Subdued Euphoria

Learning to live with Panic and Anxiety Disorder.

Out On The Water – All Alone

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I spent some time outside of the big, busy, never-ending city.

I felt it was time I gave myself a small break.  What I didn’t take into consideration was, “Where ever you go, there you are.”  I was feeling super overwhelmed and it was building and building and building… so I thought, “HEY CANDACE!  LET’S GO CAMPING! NOTHING IS STRESSFUL ABOUT THAT.  IT’S JUST YOU AND THE TREES.”

Fast forward to camping day.  I realized the act of organizing, packing, playing luggage tetris in the car, the 6 hour drive would not – in any way – help me in my quest to decompress, relax and discover my true inner zen.  By the time we were on the road – packed to the brim including an overly anxious chihuahua (like mother, like son?) – I had already taken my daily dosage of sedation.

[I must also add that before we were even able to leave the city limits we ended up double parked in a bike lane (PLEASE  I KNOW THIS IS HORRID).  I stayed in the passenger seat as a few needed items were retrieved. I ended up being told off be 2 officers and watched them write a ticket as a frantically texted “POLICE HERE, TICKET HAPPENING” as I mouthed, “I CAN’T DRIVE” to them.]

We arrived in the rain. The rest of the night was a blur.  I just wanted the air matress in the tent. Sleep. It’s cold?  No cares here.

The next couple of days I tried.  Hard. Tried to what?  Relax.  Is that even possible? Trying hard to relax? Even though I was grateful to be away with friends, I struggled. I found myself in a grocery store one day looking at beer and the next moment I was out in the car using breathing techniques and playing real tetris in order to thwart a growing attack.

I am continuously amazed how my panic attacks increase in frequency during times which should be less stress.

My weekend came to a head when we decided to rent kayaks.  At first I said no as I have a bit of a fear of deep water.  But after everyone pushed off I felt left behind and bit of a wet towel.

I quickly changed, took off my shoes and jumped into the last kayak.  I headed out looking for the rest of the group.  I padded and couldn’t find them. I stopped paddling and just floated there in the sun.  I was debating on what my next move would be.  That’s when I also had a moment to remember the reasons why I didn’t like deep water.  And then I noticed how far I had paddled. And that I had left my phone and my medication in the tent.  Well then.  I froze.  Now what?  I breathed in – and started back.  I focused on my paddling.  Which was the best way to paddle?  What angle would benefit my speed? I focused on my footing. How much pressure do I need in my feet in order to paddle faster? I focused on the giant waves from the passing boats. I noticed the tents along the shore and the osprey flying in the sky.  I noticed the islands.  I felt the warmth of the sun on my face. I was suddenly back at the shore of our campsite.

I had made it.  No Tetris.  No medication.  No panicking.  Nothing.

I decided to go right back out and find everyone.  And I did.  We all came back together.

My reward?  I nap in the sunshine.

If only I could take that paddle, those waves, that concentration back into the city, back into everyday life and use them as a focus when things get scary – when my breath gets deep – when I start to fall into the trap of the attack.  To remember that the water isn’t so deep and that I have the mind to steer myself, paddles or not, back to safety.

One day.

 

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I Am Afraid

I am afraid.

I am afraid that this is the only truth that I will ever know, that I will have to feel this way for the rest of my life.

I am afraid that I will never be able to function properly.

I am afraid that I am judged by those who do not understand.

I am afraid that I will not be able to be relied upon because I don’t know when the next attack is going to occur.

I am afraid that I will never see my full potential because I am too busy trying to take care of my panic attacks.

I am afraid I am trapped in a fishbowl where I can see out, hear everything, communicate with anyone but it’s just a little skewed and rather impenetrable.

I am afraid my panic attacks will continue to become more severe and last longer – where my coping skill will no longer work and I will be helpless once again.

I am afraid I will give up.

I am afraid I will no longer be able to be strong.

I am afraid that all the hard things I have worked for will go to waste.

I am afraid I will never understand what it is like to feel calm and content.

I am afraid I will continue to struggle and will miss out on all the lovely things that life has to offer – and has already offered.

I am afraid I am too difficult for people to want to remain close to.

I am afraid that no matter how much positive self talk I have that it will always be a struggle that I can barely manage.

