Saturday, 24 September 2016
"Fight or Flight"
My heart is beginning to race. I start shuffling from one foot to the other. Don't cry - just breathe. I said, don't cry! Breathe. Now my heart is beating fast. Just concentrate. Breathe. Don't cry. I catch my mom's eye. "I am having an anxiety attack," I whisper. I whisper when I want to yell.
It's 10:15 am on Saturday morning and we are at the gym in the middle of a training session. I am in a safe place, with friends and family, doing something that always makes me feel better when I am experiencing depression. Except for today. And this is not depression. This is anxiety in all its glory.
I last fifteen minutes before I make for the door. I quietly, because I am embarrassed, explain that I need to leave. I spend the next fifteen minutes in my car, sobbing. Watching people around me going about their Saturday morning errands as if nothing is wrong; as if today is any other Saturday. Me, with tears running down my cheeks. It doesn't feel like any other Saturday.
If you have never experienced an anxiety attack it must be very difficult to imagine what one feels like and how they occur. They are often completely irrational, although, unlike with depression (in my personal experience), they can easily be triggered by stress (at work or in your personal life) or as a result of a situation (for me, that is when I find myself in small, loud spaces).
As has often been said, the mind and body are one. What you experience in your brain will impact your body. Here are some common symptoms for anxiety. And yes, I have experienced them all.
After my anxiety attack (also commonly referred to as a panic attack), I was hungry and exhausted. I spent the afternoon sleeping and cancelled my plans for the evening. Coincidentally, I was supposed to be at a mental health fundraiser tonight. If there is anything that you can feel OK about when you have to cross off your 'must do' list, it's attending a mental health event when you need to put your mental health first.
And yet, even after all these years, the guilt that I carry when I cancel something is a heavy weight. My health is my priority, as it should be. However, I still worry that people view me as flaky or unreliable. When you have mental illness, your inner dialogue can be particularly cruel. It can be hard to turn the volume down some days.
I share this experience for the same reason that I share all of my experiences: for greater understanding of disorders that remain so stigmatized. Please, no sympathy - do not feel sorry for me. I often find myself waging a battle against chronic illness but so do many other people in this world. And yet I find myself a little bit mad for feeling embarrassed earlier today. So maybe this is also a little bit for me. Maybe it's a little bit about learning to let go of my own self stigma. Maybe we can fight this battle together.
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