How it feels for me. I carry my anxiety in my stomach.
It usually comes out of nowhere. Or it takes me by surprise. Usually there’s a tiny bit of nervousness or anxiousness for a little bit before hand. But not an unusual amount, or an amount that would give me an indication that the attack is about to happen. Sometimes it truly does come out of nowhere, completely catching me off guard. It can happen in the car on the way to a soccer game. It can happen when I don’t get enough sleep and I’m walking to a restaurant with my family. It can happen when I’m on an airplane and last an entire car trip upon landing and then linger throughout the night. It can happen when I’m at a show, or eating dinner with friends, or walking in the park, or on vacation.
Noticing tension. My hands tingle. Nervous energy in my forearms. Sudden nausea. The feeling and urge of throwing up. High up in my stomach. And then low in my intestines. Hot flashes. I begin to sweat. From everywhere. Then the anxiety ramps up and the feedback loop appears. Anxiety and nervous energy increasing my nausea and temporary fever which ramps up my anxiety and nervous energy.
A wall disconnects me from life. From those around me. My reality closes in and becomes incredibly small, micro, internal, closed off. Try to breathe, keep breathing. Focus on my breaths. Focus on any tense part of my body and try to relax it. Breathe full through my stomach. Try to pay attention to the conversation around me. But it feels like my body is falling apart. When it hits so hard and so sudden that I can only think – oh fuck. A feeling of terror, blind and pointless. All my emotions are out of balance and overly intense. I want to cry. A sudden urge of wanting to cry for no reason at all. Sometimes I shake. Sometimes my teeth chatter.
The need to retreat. Get somewhere safe, home. Somewhere to ride this out. A bathroom. My guts churning and liquid in an instant. Fighting the urge to shit. Which ramps up the nausea – tense stomach and abdomen. Clenching everything. Trying to relax everything, but trying to hold everything. I want to curl up and hide.
When I can get to a bathroom I do shit. A massive ejection of everything inside me and then emptiness. And my stomach drops and I feel completely alone. All alone trying to deal with what I’m feeling. Trying to regain control of myself. But I have no control. Or I feel as though I don’t have any control. My stomach in nauseous pain. The urge to sob. Thinking about my partner and my son and what my panic attack is putting them through. My not being able to be normal. Worrying about that. Telling myself, it’s okay, it’s okay, just calm down, you’re not dying or anything, breathe, breathe. Hands on the walls of the stall or the bathroom, wherever I am. Trying to keep balanced. Trying to keep it together. Be normal! Be normal! Be right here, now!
The most intense part of this can last anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours. If it’s a particularly bad attack, I will feel the effects for a few days after. I will usually feel groggy, tired and physically sensitive. It usually gets worse as the day goes on. I have a hard time differentiating between hunger and nausea. I don’t have an appetite and don’t want to eat and I will force myself to eat and feel gross while doing it. For a few days I am highly aware of my stomach. It feels like a lump. A rock. I notice it as I breathe, as I eat, as I sit. It’s there feeling everything.
The attacks were the absolute worst a few years ago, before I knew what I knew what it was that was happening. I have been having these things since I was a teenager, but I didn’t know that’s what they were. I thought I was malnourished, or that it was just how I felt when I couldn’t sleep. They used to only come every once in a while and in between attacks I didn’t pay too much attention to them. As I got older they came more frequently – once a month or more at the height. Usually they happened at night when I was laying in bed. I would suddenly feel sick to my stomach and scared. Sometimes I would throw up, sometimes not. I always felt alone. I would crawl out to the couch and listen to a lecture or book on tape or something with talking in order to fall asleep. I would lay there, propped up with pillows and clutch my legs to my stomach and wait until I just passed out.
Eventually I started medicating myself with benadryl and nyquil just to knock myself out and sleep. Since they primarily happened at night or when I needed sleep, I thought it best to just pass out and sleep it off. I switched to dramamine once I learned that it made you incredibly drowsy.
When it got to the point that I started having problems going to any social events – goodbye parties, cookouts, hanging out with a friend; I couldn’t deal with the situations at all. I finally recognized that something was truly wrong and that I needed help, but this was a difficult process that took a long time. It took forever for me to admit that I needed help. And even then, it took me a long time to psych myself up to actually call the doctor. Once I actually made it to the doctor I learned that I was suffering from panic attacks.
I’m learning to control these things, learn what my triggers are and try to avoid them, prevent them, learn how to manage them. But it still happens. They don’t have quite the same lasting effect on me because of knowing what they are and because of medication and meditation and breathing. But they still fuck me up. They still cause such intense emotions and physical effects.
My body’s chemistry has changed, I think. My daily medication isn’t working as well as it did. It worked well for two years. My last panic attack was in April of 2013. A year without panic attacks is a great run for me. Unprecedented. But I’ve had three attacks in the past four or five weeks, the first one was the absolute worst. So I will be going back to the doctor to tweak my regimen to get this back under control. And in the meantime, I’m trying to avoid triggers. Trying to be normal.