I haven't posted for several months, one reason being because I didn't know what to write... but secondly because I have been battling with my mental health. And tonight, tonight I hit a breaking point. I created this blog as an open journal, to share my emotions and how I work through them; but I haven't done a very good job of working through my emotions lately. And it wasn't until tonight, when my emotions got the best of me, that I knew what I needed to write about. My personal struggle with mental health.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million adults in the U.S alone suffer from anxiety; that number breaking down into specific anxiety disorders. I am one of those 40 million. And one of the struggles I face in particular are panic attacks. I can't speak for anyone else but myself and my experiences; so tonight, as I type this, I am currently recovering from a panic attack. These sudden episodes of intense fear are hard to describe but I will start out by telling you the physical symptoms my body experiences during an episode.
If I am able to catch myself during the early stages of anxiety, I feel my heart start to race, body temperature rising (like experiencing a hot flash), and my hands start to fidget. But those symptoms aren't always easy to catch, sometimes I don't have time to, my body goes straight into a full fledged attack. I begin to hyperventilate (sometimes to the point where I pass out), my hands, feet, and stomach begin to cramp up...so much to the point where I physically cannot move. Uncontrollable tears fall down my face, and if someone is in the room with me I will scream for help; "I Can't breath! I can't breath! I'm going to die!"
As for the emotional side to an attack, this is where it gets tricky. My mind literally convinces me that I'm in danger, that I can't control the situation I'm in, or that I'm going to die. pretty extreme right? Well during an episode I can experience all three of those fears at once, or the fear can be specific depending on the trigger. Thoughts such as "I'm going to lose everyone", "I don't want to die", "what did I do to deserve this"... there are no limits to what my mind might come up with. And once I'm deep into an episode, the only option I have left is to ride it out. There is no "reasoning" or "positive thoughts" that can happen during that 10-30 minutes. I am held captive in my own body.
I have had people tell me things like "You need to get yourself under control" or "You're overreacting, just tell yourself you'll be fine and deal with it". People that don't understand the struggle and just assume that I can think nice thoughts... so nice thoughts will happen and there will be no panic attack; It doesn't work like that. In fact, undermining me and my specific struggle only makes the next episode worse, because now you've convinced me that there's something wrong with me because I can't control the situation my body and mind has put me in. It's a vicious cycle.
I have come a long way in understanding my mental health and how my body reacts in certain situations, still having a lot of room to grow, but this is a process. A lengthy and tiring process, one you can't rush. I have certain skills and techniques that help me cope in situations like this, or help these attacks not last as long. But regardless of the length and reason why the attack happened in the first place, after each episode I am able to reassess the situation and be better prepared for the next one.
If somehow you made it to the end of this post, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read and listen to my personal struggle. It's not an easy thing to deal with,
but these are a few things I know to be true once I've calmed down...
My struggle with anxiety does not define me, but it is a part of who I am.
I am learning about who I am and who I'm becoming.
There are strengths to be found in light of my weaknesses.