Oh, the holidays. I know I still have New Year’s Eve to get through but my family usually stays home. When I was a part of a serious couple, even then, we would usually stay in. Too many drunks on the road I realized as I got older. Much more fun to cozy in front of the tube and watch Dick Clark’s Countdown and clink glasses at midnight and finish the night off with a kiss.
This year finds me single yet again and I don’t want to go to my parents’ house. Maybe I can dig up a social event in town and Uber my way over there. The thing I worry about if I go alone is my anxiety.
This past week one of my sister’s presents got in with my stack so I had to hurry off to the airport and wait for the rest of my family to get there. The anxiety grew slowly with physical symptoms to match. I put my hand to my chest ( a tell-tale sign), then started rocking back and forth from one foot to the other. Suddenly, I thought I was going to be physically sick and ran to the ladies’ room and hunched over a toilet, luckily nothing came out. I came out of the stall where a teenager had been the whole time and apologized that I thought I was going to be ill. She asked if I was alright and I brushed it off with a “I get panic attacks sometimes.” I could feel my heart pounding as my family walked in the building and I walked over to them and started to cry. I told them I was having a panic attack. I was crying so hard, never mind the embarrassment I felt. I walked over to my mom who was at the end of the room and covered my face with my arm so people wouldn’t stare. By the time I got to her I was hyperventilating. This was one of the quickest onset and intense panic attacks I have ever had. She made me sit down and tried to get me to slow my breathing. When it finally subsided and I felt safe again, I was exhausted.
There is no way to truly explain to a person who does not have anxiety disorder or who suffers from panic attacks what it feels like, even though I just did. I guess it just feels like you are in extreme danger and that you are going to die. Can you imagine suddenly feeling like you are going to die? No gunshots. No bombs. No threats. Just another ordinary afternoon.
So, somertimes I avoid certain situation, like shopping in largely populated places, staying away from ‘Big Box’ stores, avoiding large family gatherings. Sigh, there are limitations put on my life caused by my disorder.
It is easy to isolate yourself when you have a mental illness, but I urge you to talk to your friends and family. Even if they don’t understand it, you can help them to know what to do when you are acting a certain way. That is the way we break stigma, one person at a time.