I am afraid I’ll never be able to be the best me I can be.

 

 

… And That’s Okay

Some mornings you may lay in bed, as the light starts to break through the blinds, and you will feel as though the world is too heavy for you on that day and you will feel unsure if you’ll be able to tackle it… and that’s okay.

Somedays the anxiety is so heavy that you find yourself hiding behind counters, corners, in the restroom or behind sunglasses because you can’t help but fight the tears away. You’ll smile and hope that no one notices your big, red, teary eyes… and that’s okay.

Sometimes your mind is so full of one fear and it’s all you can think about and talk about.  Your friend just wants to tell you about your day and you are fully consumed in your own head… and that’s okay.

On occasion you’ll look in the mirror at yourself, study the face that is looking back at you and think that you aren’t strong enough, smart enough or beautiful… and that’s okay.

There may be times when you are going about your business, whether it be work or leisure, and a panic attack will overcome you.  You won’t be able to fight it off and you will give in to what ever it wants; to go home, to take medication, to call your mom, to cry in public… and that’s okay.

Sometimes you might feel as though this is something you’re going to feel forever.  You might have moments of despair. You may have moments where you convince yourself that you are destined to be a nervous ball of goo for the rest of your life… and that’s okay.

You might find yourself in the bathroom hiding from house guests, family or significant other.  You might be wallowing in self-pity.  You’re thinking, “Why me?  Why do I have to be the one that feels this way?  Why do I have to be consistently fighting myself in order to seem normal?”… and that’s okay.

You may be walking down the street, or sitting on a patio, or waiting in line at a cafe and you single out a stranger.  You think to yourself, “They probably have a great life and don’t know what it is like to feel the way you do – and so often,” all the while knowing how irrational and unfair it is of you make such assumptions of a perfect stranger… and that’s okay.

You may be having a good day.  The sun is shining, you’ve had a great meeting at work, your lunch was extra delicious and maybe the cafe gave you a free coffee on your morning commute.  It may all come to a halt when you start to wonder what bad thing is going to happen to you.  This thought causes you to forget about all the good things that happened to you that day and make you feel nauseous and sad… and that’s okay.

There could be a day where the only thing you can deal with is yourself, the way you feel, and your emotions. You may need someone else to help you with the dog, or do the dishes or even make dinner because you just can’t focus on it… and that’s okay.

 

Take comfort in this because all of these moments are genuinely fleeting.  These scenarios are sad, depressing, anxious and panic inducing, and they happen!  They happen to all of us.  We all experience days where we just can’t keep up with the rest of the world.  And the best part of it is that it will never be every day.  Never.  You are allowed to feel your feelings – but just remember to keep them in perspective and don’t lose track of the positives that do happen… however small they are.  That cupcake you ate was delicious.  The dog did his business immediately outside in the morning without you having to egg him on. That polite woman on the bus gave you her seat because you looked frazzled. You got up, showered AND made it to work!

Tiny victories make big differences.

…and thats okay.

Fearing Fear

He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.

– Michel de Montaigne

Well, it changed again at 16.

I learned to recognize fear.

It was the first time I really began to fear about what was REALLY happening to me.  Up until then I was just living and being and unhappy.  Perhaps I was a little bit older, a little bit wiser… maybe too wise for my own brain and age.

It may have been the first time I ever recognized what fear felt like. It was as though I had an epiphany – but a completely negative one . Like the time I had my first panic attack I remember the exact moment the switch was flipped in my head.  I was in the shower and I was trying to distract myself from a panic attack. The thought was so clear, “Why is this still happening?  I must be going insane and I’ll never recover from this moment.  This is it.  This is all there will be from now on.” Pretty heavy thoughts for a 16 year old.  For the first time, and perhaps the first time I was 110% honest with myself, I was afraid I was going crazy. I couldn’t tell my friends.  I canceled all my plans. Warped Tour?  Nope. Cottage weekends? Nope. Going to the movies?  No way.

I felt completely lost and hopeless.

I had been going through extreme teenage rebellion. and I had been doing fairly well on the panic attack front.  Most likely because I was up to no good and ditching classes.  I was staying out late and hanging out with bad influences at the local plaza. It was summer and I was headed to summer school (I suppose math has never been my forte).  I had a very bad panic attack late one night and it kept me up until 4am.  I don’t know what started it.  I think it was one of my “random” attacks. These usually happen when I’m feeling a little tired or a little off and I am unable to catch the thoughts before they cause an attack. I don’t recall having attacks that lasted that long before that time and if I had they must not have been as traumatic.

