I’m switching my antidepressants to help with my anxiety. Three out of seven days a week, I have panic attacks. I’m not sure that people who don’t struggle with anxiety or experience panic attacks actually know what they are or what they feel like. It’s different for everyone, but for everyone that experiences them, it is hell.
I’m sharing my daily experience with anxiety and panic attacks for the first time, and damn, does it make me feel vulnerable. If you do struggle with panic attacks, know you are not alone. For those who have never experienced a panic attack, I want you to understand what it’s like to live with crippling anxiety.
I already posted about this on my Instagram a little bit, but I won’t apologize for talking about it. You know why? Because others who are struggling with the exact same thing are too afraid to speak up because of people who tell them to shut up about it. I’m speaking up for all those people.
***This post contains talk about panic attacks, and it could be triggering to those experiencing severe anxiety.***
I wake up. For a second, everything is calm. My cleanly shaven legs feel good on my sheets. My pillows feel extra soft. Could I just sleep in for 20 more minutes? Then reality sets in. It’s Monday, not Wednesday like I thought. The day is looming over me like a cliff. I don’t feel excited. I feel nervous. Can I complete the tasks I set for myself on deadlines I created for myself? Will I be seen as productive? Smart? Will I have time to do what makes me feel my best?
I get ready for the day and my anxiety slowly builds. By the time I put on a jacket and grab my bag, my heart rate is up to 110. I walk down the stairs and to the subway steadying my breathing with a mantra in my head.
“I am worth the calm.”
“I am worth deep breaths.”
Breathe in, breathe out. On the worst days, it doesn’t help. I get to the platform after seven minutes of walking and breathing, and there is a packed platform. The train must be late. I check the tracker, and it’s not coming for another five minutes. Another mantra while I breathe. “I can do this.” Over and over. But each minute that passes, my anxiety increases. The train comes, but it’s packed. The next one isn’t for 10 minutes and I’m already running late — not to a meeting, but to get to the office with enough time to breathe before I get my work day started.
I make the decision to cram on the train — because, like my mantra says, I can do this.
I can’t do this.
The train is stuffy. People’s bags are touching me. I’m too short for the hand rails above the seats, but it’s the only place I have to hold on. Each time the train jolts, someone bumps into me.
Stop one, more people get on. “Focus on breathing,” I tell myself. The train gets held at the station. I’m sweating. I put my headphones in. It drowns the sounds, but it makes me feel in a bubble.
Stop two, more people get on. I turn on music, but it’s sensory overload. People are squeezing. It’s stuffy. I can’t breathe. The doors won’t close. Panic is closing in on me. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I’m sweating. I’ve started shaking. I can’t move. I am getting a rash on my chest. I’ve stopped the ability to breathe deeply. I have to get to work.
Stop three and four, most get off and I can breathe again. I’m still sweating. I’m still shaking. But my mantra comes back in my head. I can do this. Only two more stops.
And now, I get to go to work.
I put my things down and go to the bathroom. I learn over the sink and take the biggest breaths I can. Checking my heart rate, it’s 140. I breathe until I get it to 90. 90 means I’ll stop sweating. I wipe the sweat from my neck and tie up my now-soaked hair.
I can do this.
I’m still shaking, but I put my hands to the keyboard. Checking my emails, making my to-do list. I can do this. I forgot my email. I actually sent someone an email address that wasn’t mine.
Now I’m in meetings. I have to speak up and present the research I did. No problem. But I can’t focus. I can’t even listen to the conversation. I’m in this bubble surrounding me. Back to my desk, time to put together a presentation. But I can’t mentally concentrate on the theories I’m connecting.
This continues an entire work day. Eight hours. Sometimes I proclaim “I need Jesus” and go to the roof to meditate. Sometimes I can’t focus on the guided meditation. Too many thoughts are running around my mind. Sometimes I walk around the block. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t.
A day of stress behind me, I make my way home. Defeated. Exhausted.
I decide to make pasta, but my doctor says I need to cut down on carbs. My triglycerides are too high. I could go to the gym, but I’m mentally drained and I don’t think I have the energy to get exercise. I make the damn pasta. I forget to turn the stovetop to boil the water.
I eat, shower, get in bed. I don’t have the energy for anything else. It’s only 8:00, but I’m too drained to do the 20 tasks on my to-do list. Laundry can wait until tomorrow. I can organize my wardrobe this weekend. I don’t need to floss today.
I lay in bed and I can’t sleep. I’m tired, but my brain won’t shut off. It keeps replaying the dumb things I did throughout the day. Did I offend my coworker? Why didn’t anyone laugh at my joke? Did they wonder why I had wet hair? Maybe they thought I just showered. I am a failure for being unable to focus. I am not a good employee. I don’t deserve this job because I can’t do what I should. This is not the person they hired. This is not who I am. I’m better than this.
Finally, I get on my phone and play games or scroll through social media blindly until my brain calms down. I know I shouldn’t be on my phone before bed because apparently that’s not good for you and I need to be healthier, but laying in bed staring at the ceiling is lonely and I don’t have the energy to write or read. The scrolling and anxiety finally makes me sleepy at about midnight. I finally doze off to have anxiety-ridden dreams. Spiders crawling on my bed. Trapped in a small room. Being approached by a stranger. Missing college classes and failing because I never showed up. Being held back from graduation. Getting fired.
My alarm goes off. It starts the day all over again.
I know there is hope. I know (thinking positively!) I just have to endure this until I get to start my new meds. It’s only a week. I know it will get better. I have a support system and a kick ass professional team, too. But honestly, if I didn’t have the hope that things will get better with meds, I don’t know that I could live through this.
Yes, I’m spending time outdoors when I can. Yes, I’m getting physical activity. I’m trying to do things I love. I’m drinking enough water. And yes, I’ve tried “just being happy.” How did I do this before? How did I survive through debilitating depression and anxiety before my professional team, hiding it from myself and loved ones, and without meds? Looking back, I was in this dark cloud surrounding me almost every single day of my teenage years. And no one knew because I’m such a bubbly person. But damn, was I struggling. Damn, am I struggling now.
I’m exhausted mentally and physically to the point that I can’t concentrate. The negative self talk is crushing me and I don’t have the energy to pull myself out of it. But I have to keep going. I know that so many people are counting on me. I am counting on myself. I have to work through this and get back on top. But fuck, it’s hard.
If you are also struggling with crippling anxiety, you aren’t alone. So many of us go through this each day. And guess what? We get through this. Every day, we get through this. We have survived every day up to now. You can get through this. You are worthy of peace of mind. You are worth the calm. We will get through this together. I’m not okay, but I will be.