My Own Experience
I never really understood anxiety growing up. I was fortunate enough to be able to maintain a level head in situations that I interpreted as “high-stakes.” Sure, I experienced nervousness and stress, but nothing that I would categorize as the anxiety that I had heard about from others.
After hearing so many of my friends and colleagues talk about their own anxiety, however, I began to grow curious about anxiety. I wondered about it, and if there were any commonalities. Then, a series of unfortunate medical events hit me during one of the most stressful times of my life. I fought through like a champion, but it all caught up to me in my first panic attack.
I remember it much like I remember where I was on 9/11, the memory burned into my brain. I was in the middle of a Costco on a Sunday afternoon. I was in my sixth week of continuous tension headaches and migraines, recovering from a spinal injury, taking grad school courses, preparing for the holidays, preparing for an upcoming baby, and working full-time— all while currently shopping for some last minute items for our baby shower. Some may feel that such a plateful isn’t much, and indeed, at the time I thought it was all manageable. Alas, there I was, having an internal meltdown while the world around me kept on as if everything was normal.
The first thing I noticed was that my mind was racing. My thoughts seemed to be coming to me at four times the normal speed. Have you ever experienced moments where time “slowed down"? It was similar to that, but not quite the same. The thoughts coming to me were mixed with the things I needed to get at the store and an unlimited amount of terrible things that could be happening to me.
Could these headaches be due to brain cancer? My aunt had brain cancer. Am I going to die soon? Am I going to leave my wife widowed before our child is even born? How will she go on? How will she support herself? How will my daughter grow up without knowing her father? Where are the damn fruit platters? What time is it? Are we running late?
Metaphysically, it felt as though my entire world was spiraling away into nothingness, and I had absolutely no control over it. Meanwhile, back in the physical world, I noticed my chest began to feel tight. That’s not good.
I immediately went through all of the breathing techniques I’ve learned through singing, meditation, and exercise. Inhale for four counts, hold for four, exhale for four, wait for four. Square breathing is a great method for lowering your heart rate and relaxing your mind. However, in the thick of this panic attack, with my mind still pumping out seventeen paradoxical thoughts at a time, all my breathing did was buy me time, which is what I needed.
With my chest and brain in the same conditions, we bought our products and I drove the fifteen minutes to the venue for our baby shower. Loved ones asked one after the other how I was doing. I wanted to say, “fine,” but I knew better. I had to be brutally honest as a means of getting all the help I could. This thing was too big for me to deal with on my own.
Luckily, my mother was able to talk me down, as mothers have the ability to. She said the magic words, “You’re going to be okay.” With that, I broke down and began to cry while she hugged me in the most secure embrace I had felt since I was a child.
My brain began to slow down, back to its normal pace. I was still worried, as one would after a horrific experience, but I felt a little better. My chest was still tight, but I was able to manage. We got through the party alright and got home where I simply lied down on the couch to relax in front of the television.
Later that night, as a means of trying to help bring my chest back to normal so I could sleep, I took half of a Xanax.* An hour later, I took the other half and began to feel my body return to its normal state. I slept well that night but still felt the nervous and vulnerable after-effects from the attack for several days afterward. It was like having a belly full of butterflies and an elevated sense of paranoia as if I was trying to go through my days wondering who or what would set off another attack.
Luckily, another attack never came (not yet, fingers crossed) but my curiosity on the subject of anxiety skyrocketed. As a means of preventative maintenance, I scheduled an appointment with a therapist to go over the attack and try to help myself as well to provide myself with answers. I also devised a questionnaire to survey friends and family to see what I could learn about anxiety.
In the following volumes of this series, I will share my findings with the intent that they provide answers, and hopefully relief to all those that suffer from anxiety. Although my anxiety is a brief occasion, there are plenty who deal with situations similar to mine on a regular basis. If I am able to make their load lighter by even an ounce, I will consider myself fortunate and successful in this endeavor.
“Anxiety: An Examination” continues on Wednesday, March 28th, 2018
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*Consult your doctor before taking medication for anxiety.