I have a headache. Why won’t it go away? I just want to sleep. I’m not getting enough sleep. I can’t fall asleep. I can’t stay asleep. My brain feels foggy during the day. When I wake up, I don’t ever feel like I’m waking up. Instead, I feel like I have a major hangover and I can’t go back to sleep. At night, my mind runs freely. The ideas flow and my imagination escapes. I have a headache. My skin starts to tingle and feel cold, my heart races, my mind reacts to the discomfort that I feel from the headache. Unfortunately, it overreacts. It goes into overdrive and I blackout.
Not a lot of people understand panic attacks. I find that it falls into the category of “mental patient” and that bothers me. I often use the hashtag, “panicattacks” on Instagram, but if you happen to get a chance to look at the photos correlating with that particular hashtag, you will find sadness, despair, suicidal photos and thoughts, darkness and self destruction. There isn’t anything really positive. And that saddens me. I almost feel like anxiety and panic attacks have been, by default, shoved into this category of walking zombies that self mutilate themselves and pop pills, forever see darkness and never see any light. That’s what I fear; feeling ashamed for suffering for something that can be debilitating if you only use it to be a victim rather than be a fighter. Having a panic attack. Check. Suffering from Depression. Check. Insecurity. Check. Anxiety. Check. Approved. Hashtag, “PanicAttacks” Check.
No. It’s not all darkness, or at least it doesn’t have to be.
You’re basically at war with your mind and you have to fight like hell. Fight to the death to win and tell your mind to shut up and sit down. It’s like a bad night of drinking followed by a hangover. You black out. You don’t know what’s happening and you are confused. You react impulsively; you think you’re saying one thing, but you’re mind is racing. You don’t know what you are saying. You feel dizzy; like you’re going to vomit. Heart is pounding, ugh you drank too much. But no. Wait. You don’t have a drink in your hand, you aren’t drinking, and you don’t have a hangover. No. You are having a panic attack.
The only way to prevent getting sick or having a hangover is to not drink (or not drink to extreme). The only difference with drinking alcohol and suffering a panic attack is that when you drink, you are willing to lose control; you actually want to numb your mind, slur like you just had Novocain for shits and giggles, and be able to refer to your jerky movements on the dance floor, top of the bar, table…the list goes on…as well, dancing. Nothing matters. Everything goes. That’s the spirit. Way to go! Woohoo! (I compare drinking and panic attacks because they are two things that hit close to home for me.)
If you suffer from anxiety, you get irritated, agitated, annoyed, you’re like not only a member of the P.M.S. clan, but also the President-type deal. The smallest things can make you tense. Once you tense up; that’s it; it over. Back off Midol. This is now serious shit.
I am writing this to tell you what works for me. It is not a fool-proof plan. It’s what works for me for the past four years. I keep saying two out loud, but it really is four. It just feels like I’ve learned so much about myself in such a short amount of time. But believe me, it certainly hasn’t been fun. I don’t care what they say, (time flies when you’re having fun). That’s a lie.
At first, I was directed by my doctor to do breathing techniques in the morning as well as tension building exercises. You know, squeeze all of your muscles, breathe in this way, breathe out this way, blah, blah, blah. Do yoga. I got it. All of it. My personality was missing out of this lovely “one size fits all” program. I am impatient. I love instant gratification. I gave up on things because I was always comparing myself to other people; their experiences, their success stories. I wanted that. All of it. When I graduated from college, I wanted 20 years of experience in one day. . Yes. That’s my definition of instant gratification.
I admired people who had careers, who had a background; who had experience. I didn’t think what I accomplished was ever good enough. I was unsure of myself. Still am. Not going to lie.
But I have found what works for me, and maybe it may help you…
Maybe it can help you, if you’re suffering from anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or “mark the all of the above box” or check other.
First you have to admit who you are. You have to accept your personality; are you introverted, extroverted? What keeps your clock ticking? Who are you? Don’t you try to change to be a different person; if you’re a shy, quiet person, don’t feel that you have to try to be a social butterfly. However, if you want to try to work towards that; by all means, go for it. You will actually feel and notice over time, small changes in your personality; you will grow and evolve.
Don’t be afraid to analyze yourself. Be truthful with who you are. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. It’s okay to admit who you are as a person; who you truly feel you are deep down inside. Again, when you lie about who you are, even to yourself, you are allowing anxiety to defeat you. You’re mind is in control. Other people are in control. Things are in control. When you express yourself openly, even if you’re just saying it out loud to yourself, you can start to determine the relationship between who you are and why you are anxious, depressed or having panic attacks.
