Go to fullsize imageI was talking with someone the other day and they happened to mention that I was always just a layed back calm person.   I laughed inside but just smiled and said, “If you only knew…”

What many people don’t know is that I struggle daily with anxiety.  We are not just talking about being a Type A personality that gets out of sorts if things are not just so.  It’s beyond “out of sorts”.  My anxiety at times is ridiculous.  I know it’s ridiculous.  Tomas knows it’s ridiculous.  Our joke is “if there is nothing to worry about, that is a worry for Stacey”.  But we both know that it’s something that I can not stop on my own most of the time.  I can deal with it and have learned many coping mechanisms but it’s still there lurking under the surface.  When I get tired and when I feel a lot of stress are the usual triggers for full blown irrational anxiety.  If I see these factors heading my way, I can usually head off this little beast of burden at the pass. 

There are times though where unexpectedly, the anxiety becomes panic and the panic becomes physical.  I was so empowered to read Summer’s post about her panic attacks.  I believe in stength in numbers and also understanding.  I understand what she must go through during those times because I have been there.  Yet, I feel so misunderstood by people when I try to explain what happens during a panic attack or what true anxiety is like.  It’s hard to know if you have never been there.  It’s hard to understand if you can never get passed the “well, why don’t you just do this” type of thinking.  So, I continue to try and support those who are willing to share their stories to help others understand.  Which in turn only brings hope to those who suffer from any anxiety/panic/mood disorder.

Here’s my story to help others understand what it’s like…the panic attack, my way.

If you look at Summer’s post she has the list of symptoms that often accompany a panic attack.  My attacks include all of them when they are bad which I can’t even count the number of these anymore.  I have run out of restaurants, theaters, malls, churches, friends homes, left vacations and have holed up in my own bathroom because of them.  I have suffered a long time from this, so believe me when I say, I have been everywhere and done many crazy things due to panic.  Once it starts, hold on tight because it’s a wild ride until it comes to a stop.  It starts with a feeling of stress like I said before, then I get “a catch” in my breathing often it is so subtle that I don’t even notice it until my throat starts to feel a little swollen and I have to think about swallowing right so I don’t choke.  Than I start to worry about other people noticing what is going on, I never worry about what is happening to myself at this point.  I just don’t want to bother other people with this so I become more stressed and anxious.  Then I usually start to have numbness in my lips and my left pinky and ring fingers.  Often the whole left side of my body tingles and I always start to sweat and shake.  I will secretly start pinching my side by my rib cage very hard to keep my mind focused on the here and now because I begin to feel “out of body”.  I have bruised from this.  You may have guessed that by this time, if I am in a public place, I am looking for an out.  A bathroom, some fresh air, something…so other’s won’t see what’s coming next.  If I can be alone, I have a chance of shutting it down before it continues.  If not we buckle up and get ready for a wicked ride.

All symptoms intensify, I feel like I am suffocating even though I scientifically know that it won’t happen.  I want to run away from whereever I am.  I absolutely do not want to go crazy or lose it in front of ANYONE.  Not even my hubby of 10 years.  I want to throw up.  Sometimes I do.  Sometimes my intestines join the fun.  I am shaking somewhat violently.  Kind of like if you have ever gotten the shakes from an epidural during childbirth.  No matter how hard you try…you can’t stop it.  I cry out of frustration and a feeling of personal weakness.  I feel like a failure because I couldn’t stop it.  I feel bad because I have missed out on activities that should have been fun or normal.  I slowly begin to come back.  Most times, I have no control as to when or why it stops.  The breathing slows. I stop shaking.  I cool down and am utterly exhausted whether it’s been 5 minutes or 2 hours.  Than I sleep and when I awake, I feel guilty for having to impact my families lives with this.  The cycle may or may not continue into another attack or endless tears.

You almost feel like you are an addict on the road to recovery.  You get it under control for a while.  You feel great, you feel like you have it beat and then one day you wake up and your body has fallen off the wagon without your permission.  Back to square one.  Ironically, being an experienced panic attacker helps.  You know the drill.  You can manage it.  You find where to get help. 

What helps most is this (for me anyway): feeling understood, feeling supported and loved unconditionally, feeling like you won’t be judged as crazy for the rest of your life.  If you were fighting a more visible illness or disease, like cancer, no one would question your intellect or mental powers. No one would expect you just to “snap out of it”.  Like any other disease it takes work, it takes time, and it takes love.

One of my most hopeful moments this past week came from watching Winnie the Pooh.  The new one with Darby.  Yes, I have seen these shows a million times because Zack and Anson cannot get enough of Tigger.  I don’t really know what led to this statement but Darby says to Tigger, “Tigger, someone can’t change their feelings just because you tell them to.  It doesn’t work like that.”  I thought while smiling to myself, “Someone understands.  Someone really understands.”  And I began to feel better.  Granted it was a cartoon character that “slaps her cap” every 5 minutes, but she really understood and that made all the difference.