I saw something the other day and it stuck with me. It was a picture with the words, “Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
Like many other people, I suffer from occasional to sometimes frequent anxiety attacks. They come on suddenly and often blindingly. However, after a careful consideration of these attacks; I realize they usually begin with a trigger. I see it like a unexpected storm that hits the horizon. The sky turns dark and loses daylight. One droplet falls. Then two droplets, three, and in seconds, the sky opens up and pours down in an angry rain.
When the storm hits, I lose visibility. I can’t think straight or focus because the rain is too heavy. This is how my panic attacks feel. When the anxiety hits, I began to lose choices. I lose my ability to negotiate or navigate my way through simple tasks. Everything happens at the wrong pace. Everyone seems to be in my way.
All I want to do is get out—and by out, I mean out of wherever I am. I’d like to get out of my skin. I would like to get out of my body—but I can’t so I begin to feel closed in. I feel claustrophobic and the panic sets in.
Know what it’s like?
It’s like if you’ve ever had a migraine—even the darkness is too bright and the silence is so painfully loud. There’s no way to stop the pain because it hurts too much to move and it hurts too much to sit still. Even if you lay still in the dark, there’s no way to find comfort and all you can do is weight it out.
This is what my panic attacks are like. At least this is how I see them. And I might be alone. I might be crazy and I might be the only one that feels this way, but at least I know where I stand.
When the attacks hit, they hit suddenly, and I try my best to recognize them. I know the ride is coming. I know it the same way I would know the fall is coming when teetering on a roller coaster just before I took the biggest fall. And same as the roller coaster cannot stop util the ride is over—the panic attacks won’t stop until it ends. Sometimes they attacks last only a few minutes. Sometimes they last longer. And sometimes, the attacks last so long that I feel like I will lose my sanity and find myself in a rubber room in with white, padded walls, and a straight jacket to keep me confined.
I try to breathe, but breathing techniques will not always work. I use my inner voice to talk myself down. I try to coach myself through the attack. Otherwise, I lose myself to hysterics and find myself face to face with the unfortunate aftermath.
I want to scream, but there’s no one to scream at.
I’ve tried to scream the words “Stop it!” as loudly as possible. In some cases, I had screamed this in public settings. Even at minimum, I’ve had to say this aloud as a way to coach myself through the attacks.
I find the words, “Stop it,” are commanding and they have the ability to break or soften the thought process.
Worst is when I am closed in someplace, like an elevator or in a small public place. I have had these attacks on the bus ride to work. I have had attacks on the train heading from Long Island into New York’s Pennsylvania Station.
When the anxiety comes, everything moves quickly—except for me. No matter how I try or what I need to do, there is always someone in front of me, slowing me down, and keeping me stuck. There’s always something keeping me back, or keeping me from running away from myself. When this happens the attacks get worse. I find sounds irritate me and I swear they are made purposely to annoy me.
This is when I want to scream most. This is when I am angriest and at times, I feel almost violent. Keep in mind, it’s not that I want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I just want to get out of my own skin, but I can’t, and everyone around me seems to be in the way.
This is hard to talk about with anyone. It’s hard to admit this chaos because, and let’s be honest; these attacks are enough to make someone feel insane. Anxiety attacks are debilitating. They can in fact be crippling and if the episodes are frequent or regular; panic attacks can be a disability.
It’s hard to listen to advice from anyone that never felt an attack like this. It’s hard to talk about the attacks because of insecurities and the need to feel sane or at minimum; it’s hard to talk about the attacks because like everyone else in the world, I just want to fit in and feel acceptable.
When the attacks come, I try to maintain myself. But like it is with any fight; sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I feel overwhelmed when the attacks hit. I want to sit still but I can’t. I want to run away as fast as I can, but no matter where I go, and no matter how fast I get there—the anxiety is always gaining and always right behind me.
And there’s always someone that thinks they know what to say. They tell you to, “Calm down,” as if you have a choice.
