Eating chocolate mousse while watching Mrs. Doubtfire and sitting next to my cat. Trying to think of a good way to talk about this topic that I have been dying to talk about for a few months.
What’s going on?
To be honest, these last few months have been some of the hardest I’ve ever experienced. I’ve kept these issues very private and have tried my best to internalize them as much as possible to avoid being a burden on others, but I’ve realized just how bad of an idea that is.
For the last 2 months, I have been suffering from debilitating panic attacks. I’ve always had anxiety, and yes, it’s an uncomfortable disorder, but this was different. My first panic attack: I woke up at 4:30 am because my heart was beating out of my chest. I was crying because my thoughts were racing. I was scared, I felt hopeless, I thought I was going to die. I put on a meditation video on YouTube and eventually fell asleep. Next morning “Phew! Thank God that is over, what the hell?”. I almost made a joke of it, chalked it up to a one-time thing. Nope. Fast-forward to 3 weeks later, I’m working out at home, and all of a sudden, it’s that feeling again. I was home alone, felt hopeless, helpless, all I could do was lay in my bed and cry while trying to keep up with breathing techniques that I had learned.
This is where the real panic set in. “Is this forever?“, I asked myself this along with many other questions such as, “What is wrong with me?”. I continued to get them more frequently, every single morning in fact. I’d wake up because my heart was beating too fast and I’d go into my living room to make tea, try to breathe, lay on the floor. During this time I had to leave work early, leave class early, neglect obligations. I couldn’t eat, didn’t want to be around people, it was hard to function. Where was this all coming from? Do I need to get on medication? Who do I feel comfortable talking to? I was absolutely lost.
Uh, so what now?
I wanted to write this post to release some of the things that I’ve been feeling. Panic attacks can be so isolating. However, writing is something that has helped me through this. I’m not an expert, but I want to share what has helped me so far, and I’m sure this list will grow over time.
- Therapy: First thing that I did when I noticed the second panic attack was look for a therapist. I don’t have health insurance so that definitely added more anxiety to my situation for a moment, but there are always therapists that you can find who have those in a similar situation and will work with you on payments. I was lucky to find someone close and willing to work with me. I bring a journal to the sessions and this really helps me a lot. I choose not to be on medication for personal reasons, but that is my choice and I know everyone’s circumstances are different. If you and your therapist feel that meds are the best route for you – do it! I know a lot of people who have had a lot of success with them.
- Writing: As I mentioned, writing has been an amazing part of my healing process. I have a journal that I write everything in. How I’m feeling, general thoughts, therapy notes, etc.
- Yoga and meditation: This. I started doing both weekly and I’m almost certain this is a big part of why most of my panic attack symptoms have disappeared. Yoga has become something I can’t live without. Being with a community of people, challenging myself, watching myself grow with each class. Meditation is equally as important as it has forced me to gaze from outside of my current little hurricane and find balance and peace. This leads me to my next point…
- Connectedness: Notice the title of this post (I’m not letting my panic attacks steal the title here). Connectedness. This has been the #1 thing for me. I went to a meditation class a few weeks ago on a whim. Once class began, we went around the room and started sharing our individual stories. 3 others in the class related to what I had said and reached out to me after class. We ended up talking for hours. This was huge for me. After weeks of feeling so alone, helpless, and confused, I now had 3 new friends who went through the same exact thing and they were offering me tips and support. If you struggle with panic attacks, this is the best piece of advice that I have. Reach out to people, find meditation classes, find groups for people struggling with similar issues.
- Read relatable books: I started reading Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. While this book isn’t directly related to panic attacks, there were some really transferable takeaways such as the 3 P’s:
Personalization: The belief that we are at fault.
Pervasiveness: The belief that an event will affect all areas of our life.
Permanence: The belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.
My problem was mostly with the last 2. If you’re struggling with panic attacks know that they will not affect all areas of your life and they are not permanent. I repeat, they are not permanent.
I am still learning
This hasn’t been a pleasant experience and although I probably haven’t seen the last of my panic attacks, I am more prepared for them and consistently getting better with time. Some important things to note: Not everyone understands this disorder, even family and friends. Be patient with them. Next, don’t webMD your symptoms or put too much faith in the stuff you find online, it can worsen the anxiety. Lastly, and most importantly, panic attacks are usually a sign of something deeper. Repressed emotion, abundance of stress, fears, etc. In my case, I overestimated what I could handle this semester (working, school full-time, looking for and interviewing for internships, etc.). I was very hard on myself and internalized much of my stress causing my anxiety to manifest into panic attacks. Everyone is different, but consider what the stressors are in your life.
I hope that this post helps someone. Please reach out if you ever need anything, want to discuss this topic, share your story, or share helpful tips.