not sure how long I sat there before calling my husband to let him know what was happening. I let him know that I was alive and that I would update him as I moved around and eventually got home. I sobbed at the sound of worry in his voice. He couldn’t get to me, I had our only car, and I was several miles away from home.

I called my mother because I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t drive and I couldn’t think. My mother was able to contact an aunt who was close by. She kindly picked me up and took me to an instacare. I am very thankful for her. My husband was able to get a ride to our car (thanks also to a dear, sweet friend who went out of their way) to pick it up before it got towed and was able to pick me up from the instacare. The doctors could only tell me to breathe slowly and to get some rest.

I spent the rest of the weekend resting on the couch, consistently trying to catch my breath, and binging on Harry Potter movies and pumpkin spice flavored marshmallows.

In 2011 or 2012, I was diagnosed with social anxiety and depression. I have worked for several years to try to conquer or at least manage these things, and for the most part, I can. However, since graduating college, I no longer have free mental health care close by. I used to utilize the free psychological services on campus, but now I don’t know where to go. My schedule doesn’t have space and my wallet doesn’t have the room either.

Because of my life circumstances (three jobs, husband in school, no time/money for mental health help), it’s extremely difficult and often financially irresponsible to slow down. I  sometimes I feel completely hopeless. I feel like things are spiraling out of control and no matter what I try to do, no matter what strategies I try to utilize, I lose it.

However, the events of this past weekend forced me to slow down. Even after my panic attack, whenever I stood, I felt breathless until I sat or laid down. Often, I felt nauseous. When I went back to work on Monday, even though my employers had already apologized (I just emailed them asking if there was anything else I should be doing to keep my job) and even praised me for my good work, I still felt extremely nervous. On the drive there, I was shaky and a little dizzy, I for a moment, just a brief one, I felt like I was going to pass out, but I got there. I knew that if I didn’t make it on Monday, then I might never make it back.

There are several things that I learned during this weekend:

  1. Let people take care of you. I often try to take care of my husband and do most things around the house because he is going to school and working four jobs. This weekend, I HAD to let him take care of me. He didn’t miss out on any homework and our house wasn’t invaded by dust bunnies.
  1. My health is more important than the dishes. Most days I don’t relax until I get into bed. There might be a 10 minute sit down for each meal, but then I’m back at it. If I’m not working, I’m cleaning. We have a very small apartment so if anything is out of place, it’s very much in the way of other things so I feel like I have to put things away. I need to take more time to chill out and let the dishes or the laundry sit.
  1. Most things are out of my control, and that’s okay. If I had gotten fired, it really would not have been the end of the world. Sure, it wouldn’t look all that great on a resume, but there would be another person out there who would take a chance on me. I also have the comfort of knowing that I can just pick up more projects from one of my other jobs to make ends meet (I don’t really care for this job because there is very very little job security, but it’s the only one really paying the bills). I also spoke to my dad over the weekend and he told me that I need to stop worrying about things in the future or about the things that aren’t in my control. I need to stop worrying what people think of me and to just do the best I can.
  1. I know I’m a good worker, I know I help a lot of people, I’m open to criticism and feedback, and I try to have a positive attitude. I shouldn’t worry about whether I am a good person or a good employee. I know I am. I know I’m not perfect and I make mistakes and that’s okay.
  1. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, things will fall apart. Sometimes, your projects fall apart, sometimes the house falls apart, and sometimes you fall apart. When things fall apart, do your best to put things back together and try to learn better ways to keep yourself from imploding. Don’t push things down, expand your view. Let go of things that don’t matter and don’t take yourself so seriously.

I may have learned these five things over the weekend, but I know that I will need plenty of practice before I master them. But I am positive that I will someday.

If you know anyone with anxiety, reach out to them and let them know they are loved. If you have anxiety, try to reach out to others and let others give you their love.

I hope that you have a wonderful week everybody!

Love and blessings!

Namaste.

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