I remember when I first started having these panic attacks, the doctor would tell me I’m, “tightly wound”. Another doctor advised me that I should set boundaries and limit myself to people who may cause tension or stress in my life. Sounded like a good plan, however, reevaluating it, just made me feel like I was giving in and allowing anxiety to become who I am. And it’s not. It’s a part of me; it makes up a percentage of who I am, but I am not going to be standing in a room full of people with a name tag that reads, “anxiety” on it any time soon. Also, I decided for myself that I would be catering to this anxiety by letting it take control of the steering wheel. I’m not a back seat kind of girl. The more I let those words ring in my ears, limit yourself, have boundaries, it sounded more and more like I was being encouraged to avoid and isolate rather than to fight, and keep fighting. I was not going to let myself be taken advantage of by panic attacks and anxiety. To me, that sounded more like a slippery slope; kind of like opening up a bottle of alcohol, lighting a cigarette and then passing out from being so drunk that the house catches on fire.
I can recall the first time I experience a panic attack. And the second one. And the third. Until it became so debilitating that I couldn’t even allow myself to go to sleep. I was on night duty; alert, alarmed, armed and waiting for the next panic attack. I was always thinking about it. I couldn’t stand it. It was like I couldn’t step away from my reflection without it going into panic mode. The first time I had one; it freaked me out. I thought I was dying. I jumped out of bed, head spinning, heart pounding, mind racing, and I couldn’t stop shaking. I thought I was just suffering from low blood sugar levels (I was into that diet of eating once per day), so I started cramming white bread in my mouth and an entire bottle of orange juice down my throat. I sat on the couch; my shaking had decreased, and looking back I think I was able to myself down because I took my mind off of it by identifying it as a problem (the low blood sugar thought) and quickly racing to solve it by cramming a bunch of shit down my throat. However, I had already called the ambulance and they were there poking my finger to check my blood glucose levels which were, oddly enough, extremely low. I was asked if I was diabetic. No. Pretty sure I wasn’t. I carried on the next five months, life as usual, not changing a damn thing, going to bed fine, sleeping fine, until. Well, then it happened again. I followed the same thing I did the first time around, but the symptoms weren’t decreasing they were erupting inside of my mind. First, I was worried. This is the second time” I remember thinking. “Would’ve if there is something really wrong?” Again. Ambulance came and this time they told me, “you’re having a panic attack” and after that, I allowed myself to slowly mold myself into a victim of anxiety. Nope. I didn’t fight. I didn’t think I could. My doctor wrote me a couple of prescriptions and off I went into the darkness.
Reflecting on that first moment, tells me how strong we are to fight to solve a problem, once we “think” (in this case) we know what it is. We are born to fight for survival. Our bodies are made to be strong and powerful, which is what panic and anxiety is. Fight or Flight. Fight for survival. Irrational thoughts; irrational fears etc.
I like to think that we were created with built in survival kits.
Unfortunately, the thing with panic attacks is that once we are diagnosed; once we are categorized and pushed into the group that “has panic attacks and anxiety” we start nurturing it; helping it grow…laRGER. We actually wait around for it, water it, (so to speak), and we allow everything to revolve around it. And soon enough, we become our own tornado. We become destructible and powerful; damaging to ourselves and our loved ones. And that’s the hardest part. Identifying that you suffer from panic attacks, pushing yourself into that group of hashtags, (if you will), and we succumb to them.
Instead, we need to identify it, and not let it become our way of being identified.
More truth? Everyday is a struggle. Why? Because it’s annoying. It’s exhausting. There are days where you want to be like, “screw this shit”, but you know what? I remember my dad; he gave me more proof how strong our bodies are once we get the mind to hop aboard. You see, from the time my father was 18 years old to the time he died in August 2005, at 52 years old, he had suffered multiple heart attacks, 2 kidney transplants, skin cancer, more than one open heart bypass surgery followed with staph infections, other various health problems, until he died of liver cancer. But when he died; he died proudly and with dignity.
He lived life not fearing the next day but anticipating the next day. He definitely made sure not to leave one stone unturned. He was a fighter. He fought to the death.
