Once, when my nephew was little, he got really scared and panicked. I don’t remember the details of what it was that happened exactly, but I clearly remember what followed. In the height of his panic, and not knowing what else to do, he ran in circles. He literally just ran in little frantic circles, oblivious to everyone and everything around him, until his parents were finally able to get him calmed down.
I think of those circles sometimes in the context of trying to describe acute anxiety, and/or panic attacks. I know I write about depression more frequently than anxiety, but anxiety is often my bigger sticking point. Dealing with anxiety is HARD. I like to think about it as depression’s dirtier cousin.
I would think most people in 2017 are familiar with, at a minimum, the physical symptoms that come with a panic attack: Take your pick from a smorgasbord of: dry mouth, nausea, racing heart, dizziness, faintness, chest pain, stomach pain. Sometimes there are hives. Sometimes you start experiencing tunnel vision, or even temporarily stop hearing what’s going on around you. When my anxiety is on high alert, I always feel on the brink of either throwing up or passing out (or both), and the anxiety over either possibility just compounds the anxiety I started with. I have trouble speaking. My mouth doesn’t seem able to form words. In its most extreme form, it literally feels like you’re dying, and you’re incapable of convincing yourself otherwise. Not just incapable of convincing yourself really, but incapable of merely believing it to begin with. This stuff is real. Anxiety is real. And it’s debilitating.
But as far as I’m concerned, none of that is the worst part. And don’t get me wrong, it is terrifying and awful in its own right (and something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy), but for me it’s just not as terrifying and awful as the other piece: What’s going on inside my own head.
Which is where the running circles comes in. When I’m in the midst of a panic attack, I feel like I’m going crazy. And I don’t use the word crazy lightly. I know it’s a term that’s thrown around casually all the time, (“Oh it drives me crazy when people text and drive!” ) Which, yeah, that drives me crazy too, but it is a very VERY different thing than literally feeling like you are in fact, going crazy. Like, I need to be hospitalized and locked up or locked down or shot with a tranquilizer because I AM GOING CRAZY. Every synapse in my brain is firing at once. It’s sending out a “Danger! Danger! Danger!” signal, but there’s too much… noise. To0 much chaos. All inside of my own head. I can’t hear anything. I can’t feel anything either, other than the aforementioned physical symptoms. Outward people do not exist. All there is, all that exists, is pain and fear. Honestly more fear that just about any I’ve ever experienced. My brain is convincing me that I am under attack. I am afraid for my actual life, and I want to run, but … you can’t run away from your own mind. The enemy is, quite literally, inside you.
And so, I’m left with little more than what my nephew did: running in frantic circles, except circles that only figuratively reside in my own mind.
There are things that help (believe me, I am well, well versed in anxiety remedies, both natural and pharmacological). There’s meditation, there are grounding techniques, there are breathing techniques, there are helpful acronyms from CBT. There are drugs. My toolbox is full. And yet, while most of them help… in some cases, at certain times and in certain places, none of them help ALL of the time. Especially during my “trigger” places: big, crowded events, and uh…. small, intimate events as well. Basically all social situations, except with people I know very, very well. Driving, particularly downtown. Certain restaurants. Certain people. Making phone calls. Going to new or unfamiliar doctors or dentists. Every Tuesday that I go to therapy.
I don’t think I’ll ever be free from anxiety. And that’s not me being pessimistic, it’s just me being … realistic. It’s how my brain is wired, for better or worse. I have good days (lots of good days), but they’re punctuated by not-so-good days. And I can get in a really good place, and do a super good job with my self care, and using my tools, and being really mindful about what’s going on around me, and maybe I’ll go weeks without a problem. Maybe months. Maybe years! But it’ll still be there. Ready to wrap it’s fuzzy little tentacles around my brain at the next opportunity.
The good news? The positive in all of this? My track record for surviving my anxiety (and my depression for that matter) is still 100%.