Panic Attacks

When the Motivational Posters Stop Working

girls marnie - being inside my own head is exhaustingIf we see someone stressing out over something completely trivial, the first response is to tell them to relax and not worry so much. If we see someone unhappy and complaining about something that doesn’t seem like a big deal, the first response is to remind them how much worse things could be. They should be happy about all the good things in their lives.

We are constantly bombarded with “inspirational quotes” telling us that we are in charge of our own happiness. That if we cannot see the beauty in the world and appreciate the fact that we get to start a brand new day each morning, then there is something wrong with us. Just waking up and breathing is enough to be happy and carefree. By stating that happy people are choosing to live that way, it’s basically stating that unhappy people are making a conscious decision to be depressed or stressed about life.

What people fail to realize is that for some of us, it’s impossible to be completely happy. We want nothing more than to see the beauty in the life we are given and not stress about insignificant problems. Unfortunately, our minds will not allow it.

I suffer from mild anxiety. I refer to it as mild because it doesn’t affect my life on a daily basis and I have (thankfully!) never suffered from a full blown panic attack. But it is still a problem that I have had to deal with for years now.

Sometimes my anxiety will pop up in almost comical ways that my sister never fails to tease me about. Several times in the past I have had to call home to have someone reassure me that I have in fact unplugged the straightener. It’s gotten so bad where on days I straighten my hair, I will text myself stating that I did unplug the straightener. I have to include a picture of the unplugged straightener because a text is not enough proof, I need hard evidence that I will not be coming home to a burnt house after work.

In October 2013, right after my grandmother passed away, I convinced myself that I had HIV. This was a less comical side of my anxiety that I did not reveal to many people. Despite the fact that it had been over a year since my last sexual partner (and we always used condoms), my mind latched onto the idea that I was infected and it wouldn’t let go. For weeks leading up to my test, I had a pit in my stomach that would not go away. When the results came back negative (like a deep part of me knew they would), my mind relaxed for a bit before it found something new to obsess over and analyze to death.

The worst part of anxiety is that there is a part of me that realizes how ridiculous I am being. I don’t want to spend my life stressing about things that are probably never going to actually happen. I don’t enjoy not being able to sleep at night due to shortness of breathe. I don’t like having a normal day and then all of sudden my heart start pounding and being overcome with a feeling of anxiousness for no real reason.

When I see quotes and people making it seem as though a happy, stress-free life is easily unattainable, it makes me feel as though there is something wrong with me. And not the “I may actually be suffering from a mental illness” wrong but the “I’m just a miserable human being who can’t appreciate what she has” wrong. We may have become a lot more accepting about mental illness but there is this underlying tone that people with depression or anxiety could just get over it if they really wanted to.

Even I feel like this sometimes. I grew up with a mother who suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. I myself have issues with anxiety and a brain whose thoughts I sometimes have no control over. Yet, I still sometimes think, “This is your body, your mind. You are the one allowing sadness and anxiousness to control you.”

But just how when I’m panicking over something that I know deep down is never going to actually happen, I also know that deep down my anxiety is something I will never fully be able to get rid of. There will never come a day I won’t be filled with dread anytime someone says they want to ask me a question or talk to me about something. I’ll never not think a friend or family member is kidnapped or dead if they don’t respond to my texts within a reasonable time. And I know I’m always going to live with the fact that every once in a while my heart will start racing and I will be short of breathe for no apparent reason.

So all those inspirational quotes and motivational posters are wrong, but they do have some truth to them. Sometimes we can’t just choose to be happy. Sometimes simply choosing not to stress isn’t an option. However, the only thing I can hope to do is control my anxiety. It’s always going to be there but I can work on ways to manage it. And I’m slowly working on ways to lessen my anxiety that don’t include wine and Klonopin (even though both are great options when things get too bad, as long as they aren’t abused).

Focusing on my breathing when I feel like my heart is about to beat out of my chest helps. Deep breathing is key to slowing down my heart rate. When I feel like I’m about to have a panic attack, going for a ride can ease the anxiousness. I think it has something to with my mind having a task to focus on instead of worrying.

The number one thing I’ve learned that helps with my anxiety (and maybe it can help any of you who also suffer with anxiety) is to try and pinpoint what it is that’s making me so anxious. Sure, sometimes I feel a panic attack coming on and it seems like it’s out of nowhere. But trying to focus on what’s making me anxious and what’s brought on the feeling of dread, helps to make me feel like I have a little bit of control over something that normally feels utterly uncontrollable.