Heart racing. Palms sweaty. Frantically trying to fix - what? Fix what? Nothing's wrong, but something's wrong. Everything's wrong and it has to be fixed, solved, something, right NOW. Pacing, starting a project, starting another project. Fearful. Racing thoughts, irritability, nothing seems to be working. What is wrong with me?
It's a panic attack. And I'm not alone in this. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly 40 million adults in America (that's roughly 18% of the population) suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. Nice to know I'm not the only one, but not very comforting when in the throes of an attack.
Fear and Function
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time - when speaking in public, before a big test, etc - and that's perfectly normal. It's when the anxiety persists over a long period of time, seemingly stemming from nothing in particular, that it becomes a problem. When the anxiety is so strong that it interferes with your ability to function normally, it's time to get help.
My anxiety ebbs and flows along with the rest of my bipolar moods. And when it's really flowing, it can send me into a manic state if I don't catch it in time. Yesterday was one of the times I didn't.
I have started to notice that around 3 o'clock every afternoon, I start feeling anxious. I start desperately trying to fill the time with mindless chores until it's time to start supper. But that just feeds the fear, gives it more to worry about. When busy work doesn't help, I try distraction, but my mind's moving so fast that I can't pay attention to anything. Finally, I try controlling it. I make lists, charts, anything to try to rationalize and neatly contain the fear. But my mind is so out of sync with itself that nothing seems to work the way I want it too.
That's when anger sets in, and my anger quickly turns to rage. By this point I can no longer function and have to remove myself from the situation to try to calm down. Anti-anxiety medication, a hot shower, meditation. I go through my list of coping skills until something works. Sometimes just being held helps.
Today, though, I had a breakthrough. It was after dinner and I had been feeling panicky for a couple of hours. I kept doing all the wrong things, trying to fight through it and only making it worse. Then The Bearded One called and said he was going to be late, which was the last thing I needed to hear. But instead of snapping, I stopped. I just stopped, and sat, and breathed. Long, slow, deep breaths, just like my therapist has told me a hundred times.
And as I breathed, my heart beat slowed, my thoughts calmed. The fear slowly drained away. The irritability that had been gnawing at my head was gone. I had done it. I got myself through a panic attack without anyone's help.
That's when I realized that I am enough. I really am. I am good enough, strong enough, to get well and stay well. I still need the love and support of friends and family, but I finally realized that when it comes down to it, I can be enough for me. All by myself. And I am so proud.