I'm in the midst of an anxiety attack. I'm trying to write my way through it.
It's been a while since I had a full blown attack like this. In fact, I've only had one since going off the medication 10 months ago.
It started on my drive in to work. Panic attacks are bad enough, but having one while driving is a special kind of frightening. For those who have never had the pleasure of experiencing an attack, let me walk you through it to give you an idea.
It starts off with a shortness of breath. It's almost slight, like something tickling at the back of your mind. Hey, something's wrong, just can't put my finger on it.... and then your brain says, hey, idiot, you're not breathing! Your eyes go wide and you get a tingly feeling in your hands, arms and legs as a surge of adrenaline rushes through your body. Full alert! Defcon 1! You suck in a deep breath but no matter how much air you suck in and no matter how deep into your lungs you push that air, you never feel like it's enough. So you breathe again and again, taking in rushes of air which, of course, just exacerbates the situation because you're starting to hyperventilate. Then your chest tightens up and it feels like your heart has just seized up and turned to stone. There's a rock sitting in the middle of your chest and everyone knows you can't get blood from a stone so now your heart isn't doing what it's supposed to be doing, in addition to your lungs starting to collapse and you can't feel your fingers or your toes, but you know that your hands are shaking and you try desperately to get a grip on yourself because you know damn well this is all in your head and that at least five minutes have passed and if you're not dead on the floor yet, then you must still be breathing and your heart must still be pumping blood, right?
Except all that doesn't matter to a person in the throes of an anxiety attack. No matter how much you know that you are not dying, it still feels like this is the end. I am going to die. DIE. Right here, right now. There is no way you can convince me that my untimely death is not imminent.
Now imagine all this in Monday morning traffic on a busy road. I tried to conjure up all those exercises I learned over the past 25 years that help alleviate the attacks. Multiplication tables. But they just wouldn't come to me. Not even the simple two times tables. I concentrated on the song playing. Pushed the lyrics out of my mouth, which only wanted to form a small "o", like the look of someone in a constant state of surprise. I sing, loud. Four months at sea, four months of calm seas only to be pounded in the shallows off the tip of Montauk Point. I suck in air. In with the good, out with the bad, the mantra my religion teacher taught me in 12th grade when I confided to her that I started having panic attacks.
I finally pull into the parking lot at work, I'm early and the place is nearly deserted so no one sees me practicing some bizarre form of Lamaze breathing as I walk up the ramp and into the doors. When the elevator doors part on the second floor, I practically sprint to my office, drop the keys while I fumble with them, finally get the door open and head straight to bathroom where I don't even bother turning on the lights before splashing my face with cold water.
My office is a safe place to continue on with the attack. Unlike being in my moving two ton car, going crazy while sitting in my office chair isn't going to result in harm to anyone else. It's still quiet here. None of my bosses are in yet. I plug my iPod in, put on some calming music and forego the morning coffee in favor of a glass of cold water.
The biggest myth about anxiety attacks is that the person suffering one has brought it on by thinking too hard about their problems. Mostly, they just come out of the blue. I rarely have suffered an anxiety attack while I was in the midst of wallowing in my problems. The anxiety always manifests itself later, at some unsuspecting time. Like 7:40 a.m. on a Monday morning on Hempstead Turnpike when the only thing I was thinking of - as I passed by Nassau Coliseum - was the fun I used to have going to Islander games.
It's only when the surprise attack starts (and this may be specific to me, I don't know) when I start thinking of everything else, because my brain automatically goes into "what is wrong with your life that is causing you to panic like this" mode, even though one thing often has nothing to do with the other.
So in this case, I start thinking of the phone call from DJ's guidance counselor in which she voiced her concerns about my son (who is home with strep throat today) in regards to his social skills and could I please come in for a meeting with this teachers on Tuesday morning? And I think of my daughter's report card, received in the mail this weekend, which, despite every ounce of effort on Nat's part, resulted in several teachers leaving notes in the end column that her test taking skills are horrible and I feel awful because no matter how hard she tries, no matter how much effort she puts into her studying and her classwork, those test grades are always going to keep her down and she'll never get into the college she has heart set on attending and....then there's the fact that the company that my husband got the bulk of his free lance jobs from went closed up shop this weekend and well, that sort of fucks us up bad for the moment and the next week will be one of feeling like the heavens are raining down dollar signs made of stone on our heads, something that leaves me awake most of the night staring at the ceiling...none of which I was thinking of before the attack hit, but which all come flooding into the brain the second my chest tightens up.
I don't bother asking for help or telling anyone what's going on because people who have never had an anxiety attack cannot understand what goes on in a person's brain when they are having one. A pat on the back and a "stop worrying so much" consolation doesn't help. It's not about worry. I've had attacks when life was just peachy and there were no worries in sight. And there's just no way to explain to someone who has never experienced it that feeling as if your world is going to end any second is not that easy to get over. My husband is the only one who has the patience to get me through one of these things, so when they don't happen at home, I'm on my own.
Well, I have you, don't I? Sort of. Whether you read this or not doesn't matter. Feeling as if I'm talking to someone certainly helps. Especially when that someone isn't patting my back and trying to patronize me through the whole episode.
I've been writing for over half an hour now, and it's been a good exercise. My breathing is normal. The tingly feeling in my head has gone away. My hands are steady. My heart is still pounding a bit, but that will subside eventually. A little typing, a little Nick Cave goes a long way.
[I should take a cue from FAD and make a "posts I'll want to delete" category]
Update: Read this by Rob, who knows of what I write. He describes what I call "disassociation" that comes with attacks well.