Two weeks ago I had the worst panic attack of my life. THE WORST. IN LIFE.
I woke up early, because unlike my usual lazy Sunday, today I was pulling a volunteer shift for Doors Open Toronto. I was a teeny tiny bit hungover, but this would not normally be a problem. It should not have been a problem.
Today though, the combination of tiny hangover, the lack of sleep and mild social anxiety, and the added minor stress of dealing with the public were apparently too much for my little heart to take.
Over the course of the day, the gap in my chest deepened. It filled with adrenaline and insecurity and doubt.
I don’t know if you’ve experienced an anxiety attack before, or if you’ve ever been an anxious person. I am currently a mildly anxious person, who used to be an exceedingly anxious person. When I was in my early 20s, I went through a few years there where I was borderline agoraphobic, and it would take me about an hour of getting dressed and re-dressed before leaving the house just because I was so sure that if I wasn’t wearing the perfect thing that everyone I ran into on the street, and all of my friends would judge me and hate me forever. I would cry in public because I was terrified of life. It’s ridiculous, yes. But everything about anxiety is ridiculous. It is not a rational beast. At one point, I checked myself into therapy, because I knew that living life as I had been would just not do. It was too exhausting. I later took up smoking (and quit), and then yoga, and running and writing help. It’s mostly under control, but whenever the anxiety rears its head, I become momentarily terrified that it’s back for good. And this time was horrifying.
I went home after my Doors Open shift, and slinked into my couch. I put on Netflix and ate snacks and texted friends, and still the panic attack lingered. I lay there, wide-eyed, hoping with each passing hour of mindless programming that the panic would subside. But instead it grew. At 3 am, despite my open chest, I forced myself to bed and lay there in the dark taking deep breaths and reminding myself that “this too shall pass”. I downloaded a “chakra tuner”. Eventually I fell asleep at least being comforted that in the morning, this feeling would be gone.
I woke up Monday morning, and to my horror, the pit in my chest remained. It did not subside while I stood under the stream of hot water in the shower, or while I ate breakfast on my back deck, or on my bike ride to work. It stayed while I sat in meetings, and answered emails, and biked home, and made dinner. The panic set up shop in my heart, and pumped through my veins, and pulsed through my muscles and into every ounce of my being.
Eventually. EVENTUALLY. Sometime Tuesday afternoon, it was gone. And thank THE LORD (disclaimer – I like to talk like a grandma sometime, but I am not for reals religious) it has not returned.
ANYWAYS. The reason that I am writing this post today is not actually to talk about horrible raging anxiety. This post today was inspired by having the loveliest, nicest day, and by encouraging words from a kind friend.
On Tuesday, I broke a couple of personal bests on my crew run, and received so many supportive kind words of encouragement from some truly inspiring women on my running crew. Then today was the first day of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association conference, and was also a day where I got a lot done, had a coffee shop date with a friend, rode my bike, sublet my apartment, and one of my best best BEST friends in the world and his incredible wife went into labour (I should mention that she is also now one of my closest friends; these people are basically my family).
And on top of all of these lovely things, a friend who I have not seen in so very long sent me some really lovely messages:
“I’ve been following your move and I have to say: go you lady pants. You’re an inspiration.”; and “But in all seriousness – you look fantastic. And I’m jealous of your drive and ability to jump into running and the social scene and know I’m cheering for you.”
As someone who often judges myself, and feels like a failure, and worries too much, this reminder sometimes that how I see myself is not how others see me is such an incredible comfort to my heart, and I wish that there was a way to express how much it means to me.
So the message I am trying to give here is not about how horrible anxiety is, but rather that even on your worst days, it’s important to remember that it really will get better. But even more importantly, never ever ever be afraid to tell someone how wonderful you think they are, and never underestimate the power of a kind word. It might be just what a tired heart needs. <3