Lately, my anxiety has been really bad again. This past week was a long one. I’ve been thinking about the ways that my anxiety/panic attacks affect me when I’m having these types of week, and I’m starting to understand thinks a little bit more. I read somewhere this week that approximately 70% of your body’s systems are working in one way or another during an anxiety or panic attack, and when you face them regularly like I do – that pretty much just leaves you exhausted, all of the time. I know that anxiety is almost invisible and hard to understand – so, I think I’m going to try and explain pieces of it here. I’m sure it wont’ be perfect, and I’ll only write about what I experience – but, maybe it will help some of you understand what living with anxiety is like; and if you’re going through anything like this, please know you are not alone!
My worst days always start with the racing thoughts. Whether they are positive or negative, I can tell something is about to happen when my brain won’t shut off. I have ADHD, so the focus and keeping a train of thought going is always a struggle, but when anxiety jumps on board, it’s a different story. It’s not just thoughts that jump from one spot to another like my 11-yr-old nephew…it’s thoughts that whirl up and spiral out of control like a tornado. It’s more like thinking about one potential issue at work, or a weird noise outside my house at night…and then all of the sudden my programs are bound for failure and there is a group trying to break in and kill me. Yes, I’m being serious, and no, this isn’t an overdramatic blog post. It really jumps that far and that fast. When I was in middle school, I made the mistake of dragging my dad on the Tilt-a-Whirl at the Hudsonville Fair – and that is exactly what my brain feels like: spinning in more directions than one, bouncing from side to side, feeling out of control and ultimately sick by the end.
When my thoughts begin to race and spin fast enough, my heart rate tries to keep up. I think that my thoughts become so real to me, so much a part of my reality, that I scare myself into thinking it’s real. And when I’m scared of my own brain, the physical symptoms kick in. First it’s the heart rate, racing in my chest, and I can feel the heaviest beats in my fingers and in my head. Then, one of two things: either I’ll start sweating like crazy or I’ll start shaking like crazy. It depends on where I am and how the temperature is. It’s like my body takes whatever I was feeling (warm or cold) and forces it into overdrive, so that I feel the extreme of wherever I am. When this part starts, that’s when it is hard to breathe. Sometimes I can control it easily, and sometimes, it’s a good 5 or 10 minutes before I can catch my breath again. So I have a racing heart and sweaty or shaking hands and I can’t breathe, and more often than not, the nausea kicks in. Sometimes I get sick, sometimes I curl up in a ball, sometimes I take Tums and deal with it…but it’s never fun.
At this point, there are a few different things that can happen. This might be where my symptoms end, and if so, I’m in the clear for a few hours. If it’s not the end…again, there are a few different options. One could be that I burst into tears and need to cry for a while. That always makes me feel better, like the tears are all of the overwhelmed thoughts leaving my head and body. And, crying wears my body out, and usually I can sleep, which always helps. That’s one of the other options – sleeping. My husband always laughs at me, because my most favorite life activity is sleeping…but honestly, it’s the only fail proof thing that can always prevent my anxiety. You can’t worry about things unless you’re awake enough to know that you should worry about them. The last option is that my physical symptoms (racing heart, sweat or shivering, crying or sleeping) reside, but the racing thoughts stay…so, I just start the cycle all over again.
That’s a really “big picture” look at what a day with anxiety looks like; yes, these things do happen every single day, sometimes more than once. I have found many ways to cope, some better and more effective than others. I’ll be honest in that, not all of my coping methods are “healthy”, but sometimes you simply take what you can get. For example: I’ve now spent the past 3 hours or so in some weird state between the Michigan football game, Facebook stalking, and online shopping. Maybe not the best use of my time on a Saturday night, but I’m feeling much better now than I was when I had a panic attack earlier tonight. Sometimes running helps, or a hot shower with loud music, or eating ice cream, or watching a movie with my husband, or writing, or reading, or Pinterest or getting out of my house and seeing friends, or being by myself for a while….I think you get the point. There isn’t an easy fix or a fail safe method to feel better, and it’s a lot of trial and error in what works on what day.
I think that getting all of these things out “on paper” might be more helpful for me (and probably Kelly) than anyone else. If you learn anything from reading this, I hope it’s this: this is one way that anxiety shows itself in one person, and it’s messy and jumpy and complex. There are millions more people with millions more symptoms of anxiety, and I can’t and won’t try to speak for all of them. But, please realize that these are very real things that are very real parts of life for me and for others. If I’m talking with you and seem distracted on a bad day, please know it’s nothing personal, but I’m probably dealing with an anxiety attack and am trying to find a place to get sick or to cry. If I’m shaking more than normal and I just tell you I’m cold, I probably am freaking out and just don’t want you to worry about me.
I’m working on being more honest about my stress and anxiety levels, but I still try to hide it more often than I should. It’s not an easy thing to admit to. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to “pray more”, or if I spent more time with God it would help me to worry less, or even “not to worry” because the Bible says so…well, I think our student loans would be much smaller by now! Anxiety is so unknown, even to me. I don’t know how to explain it so I just don’t. It’s embarrassing to admit that I can’t handle sitting in my house alone, or that stress at work is easily overwhelming, or that driving home in the dark can send me off the deep end. I don’t like to talk about it.
But, maybe with this post, that will start to change. Again: this is just anxiety and panic attacks from MY perspective. You or someone you know may see things much differently. But, if this helps you understand what anxiety can look like for people who struggle with it, then writing it out was well worth it.
Thanks for reading!