Everyone gets anxiety at some time in their life. It’s completely natural at certain levels. But there are those who have to deal with so much more than just your normal amount of stress…
There are different types of anxiety disorders and many people who suffer from them but to day I’m only going to talk about one of them: Panic Disorder. Why? Because it’s what I suffer from. I understand all to well what it’s like to be constantly on edge, fearing the next panic attack and struggling just to make it out of the front door. I’m going to do my best to describe what life is like with this disorder so hopefully others will gain a better understanding of people who suffer from it.
I often wake up in the morning wondering if I’m going to make it through the day. People will often say “Take it one day at a time.” but in my case I have to take it one hour at a time, often also focusing on even less than that.
I have emetophobia, which is the intense fear of vomiting and on top of that I am currently being tested for Chrone’s Disease for constant nausea and diarrhea that I experience. I’m terrified to eat most of the time for fear that I’ll get sick. I rarely ever eat breakfast. In fact I often wake up very nauseated or in extreme pain in my sides. If I have somewhere I have to be such as school or work I have to give myself 2-3 hours to get over the discomfort so I often wake up long before I should need to just to get ready for the day. While I’m out I rarely eat. If i’m out of town I wont eat at all. I’ve gone days without eating just so I can be with family or have new experiences with my fiance. If I get sick and I’m not at home I will have a full blown panic attack and want to come straight home. The way I see it, I’d rather be hungry than sick and/or having a panic attack otherwise I wont be able to focus or concentrate on what I need to. If I have a trip planned the next day I wont eat the day/night before just so I can get out the door the next morning. Since food is a major trigger for me it’s one of the things I avoid most (which sucks because I do love to eat when I can).
What does a panic attack feel like? It varies from person to person but what we all have in common is we feel an immense amount of fear. It’s not always the “Oh my God I’m going to die!” kind of fear but more of a “This is never going to end” kind (which for some people can be much worse which is why many will commit suicide just to end their suffering). It’s both mentally and physically exhausting. Kinda like running a marathon and studying for a final exam at the same time.
For me, when I go into a panic attack it always starts with nausea. I will begin to feel queasy, like a lump in my throat that I can’t get rid of. It slowly starts to grow into the urge to gag even if my stomach feels fine. It usually is in just my throat. As that is happening the fear will hit. “Please don’t throw up” is repeated in my head. I’ll instantly become extremely lightheaded and unable to concentrate on anything around me which is just as terrifying to not have control of your own mind. I’ll get cold sweats, my hands and feet will become very cold yet my body may feel like its on fire. Sometimes my body will even go numb. I’ll get shaky, pounding heart, trouble catching my breath and will have trouble staying still. If i’m in bed trying to calm down I will be squirming. I rarely throw up (thank god) due to my fear of vomiting I’ve somehow managed a mind over matter trick to where I can fight the actual action. I’ll often get diarrhea or some form of sour stomach which doesn’t help. I tend to mentally prepare for the worst case scenario. If I end up having an attack at night, it’ll keep me awake until it subsides just enough for me to pass out from the exhaustion.
One of my go-to’s to calm down is I Love Lucy. I found in high school whenever reruns would come on tv it was funny enough to distract me when I’d have an attack. So I went out and bought every season! Other shows that help are also sitcoms such as Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Two and a Half Men and King of Queens. I also enjoy anime but the only one I’ll watch during an attack is Azumanga Daioh. These shows help distract me and even make me laugh a little when I feel like I’m stuck in a nightmare. I’ll sometimes have something else going on too like a craft or piece of art I’m working on as long as it’s something I can do in bed. If I’m in public, the first thing I’ll do is get away from strangers. It’s really embarrassing to go through an attack infront of people who doesn’t know whats wrong with you. Sometimes walking around a little will help burn off some of the adrenaline rush I’ll be having. I try to make sure there’s a bathroom near “just in case”. At home I’ll have a trash can with a new trash liner (just in case I do end up throwing up), Ice water for hydration, a cold wet rag for when I feel I’m burning up, my medicine on my nightstand (I take anti-anxiety meds which usually help calm me down) and whatever distraction I need going in the background. This is the process I go through.
It’s very difficult to keep people in my life because of this. I often loose the motivation to see my friends and spend alot of time at home. It can be hard to date someone who goes through this as well. They wont be able to experience and enjoy things as much as most people would like. My family, fiance and friends have all be amazing and understanding though. My parents have always been there for me, trying to help me when they can. My fiance is always supportive. He stays near when he can when I’m sick or having an attack and tries to nurse me back to health. He’s lasted an amazing 7 years with me so far. My friends don’t pressure me to leave my comfort zone yet always come over when I’m ready to see them again. They’re all very patient with me and do their best to make sure I’m comfortable. I count myself very lucky because of this. I am truly blessed with the people in my life and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. Not even a normal life, which I would give almost anything for (almost). But still…because of what I go through and what I know I put them though I cant help but still feel like a burden and annoyance to the people in my life. It’s a constant battle mentally to try and live with this type of problem. “Will they reject me? Do they see me as weak? Am I annoying them? Will they give up on me?” Are thoughts that are hard to shake.
Even if I begin to feel confident enough to not have them directly in my mind I can still feel them in the back of my mind. It also makes it hard to meet new people. “Am I being too awkward? Am I weird? What does this person think of me?” Is also a struggle. But even with these thoughts I have managed to gain the strength to say “Hi”.
I eventually learned to push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things. I try to live as normal as I can even though the attacks and fears are still there. I had to mentally train myself to remember that they are only temporary and I will eventually be ok.
It’s not an easy life. It’s very difficult to maintain a job or stay in school when someone goes through this on nearly a daily basis. So often people in my situation end up finding themselves unable to keep a job or work or keep up with classes and end up staying at home. It’s not a matter of being lazy, its a matter of being disabled by your own mind and body. Not crazy enough to be in an asylum but not well enough to function like a normal person. That limbo of two ways of life. So before you tell someone “You’re over reacting.” or “Just calm down and get over it.” try to understand exactly what they’re going through and feeling. And if you’re the one going through something like this just remember you’re not alone and there are ways to manage it and help available.