LOW-GRADE PANIC FOR DAYS
By: Lauren Anderson
Sometime last Thursday afternoon, I stood up to go to work, and I wobbled. I clutched my chest and sat back down. And honestly, it took until Monday night for me to catch my breath.
It felt like a small gremlin was standing on my chest. I couldn’t take a full breath. My body felt jittery, and it started to feel like my skin no longer fit. It didn’t take much sleuthing to figure it out. Oh damn.
It was a PANIC ATTACK.
And YES, IT DOES DESERVE TO BE CAPITALIZED AND BOLDED. Because if you’ve ever had one– then you know. And if you haven’t? Bless you. May you frolic in the freedom of your calm forrest of a body and brain for the rest of your days.
Because seriously? I wouldn’t wish that shiz on anybody.
It was so weird too! I was just talking about Panic Attacks with someone the other day, and when they asked me if I ever had them, I answered, “I used to a lot. But since I’ve been to therapy and now that I work out more regularly– they’re pretty much gone. I haven’t had one in years.”
I remember saying it, and feeling really self-satisfied ya know? Like, I sat in the car and had a real, “Look how far you’ve come, Kid.” moment. I mean, I’ve had bouts of anxiety bubble up from time to time, but that’s child’s play when compared to the ALL-CAPS of a full on PANIC ATTACK.
But back to Thursday. This Panic Attack was weird, because it wasn’t full on. I kept waiting for it to tip into disaster, but it didn’t. It just stayed on like the low hum of the refrigerator. Where you don’t even know how omni-present it is, until the noise cuts out.
I immediately assessed myself. What are you feeling Anderson? Okay… I feel weird. Off. This is panic. I am on edge. I cannot self-regulate right now. Okay… I think this is an attack.
I did all the things my therapist recommended. First things first, I told myself I was having a panic attack. I reminded myself that this is temporary. This is not my life from now on. This is just happening right now.
I love that tip. Because so often a Panic Attack can feel like a bad acid trip. (Er, so I hear… ahem.) Where you just feel stuck with no end and no salvation in sight. Reminding myself that this is temporary always helps.
Then I drank some water. This helps too, although I’m not sure why. But we’re filled to the brim with water and it usually helps with everything else, so I don’t really question it.
Next, I moved my body. This one always seems weird especially when the panic makes me feel like I can’t breath, but it does help. I put on some music and I literally danced around my apartment. Trying to step-touch my way back to calm. Almost rocking/bouncing myself up and down like burping a baby.
Then I eventually took myself for a walk. Changing location/settings is another super helpful tool sometimes for me. Especially if the place where I am is associated with my attack.
Then I did some breathing exercises. The one I like best is the “in one nostril out the other–and then switch”. I like it because it’s a lot of moving parts, and it forces me to concentrate. But honestly, sometimes just reminding myself to breath deeply is enough.
And lastly, I reached out. This is a new one, and still feels weird to do. In my pre-therapy past I would try and quietly muscle through my Panic Attacks alone. Shutting myself off from others. I was embarrassed and usually scared, and I often thought, “If I can just get through this, I’ll be fine.”
But I know better now.
I immediately texted someone I trust very much who also experiences Panic Attacks, and they talked me through the moment. Just knowing I wasn’t alone, was helpful. Just knowing someone was looking out for me and had my back– made a difference. And I could reach out if I was feeling overwhelmed.
I cannot stress how crucial this is for me. It’s like giving myself a lifeline.
By the time I got to work, I just felt like I was acting so weird. I still couldn’t catch my breath, but now I was having trouble looking people in the eye, and standing still. This is not good, especially when I have a show to do, and literally hundreds of people have paid money for us to make them laugh.
NO PRESSURE OR ANYTHING–GAWD.
But, I’m a pro right? I can handle this right? Work is always a kind of a lighthouse for me. I have used my job to pull me from some really bleak places before, because I believe in and enjoy what I do so much.
I did end up telling a few of my co-workers too. It seemed only fair, given the nature of our jobs. The people I spoke to all kind of looked at me initially like, “Really?” Like they didn’t even notice.
Which I was grateful for on the one hand, cause it means I must’ve pulled off the show despite being entrenched in a low-grade Panic Attack. (And the fact that I managed to trip on my own damn pants and fall slo-motion onto my face… but I digress.) Because if those closest to me didn’t notice, then the audience wouldn’t have either. What a relief.
But on the other hand I was kinda dumbfounded. Were they just being polite? How could they not tell? Suddenly I got nervous that because they couldn’t easily observe it, maybe they thought I was just being dramatic by saying something. And then I felt stupid. And that started a new panic spiral—AHHH!
