Every once in a while, I feel myself struggling to breathe. It starts as a lump in my throat that kind of falls into my chest, if that makes sense. From there I feel my nose begin to block up, making it harder to get air in. Then my chest starts to feel tight, almost as if it is closing or shutting down… like something or someone is pushing on my ribs so hard I have no airways available. “1, 2, 3, deeper, 4, 5, 6, focus…” I have to tell myself how to breathe. At the age of 25, how to breathe.
My panic attacks began as a kid. I was afraid to throw up… and anything that made me the slightest bit anxious somehow turned into my fear of throwing up. My mind revolved around it. School was hard because what if it happened there? Sleepovers weren’t a thing because if I got sick my parents weren’t around. Falling asleep was nearly impossible, because what if I woke up sick in the middle of the night? Then, when I learned to fall asleep, 2AM panicked wake-ups became a ritual. Germs were my worst enemy, which made it hard to do… yup, you guessed it… anything. I was constantly, ever since I can remember, anxious. Panic attacks are hard to explain and I think they are hard for people who don’t get them to understand. They are just hard in general and all around, but I am writing this post to try to explain because they’re even harder when you think you’re in them alone. And I mean, a Monday is usually when we all need a good support system, right? I have talked to some readers of Status Salty, some friends, some family, some patients, etc. about anxiety in general and I have gotten the feeling that opening up about it makes us all feel a little bit better. And well, this blog is here to be open and personal, just as you all have been with me. I have promised to give that back to my readers, to give the most I can. And unfortunately, panic attacks are a huge part of my life. So here we are, giving the most we can.
As my chest gets tighter and I feel like the deepest breaths aren’t giving me enough air, I begin to get a tremble in my thighs. They shake to the point where I feel like I can’t get up to walk. If I’m driving, I have to pull the car over. If I’m at home, I can’t be touched. I get more anxious when I feel stuck, and at this moment I already feel so stuck in my own body that I want to rip my skin off. Which let me add, can be extremely hard on a significant other who is only trying to help.
Then this begins..
“Am I going to throw up, pass out or stop breathing completely?”
I ask myself each question probably 50 times before I realize none have happened.
It lasts for about 10 minutes, sometimes longer, which is pretty g-damn scary when you think you aren’t getting air. It usually comes from stress and it comes on out of nowhere. It can come from anything, anywhere, anytime. Just like that, you feel as if you can’t breathe.
Thoughts run through my head a million times over, disorganized and all over the place, from yesterdays mess-ups to today’s list of to-do’s to last weeks patient who didn’t like me. It’s a tornado in my mind. A complete shit show. Tears are usually running down my face and I’m sitting there staring at myself in the mirror wondering who the hell I am.
“You’re ugly, your outfit is horrible, that picture sucks, some patients don’t even like you, why’d you cut your hair, your arm is fat, your bottom teeth never came together good enough” and the list goes on. I sit there, wherever I am, with these thoughts running around in my head.
That’s the thing with panic attacks, you feel like you completely lose yourself. You feel like you don’t know who you are, and then you begin to doubt yourself. It’s an entire process of chaotic thoughts and stress and tears. It happened to me an hour ago, just before I was going to write my blog post for Monday, which was supposed to be on traveling, not panic attacks. But the traveling to New York this upcoming weekend stressed me out. It started like this: I have to work late all week, I have no time to pack. I don’t even know what I am going to pack yet? I have nothing to wear. How will I take pictures when I’m working late all week? I need them right now. I have to shower. I hate trains. I don’t really want to take the train. Everything is a mess. I need to clean. I need to organize my purse.
That’s it. Just like that. Before I knew it, I was on the ground in front of an emptied purse with tears and shakes. The chest tightness came, the airways felt blocked, and an hour of my night was focused on telling myself how to breathe.
At the age of 25 years old, healthy and living a very good life, panic attacks are still a thing. A real thing. And for those who have asked – my ‘fear’ of throwing up never really went away. I had to get over it, there wasn’t anything I could do. It’s just a thing in life I can’t really control, so I went to a therapist. After that I went to acupuncture, which has helped me tremendously. The thing I’ve learned is that it’s not so much a fear of throwing up, but more about not being in control. So I do things to help my mind out because that’s where this is all coming from. I take ACV and probiotics every morning so I know I’m helping my gut out. I eat better so my anxiety is better, which I have noticed helps a ton. I meditate so I don’t get overwhelmed. It’s things that will help whatever your situation is, which means you need to learn more about it rather than ignore it.
Anxiety and panic are crippling things, putting me in bed for two days straight in the past, and it takes a lot to figure them out. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I am able to help myself and the panic attacks are much better than they used to be. Soemtimes just opening up about them can help you in the slightest bit. Like I said, I’ve learned that fighting them doesn’t help at all. There are times where you have to let yourself just feel the fear and learn to accept it instead of fight it off. Denial can be a horrible thing.
That’s just me and my case, though. How about yours? Do you guys get them too? I’ve learned a few things to help me out, but I’m still learning.
HOW TO HELP YOUR PANIC ATTACKS:
Take deep breaths, even if you feel as if they aren’t working – they are.
Open a window, fresh air always helps!
If you are home, turn on a show you love or some calming music to get your mind off other things. (I learned this from a friend, and Friends is my go-to show for these situations!)
Start meditating in general – I love the Inscape app (even just listening to the sounds at night helps me).
Get adaptogens and use them! They help with anxiety and stress. Sprinkle some in a cup of tea or add some to your breakfast.
Talk to someone. Never be ashamed to see someone. Talking to a therapist or going to acupuncture may help you insanely.
Do things to ease your mind in general. Like I said, start to meditate or do yoga. If you have anxiety about something specific, try to ease your mind about it instead of fighting it. I’ve had to come face to face with my anxiety and panic attacks in order to help me in general.
As always, I love your tips too.
x, have a stress-free monday.