I have anxiety. I’ve never been officially diagnosed because my doctors take my symptoms as normal manifestations of being a woman and a mother (there’s another post), but I definitely have anxiety. I listened to The Bloggess’ book not long ago, and my heart absolutely stopped when she began describing her panic attacks. “That’s me,” I kept thinking. “Oh my god, that’s exactly what happens to me.”
My panic attacks seem to be connected to absolutely nothing. I can be having a great day. I can be somewhere exciting. In fact they often happen when I’m somewhere exciting — at a restaurant or a movie or a play. They most often happen around nine at night when I’m settling down for the evening. This morning I had one in class.
I can feel a panic attack beginning. My skin feels crawly. My chest tightens. I begin to feel nauseous and my throat constricts. The bottom of my feet feel cold and sweaty. I start to flush, to feel hot then cold. My mind starts racing, my heart thumps and pounds, I feel dizzy. I become convinced that I’m either going to throw up or pass out. I feel the need to escape, to leave wherever I am. I want to escape my own skin. Usually the panic part goes away quickly, but the nausea, dizziness, and general feeling of horrible stay for at least a couple of hours. If I have an attack at night, I know I won’t sleep.
My latest doctor finally gave me a prescription for Klonopin which has helped, but it has its own problems. I try to just take a half, but if that doesn’t work and I have to take a whole one, I’m wiped out. Exhausted, light-headed, overwhelmingly drowsy. This is of course as disruptive to my day as the panic attack itself. The solution is no better than the problem.
I know many people suffer from anxiety. Hearing people’s stories makes me feel a bit better, less like a freak. But I’m afraid to talk about it much. I tell my closest, closest friends and family, but no one else. I need to be more open about it — we only change perceptions about mental health if we are open and willing to discuss our conditions. But I still feel like a defective freak, a person who just can’t keep it all together, who can’t hack it.
The biggest, the darkest secret though, is what it does to my child. Sometimes, I have to go to the bedroom and shut the door and ask him to please, please play with his daddy or with his toys. He’s sad, of course, and how do I help him understand that his mama who loves him so much just can’t be with him sometimes? Lately, when I’ve had multiple panic attacks in a very short amount of time, I find myself incredibly angry for no reason. Like Hulk angry. This morning I yelled at him and threw down his toothbrush. I can barely write those words. I can hardly bare to even think about it. I tremble to write it. How can I do something like that? How can he forgive me? How can I forgive myself?
Students come out to me in all sorts of ways — they tell me they are gay or are atheists (both somewhat dangerous admissions at a religious school) or that they have mental illnesses or learning disabilities or have been abused or raped. My heart breaks at each of their stories and for each of them, and I always so admire their courage. They come into my office and tell me their deepest secrets, their terrible vulnerabilities. I cry at the sheer trusting audacity of it all.
So here I am, trusting you, my community, with my deepest secret, my terrible vulnerability. You don’t have to do anything with it. Just listening is good. And if you too feel a bit like a freak, like a person who just can’t hold it all together, maybe you can know you aren’t alone.