I’m sitting on the bathroom floor, back against the tub, sobbing as quietly as possible. I’ve been up since 5am, alternately dry heaving – because I haven’t been able to eat – and pressing my palms into my eyes, knees curled to my chin. The first couple of times, I tried to go back to bed, but no dice. This time I just gave up and stayed in here.
I look around, seeing but not seeing that this is not my bathroom. There’s a weird depersonalization happening; I’m intensely aware of what’s happening in my body – the headache, the crying, the tightness in the chest, the dry heaves, the racing thoughts – but at the same time I feel like I’m looking at myself from somewhere else, wondering if that’s really me feeling all of that. Wondering if anyone can hear me and what they’ll think when I walk out to breakfast with red eyes and a flat affect.
That was my first panic attack. Well, when I say first, the part of me that’s talking is the part that wants the anxiety to be a recent thing. If I’m really honest about it, I can remember waking up one night the summer before 8th grade unable to breathe, gasping to catch my breath. That went on all summer, and scared my grandma so badly while I was visiting her that she anointed me with oil and prayed over me. I remember losing 20 pounds that I didn’t have to spare during my first semester of college and sobbing uncontrollably the day my best friend moved out of our apartment. There were countless dates I almost cancelled at the last minute because I thought I would throw up on the way to the bar. There were many that I actually did. And there’s sitting on this bathroom floor in Florida, trying to will myself to get my shit together because my boyfriend’s parents cannot see me like that.
But there’s a big part of me that doesn’t want to acknowledge that this has been happening, with varying intensity, for years. Because then it’s not just something I’m going through; then it’s part of me and I’m going to have to live with it for the rest of my life and sometimes I really doubt whether I have the resilience and perseverance for that.
I’m a year and change from that panic attack on the bathroom floor, and I’m still trying to get my shit together, which, to be honest, may not ever happen. But that’s the point of writing this blog. It’s not about having your shit together, and it’s not about being cured. It’s about doing the work, learning how to manage the anxiety so that you don’t end up curled in bed crying and unable to eat(though it’s ok to have days or even weeks like that). It’s about seeking help from a professional and not being ashamed of it. It’s about being honest and forthright about what’s happening to you, so that your friends understand that you’re not being flakey. It’s about learning what works best for you, and then following through and actually doing those things.
I’ve come to discover over the last year and a half that living with anxiety requires a particular kind of courage, as do many other things. Anxiety forces you to talk to yourself compassionately – judgmental self-talk only makes it worse. It requires you to speak up when you’re uncomfortable and you’d rather not, whether that’s in therapy or when you’re trying to articulate to your partner that you feel like you’re not yourself. It asks you to be a more responsible person: to follow through on that work out because you’re brain chemistry is not quite where it should be and the endorphins help, to make sure you’re eating and sleeping well, to try things like meditation. Anxiety asks you to change your life. It also means that sometimes, getting out of bed and actually living your life is the hardest thing to do.
This is mostly for me. If you read it, and it helps you, that’s great. If you read it, and you want to ask me about it, that’s also great. But this is mostly a place for me to process: my thoughts, my progress, my struggles and successes. It’s a place for me to work through the terrible horrible no good very bad days, and a place to be joyful. Here’s hoping to more good days than bad (but the bad ones are ok, too).