They tell you, “Just stop,” as if it was that easy.
In all honesty, if I could “Just stop,” I would have a long time ago. If I could, I would find a way to block the triggers that cause my crazy attacks. But life is like this. Life comes with ups and downs. Life has good days and bad. Life also has triggers. Life comes with hidden trip-wires, and when we trip them, the explosion takes place. That’s when the panic comes in. The craze starts and the mind spins downwardly out of control. There is no end until bottom. If it gets this bad—then it gets this bad and the hardest part of anxiety attacks is the aftermath.
I am writing this—not as a means to bravely face these attacks. I am not writing this to seek opinion or affirmation. I am not asking for guidance or inviting opinion. Instead, I am writing this as a way to recognize the features of my attacks. It appears to me the best way to overcome or conquer an emotional disability is to learn about it.
This is why I study myself. I learn what my triggers are. Some of my triggers include financial insecurity. Some of my triggers are pulled as a result of my social awkwardness. I see the symptoms coming and then I feel the beginning stages of paranoia.
I try to read these triggers so I can tell when the storm is about to break. Same as society needs a weatherman to explain nature and what’s on the way; I need to look for the weather patterns in my daily life. This way I will not get caught in the storm!
I write this to recognize the attacks as they come. This way, I stand a better chance. Once I see the signs, I can learn to remove myself from my surroundings. I can learn to duck some of the social anxieties that come with feeling uncomfortable in a crowd. This way, I can improve.
As a survivor of depression, I have had to learn how to differentiate between truth and the inside voices of my inaccurate assumptions. As a survivor, I have had to learn how to identify my triggers so that I have a chance to defend myself.
Above all, nobody ever asks for depression. No one asks for panic attacks. No one ever asks to feel, literally, as if they are going to mentally explode. No one needs to feel the shame and humiliation that comes with these attacks.
In my case, I admit to feeling odd. I feel crazy. It’s almost like something is wrong with me. When in truth, nothing is wrong.
If you noticed, I refer to myself as a survivor of depression. I will not say that I suffer from depression because I see a better benefit with the word survive. I choose to say I survive instead of suffer because by definition: Suffer means to undergo or feel great pain. Suffer means to tolerate disadvantage or loss. It means to be sick. It doesn’t mean to heal or improve.
I say that I survive depression because surviving means to continue. Surviving means to continue in existence and improve or advance. It means to remain above death or occurrence—it is to endure or to live through. If I am to beat depression and all the attacks that come with it, then I must learn how to survive them so I can surpass them.
I cannot say if my case is similar or different from anyone else. I cannot say if my panic attacks are worse in comparison to others or mild when compared to some. I can only say that when I undergo one of my attacks—the effects disable me. I feel weak, and when I feel weak, I become scared, and when I become scared, I respond with anger to defend myself.
As a means of therapy, I am documenting this to help maintain my survival status. I write about this because the last thing I want to do is suffer from a mental illness. I’d rather survive it and get better. Lastly, but most importantly, least of off all I am not writing this for you (the reader). I am writing this for me.
I know there are people who want to help when it comes to our mental stability. I know there are people who think they can help and they try to find the right words to say. They try to shush the symptoms and they say things like, “Just relax,” and “Calm down!” They say this like it’s an easy step to take.
But it’s like the picture says:
“Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.”
If you or someone you know has bouts of anxiety or panic attacks, my suggestion is to log them down and write about them in detail. Describe them and learn about the attacks. Learn about the triggers which set you off. Learn the steps you need to take to get through these attacks.
Learn to breathe. Learn how to reason and comfort yourself. Above all, learn that anxiety is not real. And though the attacks feel life threatening—and though the attacks feel like you want to rip through your skin and run as fast as you can to get away from yourself; know that as difficult as the thoughts may seem, know that you have a choice in this matter. Know that you can do one of two things. You can either suffer from the anxiety—or you can survive it.
The choice is entirely up to you.