My mother? She was a fighter too. Still is. She battled alcoholism for a majority of her life and has been sober for 11 years. She did it on her own. So I know; I have proof. I have evidence that our bodies our capable of extremes. When someone says, “it’s all in your head,” I used to get offended, but now? Now, I say, “yes, it is all in my head.” Because ultimately, it is how you choose to deal with it. My parents taught me that. The past four years have taught me that.
Dealing with anxiety and panic attacks have taught me that you can’t control everything that happens, but you can control how you react and respond.
I am fighting that. Every. Single. Day.
And I will never, ever give up.
Without pride and dignity. I will not give up.
You really have to train your brain. For every negative thought that invades your mind, you have to force your mind come up with a positive thought to offset the negative.
Set up small goals with yourself so that you have something to look forward to. If you have something to look forward to, you can get yourself out of the darkness a lot sooner; like a cloudy day, but when the clouds suddenly open up, instead of rain, comes the sun.
The more you talk about it in a more positive way, the more likely you will be able to identify and push out those negative thoughts when they start to creep in. For example, rather than say, “you gave me anxiety, or that gives me anxiety” recognize that as a fear, and force your mind to overcome that fear. Anxiety and panic for me, is not having control. When you stop telling yourself that people or things give you anxiety, you will slowly regain control as opposed to feeling inferior to people or things. Ask yourself, why do they give you anxiety? Again, it goes back to your personality. Maybe your personality clashes with theirs or maybe you like things done a certain way….But remember, no one or no thing could give you anxiety or cause you a panic attack unless you let it.
Discover positive interests, brainstorm. For instance, what’s your favorite music? What do you find yourself doing most of the time or what do you find yourself wishing that you could do most of the time? Make a list of your interests, hobbies, favorites and people you like. Most of the time the people who we are attracted to, possess qualities that we would love to have ourselves or we are already alike in a lot of ways, we just haven’t found the ground that will just open up and shout, “you are worthy to walk on me!”
Find something you can be passionate about; something that will challenge you physically, emotionally or mentally; or all three…
Set small goals. Behaviors that you can help change the way you think and listen.
Discover who you are based on your interests; what you’re good at; passionate about, write your goal down and put it somewhere you can look at it. Find out what steps you need to do to reach that goal. Be on the look out for motivational quotes/sayings that you can relate to. Keep it light and positive. No dark quotes. No quotes about anxiety that enable you to allow yourself to keep victimizing yourself. I believe we tend to grab onto quotes that we identify with, (again we are more than anxiety and panic; we are stronger than those things and we have many facets), that say, look I have this problem so yea, accept me for my problem. End of story. It’s okay to like the quote, but when you read that every single day, you risk victimizing yourself. In other words, you risk pulling yourself back into the darkness, where you find comfort in the misery that you have been convinced is completely you. All you. It’s not. Trust me. You’re more than that. We all are.
Find someone who inspires you, positively; finding someone who is a positive influence, someone who makes you feel good about yourself; whether it’s a celebrity, a friend, family member, sports enthusiast, or other individual, will help you heal and allow yourself to become who you want to be and allow you to set goals. They will most likely be honest people, someone you can relate to. A lot of people spend time criticizing and bashing others; but really they are fighting through the pain of what they are convinced are unrealistic goals or expectations that they could never reach. If it makes you feel that way, then those aren’t the people you should be following; that is not who you are and that is okay. No one else is judging you, but you at that moment. Find what works for you. And maybe one day, if it interests you, you’ll have the power to go after that so-called unrealistic goal or expectation.
It’s important to find someone who inspires you; someone you could go back to when you’re feeling down and feel like you’re losing your way because along the way you will have to fight everyday, some more than others, and if have someone that you feel generates a ton of positivity, you could always refer back to that person if you find that your compass starts to taper off the map.
Don’t seek validation from others but yourself. This is hard to do, especially in this technological era we live in. Social networking sites look out!
If you receive negative feedback, expect it. Embrace it. That person may be suffering just like you. You don’t know their story. Ask if they want your help, find ways to help others rather than lashing out. You never know; you just might be the inspiration that someone else needs; someone’s bright spot in their darkness.
Most importantly, don’t ever think that taking medication is a sign of weakness. Medication is a sign that you want to fight; that you’re not willing to give up. They say “crying isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of trying to be strong for too long.” Same rule applies.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I eat healthy, I workout, I don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs, yet I still have panic attacks; I still have anxiety, my mind and body are just that powerful, and as I said, it’s a contstant battle…
Anything is possible. Just keep fighting. Believe in yourself. Accept yourself. And Be yourself.