A few nights ago I had an anxiety attack. I have these attacks from time to time and they vary in their intensity, and this one was a real doozie. I woke up abruptly in the dead of night with my heart pounding. I sat bolt upright with a gasp of horror, clutching my chest just like they do in movies. Then I was clawing at the bedsheets, trying desperately to free myself. I got myself out of bed and threw on a bathrobe, ran out of the room, launched myself at the stairs and flung open the back door to let myself onto the deck.
It was some ungodly hour – two or three in the morning – and it was cold and I wasn’t wearing any shoes. But the only thing I could think about was getting air into my lungs to get rid of the feeling of suffocation. I gulped in one lungful after another, and gradually, I came back into focus. I stayed out there for a while to clear my head, and by the time I went back inside and crept into bed, I was kind-of sort-of OK again.
The whole thing was more than a little scary, but not entirely unexpected. There has been so much going on lately. I’ve been working crazy hours and sacrificing desperately needed sleep just to go for my training runs. Things have been busy with my husband’s business and there has been a lot of family-related stuff going on.
To put it simply, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, and when I get overwhelmed, I invariably reach a point of critical mass – that point at which I just cannot take anymore. I have some kind of meltdown that, while being terrifying to live through, does seem to press a kind of reset button in my head. I feel emotionally bruised for a couple of days, hit a point of exhaustion where I sleep for twelve hours straight (this is not voluntary – it’s kind of forced on me by my body), and then wake up feeling strong again, and ready to tackle whatever needs to be tackled.
Sometimes I can go for months without having a single anxiety attack. Other times, the cycle is continuous, with a new attack starting before I’ve even recovered from the previous one.
Imagine being in the ocean and getting hit by a wave. You get knocked down, and you may accidentally inhale some water. Before you’ve managed to right yourself, while you’re still coughing up that lungful of water, another wave hits – an even bigger one that you didn’t see coming. Too many waves coming at you too quickly, and you feel as if you’re drowning.
It’s the same with the anxiety attacks. I can get hit with one after another after another, in quick succession. There’s the same sense of suffocation, of being in over your head.
The solution, of course, is to make sure you know how to swim and to check the tides before you go into the water. But that only works with the ocean, and even then, the most seasoned swimmers sometimes get caught off-guard.
With the anxiety attacks, it’s not so simple. There may not be a ripple in sight, and before you know it, you’re trying to dodge a tsunami. I cannot always predict how and when they are going to happen, so I’ve figured out that a better course of action is to find ways of dealing with the aftermath.
In the end, though, I am a survivor. There’s no way I’m letting a bit of anxiety beat me down.
Do you suffer from anxiety/panic attacks? Do you live with someone who does? What coping mechanisms do you have?
(Photo credit: the bridge. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)