Everyone I told took it seriously though, and I was so thankful, if not a little embarrassed. I was struck by all of the compassion. And throughout the night, a few checked in with me. And it helped.
But I think I surprised them. I always assume everyone can read me like a large-font book for young children. But maybe there is more that goes unnoticed than I thought. And if people have trouble regarding when someone like me, ol’ heart-on-my-sleeve Anderson is reeling, then imagine how it must be for someone more stoic?
Which I guess serves as a great reminder about never underestimating the inner battles people might be dealing with, am I right?
* * *
Friday and Saturday were more of the same. More low-grade Panic Attack with no real end in sight. Although it was getting harder because the Panic made me lose my appetite and a lot of sleep. And nothing is better for a Panic Attack than lack of sleep and low blood sugar! WOO HOO!!!
(It’s hard to write sarcasm well, so in case you missed it because of the absence of writerly dexterity, Just know…I WAS BEING SARCASTIC ABOUT THE SLEEP AND FOOD THING. It made it worse.)
This attack was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I think because I was able to ‘diagnose’ it quickly, it never fully peaked. But the frustrating thing is it also didn’t GO AWAY. It’s exhausting having a Panic Attack. But for three days? I mean, Come on!
* * *
By Saturday evening though, I think I had finally figured out what triggered the attack.
So, I’ve been working really hard these last few years to get to the bottom of some pretty big stuff.
And frankly, it has been some of the hardest, best work I’ve ever done in my life. I am grateful that I’m doing it NOW, moving through it, and for all that I’m learning. And I am so excited about the person I am morphing into.
It’s like the molten iron is glowing, and I can see a mighty blade being forged in the great fire.
Because I feel like I am slowly becoming the person I am truly meant to be.
But when you carry around pain or trauma in your body (like we all do) and you do the work of exercising it from you– I like to envision it’s a lot like chipping away at a formidable bedrock. Or the Berlin Wall (or something else equally oppressive).
And everyday you chip chip chip at it. Trying to breakthrough. It is daily and it’s grueling, but little by little, you clear away the rubble and scatter the pain away like Andy Dufresne did in the courtyard at Shawshank.
I’ve been chipping away so long, I think I was operating under the assumption that I was fearless now.
Haha! What a fool I am! Because it’s not just a one and done thing is it? Often the things that we work on in ourselves are many-layered and tough. Like the worst, most stupidest feelings cake.
Because there’s the surface stuff, and then there’s the DEEP DOWN stuff.
And I think I finally chipped through some of the first layers. Maybe even a second layer or two. And it feels good. In fact, somedays I can feel myself on the edge of something great. And then boom.
There is a little sound that comes from deep DEEP DOWN. So small. An unfathomable heartache that I locked away. An old fear. A deep desire so repressed and/or forgotten that I didn’t even know it was still floating around in there. But now that all the other rubble has been cleared away, there is finally room for it to come out into the light.
And part of me is like, “Oh come on! Seriously? Not MORE STUFF?!?! I’ve been working so hard! I’m tired!” I want to stomp around the room in a tantrum at the thought of doing MORE WORK.
Because there’s always more to do right?! There’s always more ME to work on. UGH. I’m so sick of myself and my own baloney sometimes. There’s fear again when I thought I was over it. There’s desire that I convinced myself I could live without. What am I supposed to do with all these new (old) feelings?! I’m still working hard on the other stuff!
And so I panicked. I couldn’t see the grace or the progress it took to get me here. I couldn’t recognize or appreciate all the strength I had to gain to get these new things into the light. All I could see were new fears, and more stuff to deal with. And I think that’s where the low grade Panic Attack set in.
But when I finally acknowledged it, I could feel the panic ease it’s grip. And when I woke up on Sunday, I noticed the panic was fading and a certain tenderness coming on.
I felt surprised, and yet surprisingly ready.
* * *
By Monday, I was finally able to make it to the gym again.
After I finished my 8th round of backsquats, I think I took the first deep breath I had all weekend. I felt so calm. So centered. Humbled by my body’s ability to finally squash the Panic out, by reminding me that I am strong enough now to do what is being asked of me.
When I got into my car, I took three luxurious panic-free breaths, and decided to say a shy hello to the new little sounds that have crawled through the rubble and are making their way to the light. You know, just to see how it feels.
“Oh hey deep desire. Oh hey old fear. And hello to you profound heartache. There you are. It’s been awhile. I have been burying you for so long I almost forgot that you were even down here. I forgot that you were part of me.”
And then perhaps in my boldest move to date, I whispered…
“Do you think it’s time we had a talk?”