The next night the same thing happened.  By the third evening, around 6pm, I began to feel anxious. Up until this point, 9pm was my panic attack witching hour.  In the summer of 1999, 6pm would replace it.

I knew that it was coming.  I mean, it happened the past 2 night so why wouldn’t it happen again?  And of course.. it did.  For the next couple of weeks I fell into a dark place of fear. 6pm came everyday and with it an attack.  I’d usually manage to get through half of my supper and then I’d feel too nauseous to eat.

Later at night I would try to get someone in my family to stay awake with me.  Once they grew to tired I would return to a heavy state of panic.  I’d do laundry at 1am. I’d clean my room – To be honest, that was probably the cleanest my room has ever been. I remember one project I gave to myself was cutting out a hundred paper stars to put on my walls. If I was going to be away I would at least try to be productive, even if it was just for the fleeting moments of distraction.  I always managed to make it to class (which I did very well in, if you must ask). But that dreaded 6pm would came around and I awaited my torturous fate for the night.

Everything was frightening at that time. I didn’t understand what was happening, why it was happening or how it was happening.

I feel like most teenagers don’t know what fear is at 16.

I sure did.

 

 

The Rituals of Panic

Those of us who have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks usually have formed some sort of ritual they go through in order to (hopefully) create some sort of relief – even if it lasts a nanosecond.

Over the years I’ve certainly had several different rituals I’ve gone through.  That is completely natural because as you grow up you learn new things and other things dull and stop helping.

The first ritual I can remember having was crossing my fingers.  I’d start to feel sick and then I’d cross my fingers, both hands of course, and then keep closed fists.  I’d go to sleep like this, I’d wake up like this.  If I had to go to school I’d ride the whole way there with those crossed fingers.  It was me wishing myself luck.  The luck was that I wouldn’t get sick and that I would feel better soon.

Next was the television and radio.  I’d start to panic and on would come the television.  Sometimes that I could listen to and try to really pay attention to.  Reading never helped enough so I had to stick with visuals and audio.  Each night was a decision whether I’d sleep with the television on or the radio.  Being a young child I would usually lose the battle of keeping the TV on all night so I had an alarm clock radio set to whatever talk station we had at the time in my hometown.  That still sticks with me in my adult years.  Sometimes I keep the TV on all night but God Bless the sleep function!

Later on in my teens I discovered that ice cubes were a savior.  Because I’d get so overheated during an attack the only physical relief I could get was sticking my hand in a bowl of ice.  Sometimes I’d wrap the ice cube in a towel and wipe it across my forehead – as though I have a fever.  I even went so far as to drop a cube in my bra and just leave it there.  Many years later I realized that I wasn’t only using the ice to cool off but to shift my physical symptoms elsewhere and to distract me from the severe nausea I was experiencing.

Most recently, in this wonderful age of technology, I have taken to playing games on my smartphone.  Being a functioning adult who needs to go places and do things I can’t always been in the comfort of my own home close to all the ice cubes there ever was.  I’ve moved through several games.  The first one was Tetris.  The second one was some bubble blaster game, then BeJeweled and finally Skeeball.  I’ve recently reverted back to Tetris because the controls are so flimsy that it actually annoys me and distracts me from whatever is going on inside my body.

What rituals help you?  Do you just stick to breathing techniques?  Maybe you just go to sleep right away.  Self-mediciation is a big and bad one. Alcohol and illegal drugs can interfere with true help.

I know my rituals will change and shift and technology races forward and old techniques become obsolete.

But for now, TETRIS.

 

I’m Not “Crazy”

Well, I am.  But… not exactly.

Other than the times that I’m having a full on panic attack, and even then it’s a little blurred, 99% of the people I come into contact with have no idea that anything is possibly a little different with me.  I get up in the morning and get dressed.  I go to work.  I get my work done. I socialize – albeit a little less frequently than the average person. I have hobbies and interests.  I maintain relationships of different levels with others.  I’m a functioning human being.  The only difference is that it is rather exhausting.  It takes concentration and effort to stay calm and collected.  It takes energy to keep your emotions rational and in check.

