Sometimes, Anxiety Wins

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Anxiety by Giuseppe Cristiano

You try to keep it at bay by exercising 30 minutes a day or cutting sugar out of your diet.

You try to keep it under control with deep breathing, yoga, prayer, and spending time with loved ones.

You try to reason with it by finding the cycles, patterns, words and wording, and reminding yourself they are “just thoughts,” even when they feel like the most true statements in the world.

You try to fight it by telling it you’re more than those dark thoughts say you are, by saying you’re beloved despite all of the flaws it hurls at you like jagged stones, and by asking it kindly to shut the hell up.

Sometimes, you win.

The thoughts quiet to a dull roar and gradually subside. Calm returns, and you continue your routine, maybe a bit more weary than you were before but otherwise unscathed.

Other times, you are pummeled.

The stones cut deep, and the blood flows freely. You curl into a fetal position, out of defense and because everything seems to cave in on you. But still, the stones continue to hit, and they hurt something terrible, and when they finally cease, you lay there weary and languid, wondering if you will ever find the strength to rise again.

And as you nurse yourself slowly back to health with tears and fitful sleep, you wonder why nothing worked. You wonder why the medication or the lifestyle changes or the therapy sessions or any combination thereof didn’t fortify the floodgates.

Maybe you’ll even wonder the most paralyzing, frightening thought of all: was it all my fault?

 

You’ve had these experiences countless times before, but even though you’re used to them, each time can feel more unsettling than the last. Even if your recovery time is better than it has been in the past, it still shakes you to your core and leaves you trembling after the dust has settled.

Because, damn it, what did you do wrong? What could you have done better? What could you have done to have a fighting chance, to not be crushed, to stand strong and not lose the battle?

It’s a terrible question, crushing in its despair and isolating in its seeming loneliness.

And yet, most of us with a mental health condition have asked it.

I wish this wasn’t the case, but I have to admit it:

Sometimes, anxiety wins.

This shit happens. It still does and probably, to some extent, always will.

And it’s not because we didn’t try hard enough, or because we didn’t love ourselves enough, or because we didn’t do enough yoga, or because we consumed a teaspoon more of sugar than usual.

It’s because the exercise, medications, diet, and techniques don’t stop the attacks. After all, they are our tools, not our cure. They are our assistants but not our salvation. We carry them to support us in our lifelong diagnosis.

Sometimes, they keep the anxiety at bay. Other times, they fail us.

And that’s OK. And you’re OK.

You’re OK.

I know it can be hard to believe. The sense of hopelessness following an anxiety attack, combined with the cultural expectation that we hold ourselves together at all times, can be crushing.

But the hard days are as inevitable as the good, no matter how high your dosage or how many times you went to the gym or your therapist this month.

And when they happen, whether you stand victorious or lay defeated, you are OK. And you have permission to let go of the expectation that you’re only OK if you “won” the battle.

Because it’s not all about winning. It’s about surviving long enough to feel like we’re thriving again.

You are OK, beloved. You had a hard day, and you are OK.

And I’m glad you’re here.

I Had Another Panic Attack

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I was on my way home from church on Sunday. My body and mind carried the exhaustion of one less hour of sleep. Bills were piling up and paychecks loomed in the too-distant future. I felt the anxiety creeping a bit, but a good Sunday School class and a solid service kept it pacified.

Besides, despite some money concerns, Bryce had just deposited a work paycheck last night. I figured I at least had enough money to get a bit of gas and maybe a cheap lunch on the way home.

I left church and drove to the nearest gas station. To figure out how much I could put in my tank, I did a final check of our bank account.

And I found $1.47 remaining.

The levees in my mind began to crack under pressure, causing fissures which allowed the first streams of panic to enter.

I felt anger at Bryce for telling me the check provided us enough money to tide us over. I felt anger at the phone bill that had zapped that paycheck away. Fury threatened to bubble over as I pondered the little money we had despite the work we did, and embarrassment gurgled within me as I compared my life to those of my friends who’ve graduated and have jobs they love and actually went to school to get.

The fear simmered beneath it all. Fear and shame. Fear of the car insurance bill getting paid before they cancelled my insurance, of not having enough gas to make it home, of not being able to keep a literal roof over our heads. Shame over my lack of resources and dependency on our parents, over having a Master’s degree with nothing to show for it, over what my family and friends must think of our destitute situation.

I kept it beneath the surface, though. I had a few teary, sobbing outbursts on the ride home, but I stayed well enough to not need to pull over lest I wreck the car (and further increase my insurance premium).

When I got out of my car after pulling into the driveway, though, everything unleashed. The levees broke, and the panic flooded in.

Bryce stepped out of the house. I didn’t want to face him. I felt too much fear for our living situation and misdirected anger towards him. I knew he’d see it. I knew he’d ask what was wrong.

And I knew he’d worry.

He’d worry about the money situation, yes, but above all, he’d worry about me.

I didn’t want him to. I wanted to hold myself together on my own for once, to not need a hug or a shoulder to cry on.

But I needed his hugs and his shoulder. I needed to collapse into my bed and let my body shake with the panic threatening to overwhelm me.

I tried to walk right past him without saying anything, but he knew right away I was having an awful time, and not because he knows me so well. I’m crap at hiding my emotions, especially when they are this overpowering, so my red, swollen eyes, trembling lips, and overall air of misery I carried tipped him off immediately. I croaked out a reason for my current state, something about not having any money and freaking out about gas and the car insurance bill, as I forced my feet to move forward.

Not yet, I told myself. Don’t let go yet. Let’s get to the bed first. Then we can break.

And break I did.

I crashed onto the bed, curled into a fetal position, and wailed.

Panic attacks really are paralyzing. They are mind-numbing and body-freezing. The feeling of drowning is such an accurate metaphor, because the mind drowns itself, suffocated and engorged by its own thoughts.

My lungs could inhale and exhale, but my mind struggled to push itself out of the depths and into the clarity of calmness and perspective. Those were on a distant shore. Sometimes during an attack, they are beyond sight. At moments like this one, I wonder if I will ever again feel ground beneath my feet.

I don’t know how long I lay in bed, crying until all that was left within me was pure exhaustion. I can’t remember everything I cried about, although finances and appearing “adult enough” were among the topics over which I was so anxious.

I remember getting over my initial anger the moment I saw Bryce’s lip quiver when he realized the state I was in. I do know he came in and held me as I cried to the point of hyperventilating. He’s never seen me do that before, and we’ve known each other almost 9 years.

I remember he stayed with me as the panic racked through me, then flowed out of me. I remember him telling me he deposited another small check from work to tide us over a few days. When I calmed down further, we worked out what bills needed paying soonest and what money was coming in.

Before leaving me to fall asleep, we managed to exchange a few jokes and even some laughs. He gave me an extra grilled ham and cheese sandwich our roommate had made. And some gentle hugs and kisses.

I read a bit from The Autobiography of Malcolm X and fell asleep, peaceful once more.