The tile in our kitchen is not very comfy. How do I know this? I fainted during an anxiety attack and my back got to meet the tile personally. Let me paint a modern Normam Rockwell picture for you: it was four days before Christmas and I chose to let the kids eat whatever they wanted wherever they wanted because I was exhausted. So as the youngest kids ate their dinosaur chicken fingers in the living room, I sat in the dining room with my oldest daughter and her boyfriend.
I knew this anxiety attack was going to be a doozy (doozy being a medical measurement— look it up). My college kid and her boyfriend were playing a game at the table next to me. Better not put my head down here, lest I scare them. My nine year old and six year old were playing in the living room. Better not walk into that room and lie down, lest I scare them. My bright idea: stand up and walk to my bedroom and lie down. Yes, that’s right. Walk to the furthest room in the house right before I have an anxiety attack that removes all the blood from my head.
I made it to the doorway of our kitchen, where our overly large refrigerator juts out (think 1940’s house but 2010’s French Door Samsung stainless steel). My head may have hit something on the way down; my elbow definitely did. I became aware of what happened right before I landed. My daughter and her boyfriend (remember them? Those were two of the people that I was trying not to scare) came into the kitchen when they heard a strange noise.
“I’m fine but could you please call dad and let him know to come straight home?” I said, looking up at their concerned faces.
I have anxiety. Like bad, faint in the kitchen anxiety. How does this affect me mentally? It creeps into every single thought that is brave enough to enter my brain. I worry that the book I am working on will never be read or enjoyed by other people. If I haven’t heard from a friend in a while, I assume it is because they hate me. (Which is funny, because of all my friends, I am the worst at corresponding.) Anxiety makes me bite my tongue, even after someone else has not bitten theirs, gnawing away at my feelings.
How does my anxiety affect me physically? The easiest physical manifestation to manage is when my heart starts beating quickly and I have to take a few deep breaths to stop it. Sometimes it takes a little longer for the palpitations to go away in the second kind of attack. The third one— “a doozy”— is when I feel the palpitations plus I get the bonus of feeling light-headed. Usually I sit down when one of those happens. I guarantee that for most of the people in my life, I have had an anxiety attack around them and they probably didn’t even know.
But until that December evening, I had never actually fainted from one. I accept that it was silly of me to stand up when a big one was coming on. I also accept the fact that it was my own damn fault for going so long without getting treatment for it. Years ago, I brought it up to my previous general practitioner and she just gave me a prescription for pills— pills that I couldn’t take while driving. But I needed to drive. I needed to pick up my kids from daycare as well as drive my car off the cliff when Brad Pitt steals all of my money and the cops are about to catch my best friend and me. I never took those pills and she never suggested therapy.
I have certainly had anxiety longer than I have had the attacks. When I was in fourth grade, my mom left me at home while she drove my sister to her middle school. Mom instructed me to stay and wait for her in the house. As I looked at the clock, worried that I would be late for my own school day, I grew more anxious. So I did what any normal nine year old would do. I left my house unsupervised and started walking to school so that I wouldn’t be late. Mom saw me near a convenience store and picked up my overly-worried ass.
Had my parents’ actions ever made me late for school? Never. So what would cause my brain to think, “Oh fuck. You better take care of this shit yourself because ain’t no one here to help you now.” (My parents let me watch R-rated movies, hence the potty mouth.) If I had competed in beauty pageants at that time, I would have been crowned “Little Miss Neurotic.” In reality, the sash probably wouldn’t have fit me nor would it be in the best color for my complexion. Ugh. See what I am up against? My head is like that little girl from Inside Out, but with ten more emotions— all of them irrational.
As an adult, that is still me. I invite stress—real or imaginary. My husband owns a company and whether things are good or tough, I get to be strong for him and smile through the anxiety. When my children are having problems at school, I get to be strong for them and smile through the anxiety. When the dog needs to visit an oncologist (which she does), when ants decide to invade our living room (which they do), when my mom’s blood pressure rises (which it does), when the sky is falling, I am Atlas- smiling. And what did it get besides some really sore shoulders and a close up view of my kitchen floor?
Here is why anxiety attacks make it so difficult to help you deal with stress: they don’t happen when you are stressed. They happen after the perceived danger has passed. Because when you are feeling stressed, your body is too busy fighting that. So the attack is merely a reminder about how poorly the sufferer handles stress. Ain’t that a son of a bitch? I get the stress plus a heart-racing reminder of it later.
According to my therapist, the stress isn’t going away. She can be such a downer! She and my new general practitioner both agree that the only thing I can control is the way I handle stress. Besides therapy, I have been meditating almost daily and while I am not that good at it yet it does help me center myself to deal with everything. I have been training my shoulders to sit back and down, which causes me great discomfort right now because my back muscles’ normal positions are Quasimodo-esque. I have emotionally circled my wagons, letting close friends know what is happening in my life in hopes that their support won’t make this Atlas feel so lonely.
Here’s another thing: anxiety is a mental illness. Sometimes it goes hand in hand with depression (something I have also experienced) but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes therapy works, sometimes some stronger methods are needed. Apparently, based on my scientific study of one person (me!), anxiety doesn’t go away on it’s own and it isn’t something that should make the sufferer feel week. Remember how Rain Man counted all those toothpics on the ground? His mind just works differently, as does my anxiety-ridden brain. Also, he should pick up those toothpicks off the ground before someone slips on them.
So if you see me rolling my shoulders back, know that I am doing it in an attempt to not faint. If you see me meditating, leave me alone because I am having a hard enough time with it as it is. If you see me talking 500 words a second, remind me to breathe. And I will do the same for you, if you ever need it.
Now give me my damn sash. I’m ready to defend my crown in a healthy, positive way.