I have a confession to make.
Over the past few years, I have been struggling – really really struggling – with anxiety. More recently, this anxiety has turned into panic attacks. They are scary, embarrassing, and often times debilitating.
My first panic attack occurred in January. I was at work and it came out of nowhere, and it scared me so much that I left work to go to emergency because I was certain that something was wrong with my heart. After running some tests and ruling out a whole bunch of stuff, the doctor landed on a panic attack, with the root cause being the recent loss of my father.
It’s been 10 months today since my dad died tragically at the hands of alcoholism and addiction. In those 10 months, I have also had to remove myself or set very rigid boundaries in other very crucial relationships, and it feels as if I am now mourning the loss of my entire family. Loss can either bring a family closer or tear them apart, and unfortunately for us, it did the latter.
Combine the family turmoil with other things – health issues, financial struggles, major life changes such as a new house, and a career – that I LOVE – but that taxes me every day as I try to give and give and give when I am empty myself – all of this leads down a very dark path on the hard days.
Yesterday, I had another panic attack. At work, again, which of course lead to a lot of shame. I am a senior hairstylist at the best salon in the city. I am highly educated in my craft, and I am excellent at what I do. I take care of others all day long, and I am happy to do it. So for me to turn into a sobbing, shaking, sweaty mess on the floor of the staff room with my face buried in a towel in front of my peers…well, embarrassing would be an understatement.
Yesterday, though, it was different, for two reasons. One, because I now know exactly what a panic attack feels like, so I didn’t feel that sense of impending doom and I knew that it would pass. And two, because I could actually feel the anxiety building in me for 7 hours before the actual attack happened. I remember thinking that I was feeling the same way I felt before my other attacks, and wondering if I was going to have another one. I remember trying to calm down and focus on breathing, but not being able to. And finally, it was a challenging moment at work that suddenly sent me into the spiral.
Luckily, I had a very sweet, supportive coworker who also suffers from panic attacks with me when it happened. She gave me exactly what I needed – a cool cloth on the back of my neck and calm, reassuring words that I was going to be okay. Because of that, the attack lasted maybe only 6 or 7 minutes, and after taking some time to calm down, I was able to get on with the rest of my shift. I was also lucky to come home to my boyfriend, who had made me dinner and set up a nice, calming space in my bedroom that I was able to retreat to after. Eventually, I fell asleep, but the exhaustion I feel after these attacks often lasts for days. It is awful.
So, now what? This has been my third major panic attack in 7 months, accompanied by a series of other smaller episodes and struggles. The weight of it is becoming a lot to bear, and I am afraid that it will begin to affect my everyday life more and more if I don’t do something about it.
I refuse to take medication. Yes, I know it would help me, but I am one of those weirdos who won’t even take Advil unless things are seriously unbearable. I suffer through aches, pains, coughs, colds and flus without pills because I am stubbornly rooted in what I believe. I don’t think the answer to my anxiety lies in a chemical, mind-altering pill. And I don’t want my emotions to be controlled. I want to believe that I can fight this some other way. The turmoil and the cause of my anxiety is coming from the inside, so I feel like the treatment should, too.
Currently, the things that help me are running, meditation (although inconsistent), and sometimes essential oils and herbal teas as well, although they can’t exactly ‘fix’ me if I’m already feeling anxious. I also see a therapist once a month, or as much as I can afford to, to try to cope with the loss of my parents and the current state of my family. I’m not sure what else I could be doing. It already feels like so much.
I really don’t want to resort to medication. I struggled with depression through my teenage years, and I never filled the prescriptions for antidepressants that my doctor gave me. Instead, I turned to creating music and doing things that inspired me to battle it, and it worked. I want to do the same thing now, but so far, I just can’t seem to do it. I feel defeated.
I don’t even really know why I wanted to write this post. Here I am at the end of it, and I feel like I should be providing some inspirational quote or some nugget of infinite wisdom, but I’ve got nothing. I guess I just wanted to reach out, explain a little bit what I’ve been going through, and maybe somebody will read this and at least understand that they are not alone.
It helps a little bit to get my thoughts in writing sometimes. And if someone happens to relate to this along the way, then that’s great.
Any constructive thoughts, questions or relative stories are welcome in the comments below. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I hope you have a wonderful weekend – and, if you’re struggling like me – that you find some peace.