I’ve read a lot about panic attacks. The racing heart, the fast respiration, the feeling that one might be dying.
When I do have a panic attack, I do get those first two symptoms. In fact, I’ve been struggling with them for two days now. I don’t think my heart rate has been anywhere near normal since yesterday morning, and I’ve been shaking since then as well.
The physical symptoms suck.
But for me, at least, it’s the interplay of the psychological and the physical that creates this whole “wonderful” experience that I call panic.
I started out today in bed. My youngest woke up and I took her downstairs and got something to eat. But the “what if “questions started going through my head as I was waiting for the toaster to pop. My brain was urging me to solve a problem that I don’t have all the information for right now. And since I can’t solve it because I don’t know enough of the details, my brain decided that I must just think harder. If I think harder, something will come.
But you can’t think when you are shaking and your heart is pounding, so my anxiety convinced me that I needed to lie down. If I lie down, then I can control my breathing and relax, and then I will be able to obsess about it the issue more effectively.
So I listened as the obedient little anxiety prey that I am, and I lied down. I slowed my breathing for about two seconds, but then a car would drive by, or my AC would kick on, or I would actually think a thought about the current problem, and then I would have difficulty breathing again.
This continued for hours.
Finally, I convinced myself to get out of bed, which is not an easy task when the anxiety is screaming at me to stay put. Now I’m sitting in my living room doing the same thing. Trying to calm my body so my anxiety can percolate more effectively in my brain.
My anxiety and every single (erroneous) instinct that I have tell me that this will help me. That hidden somewhere in my brain is the answer, and all I have to do is worry about it enough and I’ll find the answer. A decade of therapy is trying to tell me that this is how anxiety perpetuates itself. That the only real way to get over it is to actually not listen to it and its promises of peace, and instead just accept that right now I cannot do anything about the issue, so I should focus on what is in front of me and what I can do and what I can control.
Here is where the battle plays out. I would like to think my brain stands a chance against the emotional luring of anxiety. I would like to think that I’m mentally strong enough, that I’ve learned so many hard-won lessons, and that I deserve to find peace even in the midst of struggles.
But it’s hard to hear the whisper of hope in a stadium of jeering fears.
And as I sit here now, desperately trying to win the battle of peace, I’m reminded that life isn’t perfect. The promise was never a smooth ride. And challenges will peer around every corner.
The trick isn’t to live a life without a thing to worry about. That will leave us anxious and failing. No, the trick is to find the peace amidst the suffering and the trials. It’s to count what is right rather than what is wrong. It’s to take challenges and find ways to overcome them rather than let them bury us.
My anxiety never promised me a smooth ride. No one ever said it would go away. No one ever said it would come easy. No one ever said the battle wouldn’t be a long one.
But I’ve also spent decades trying to search for perfect circumstances so that I could experience the slightest modicum of peace. And I turned up empty handed enough times to know that I deserve peace even in the middle of the chaos and commotion and hard times.
Then again, this all feels like some kind of joke because just as I was talking myself down, I let my guard down, and within an instant I was back to trying to figure out eventualities and panicking at worst case scenarios.
But I’m not going to give up and I’m not going to give in to this anxiety.
I have a house full of little girls. And maybe one nice thing about having children is that even if I can’t give myself peace of mind, maybe I can make their little lives safe and warm and peaceful.
At the moment, it sounds a lot more reasonable than making my own life that way.