If I’m having a panic attack I am Houdini and will disappear without you even noticing.  Over the years I have learned when I’ve reached my limit of tolerance and when I need to leave public spaces.  Every once in awhile I test myself and stay 5 minutes longer to see if I can win the fight.

I’ve struggled with the idea of making this blog public or anonymous.

We now live in a world is easy access to personal information.  Social media.  Anyone can look me up and see my footprint in the World Wide Web.

I believe being silent about a subject that affects millions is counterproductive.  I believe that being silent is what prolongs recovery. Being embarrassed fuels the anxiety further.  I can’t tell you of one single panic attack that I have had where I have not felt embarrassed and disappointed with myself.  And why should I be? Aren’t there millions of others who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks?  Oh right, it’s because it’s a mental affliction therefore a bad thing.  And we don’t talk about bad things, right?  ESPECIALLY things that make us seem weak? Funny how that is.

I don’t believe in suffering in silence.  We all deserve peace of mind.  And the only way we can begin to achieve that is to speak up and share with each other our experiences, our lessons and our opinions.  Not only can we learn from our own achievements and mistakes, we can also learn from others.

So, I ask you – Should I stay public and be ME or should I chose to go anonymous?

 

Losing My Panic Virginity

It was March 15th, 1990.  9pm to be exact.

That was the date and time that my life would change forever.  It’s the date and time that I experienced my first panic attack. I was 7 years old. And let’s be real, what does a 7 year old know about panic attacks?  How could I even comprehend what was happening to me at the time?

During my first panic attack I was “luckily” suffering from a stomach bug.  The perfect storm in my later years for panic attacks.  Clearly it’s all related.

I think I had just been watching Family Matters and drinking tea – trying to do anything to make myself not feel so nauseous. I remembered the last time I had thrown up my mother had me drink a sip of tea every 5 minutes to calm my stomach. Sadly it wasn’t working out this time.  I was rushing through the tea at lightning speed because I was desperate.  Eventually I was alone in my room with the lights off.  I was feeling so sick.  I remember rolling over and seeing the clock say 9pm.  . My mother was off helping my grandmother who was also sick that day.  And then it hit.  I became ill.

And it’s never been the same since.

I don’t remember the following days.  I’m not sure if I recognized the fear right away or if it manifested in the weeks to come.  I don’t remember the second panic attack I had.  Perhaps I’d have a better understanding of myself if I could have remembered how the second one came about.

What I do remember is that everything started to change for me.  Everything – School, friends, family and most of all myself.

Mornings.

It’s 40 minutes before the alarm is supposed to go off.

I have yet to open my eyes.

I know this because this is how it is every morning.

It’s as though I haven’t even slept yet.  My brain is on the move ready to guard itself from anything and everything.  The first thought I recognize is the one where I acknowledge that I feel dread.  I clue in to the fact that this morning will be like every other morning.  After this acknowledgement I feel sad because the day has already started off with a struggle.  It’s at this point where I immediately start going over all the things that are upsetting me – or that have potential to upset me through out the day.  I’m fighting the fear of a panic attack.

I can feel the anxiousness rising from my stomach into my throat and lower into my intestines as I begin to feel pain.

I wonder if I’ll be able to fight it off sooner than later.

I still haven’t opened my eyes.

I start to debate whether now is the time to take Ativan or if I should fight it out.  Every morning I debate how long should I try to wait until I give in.  Should I wait until I’m out of the house and on my way? Do I  take it now in order to forget the horrible feeling sooner than later?  Do I risk struggling later on once I’m at work?  So I risk having that massive panic attack that I’m frightened of? Interspersed in these thoughts are random fears that I’m having about life and my existence.

All of this happens in a matter of minutes.

I still haven’t opened my eyes.

I take a deep breath and start my day.

 

But, Why?

What is this about?

This is about one girl, in a planet of billions, who feels they are the only one who experiences the daily struggle of trying to quiet the mind of all the anxiety and panic she experiences.  The struggle the feel calm and collected on the inside, as well as the outside.

This is the serve as a reminder to myself and to millions of others that they are not alone.  This serves as an outlet to share these daily hurdles as my own source of release and for others.