Notes from a panic attack

It’s hard to accept when you’re not okay.

You do things that have worked before, you convince yourself that you’re not slipping out, you spin and you spin and try to claw our way out until you’re blank and bleeding.

It’s hard to accept that you aren’t okay.

Being sick, being lost, being unable to connect with your surroundings, being unable to quite convince yourself that things are real, it’s terrifying. It’s fucking terrifying.

You’re not okay right now.

You’re not in control of this, and tonight, you can’t be.

You’re sick and you’re never going to be able to control your symptoms all the time.

There’s no use in railing against this any more than there’s use railing against any other chronic disease.

This won’t be forever.

There will be days when you feel better.

Those days may seem like moments but I promise, they are not.

The good days are as much a part of your life as the bad.

It’s hard to accept when you’re not okay.

And it’s even harder to remember that sometime soon, you will be.

Empathy and Ignorance

Surprising no one, I’m changing my game plan for this post.

I had planned on writing a post looking back on 2014, the things I learned about myself, how I changed my outlook, the negative things I needed to deal with, and the ways I and others made my life better.

However, I’m scratching that post because today, I’m going to rant.

While in an upper level English class, we were discussing the book Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (a wonderful book that I would definitely recommend) and we came to the arc of a certain character, Nyasha. Our professor asked the class how we felt about her.

“I really liked her until the last chapter of the book.”

I paused in my notes and looked up, slightly confused. Throughout Nervous Conditions, Nyasha had been a hardworking, independent character. She was spectacularly written, a realistic, relatable young woman who refuses to accept the patriarchal civilization in which she and her family live. She continues to be this woman all through to the end of the novel. The only thing that changes in the last chapter is that she suffers a mental and emotional breakdown.

“I really liked her and how much effort she put into her education, and then she just threw it away at the end! It was so disappointing.”

Hold on. You looked at a character who was anorexic and bulimic, heavily depressed and suicidal, who was institutionalized after she tore apart her room and declared her intent to kill herself and saw that as throwing away her education?

Are we fucking kidding?

In regards to my mental health, I am in an exceptionally fortunate position. My friends, my boyfriend, my parents, my extended family, they all know about my situation and they care, they understand, they try to help. Even the people in my life who have never had to deal with mental illness in once capacity or another make an effort to educate themselves, to empathize, and to try as best they can to help.

In short, I’m lucky because it’s infrequent that I have to deal with callous ignorance.

I doubt that the girl in my class meant to be unfeeling toward mental illness and anyone who deals with it. I doubt she made her comment out of malice. But I also doubt that she has ever had to experience mental illness, or that she has made anything more than the most superficial effort to educate herself.

Mental illness is still taboo in America, and in most parts of the world. It’s so demonized that people who are suffering can go to the deepest depths of their diseases without seeking help. The people who do seek help can be denied it, by insurance, by complicated doctor’s visits and referrals. They can be ostracized by their friends, their communities — even their families.

Two of the biggest contributors to these issues are a lack of information, and a lack of empathy.

One of the greatest things that humans are capable of is empathy. When your mom is ill, you feel for her and want to help. When a friend’s marriage falls apart, you give them support, even if you’ve never had a long term relationship yourself. When your colleague’s father dies, you send a sympathy card, maybe you even bake them something to show you’re sorry that they’re hurting. Hell, if you see a stranger crying alone on the street, it’s likely you’ve checked in to see if they’re okay.

We all practice empathy in our day to day lives, so why is it so difficult to put that empathy toward understanding and accepting mental illness and those who live with it?

Maybe it’s because you’ve never challenged yourself to look mental illness in the face. Proper education and information have the power to completely alter a person’s viewpoint. You don’t have to be completely knowledgable about a subject, whether it’s related to mental health, poverty, race, gender, or any other issue.

You just have to try.

Make an effort to learn about mental health, whether you suffer from mental illness or equally importantly, if you don’t. You may never have given mental health a second thought! If that’s the case for you, you are lucky and I am truly happy for you. But I’m also here to tell you that that does not exclude you from having a knowledgeable, informed view of an issue that affects millions of people around the world.

Open yourself up to learning about mental health. When it becomes evident that you have problematic views, it is necessary to educate yourself. It is necessary to do better. You owe it to yourself, and to those around you to be better.

Thoughts for 2015

I’m a sucker for new beginnings.

New Year’s is one of my favourite holidays. It’s the mother of all new beginnings, and to me, and many others I’m sure, it’s so much more than just another day.

As evidenced by the significant lack of posts on this blog for the past few months weeks, I’ve been having a hard time. In a previous post, The Fear, I talked about how I was slipping back into old habits, the routine panic attacks, the self-destructive thoughts about my worth as a person, and worst of all, the constant push away from the people who love me most. Unfortunately, this all continued pretty steadily until about three weeks ago.

Understandably, I was pretty excited when the big new beginning came around.

This particular New Year felt like a major turning point. It was the end of a year with a lot of joy and a whole lot more pain, strength, and growth than I expected. At the moment, I’ve been resting, relaxing, spending time with the people and the dog I love most, and setting realistic goals for myself, not for the next year, but for the next phase of my life.

And now, I get to move forward.

While I haven’t been writing on here, I have, mercifully, been writing. A lot of it is more emotional and private than I’m willing to share (and I’m saying this as the Queen of over-sharing private and emotional thoughts), but there are a few things I want to fix up and post.

I’ve decided to ignore the fact that I’m nearly two weeks into 2015, and will be doing a year-in-review post of 2014 at some point next week. One of my major goals for this year is to write more — poems, stories, journal entries, and you guessed it, blog posts. Anything goes, but I’m especially excited to devote more love to blogging, as it’s some of the most cathartic, empowering writing that I have at my disposal.

Happy 2015, everyone.

Not in a week. Not tomorrow. Today.

There’s a show called “My Mad Fat Diary”.

You may not have heard of it, or if you have you may not have seen it, but I highly recommend it, especially to anyone who suffers from mental or emotional issues or traumas.

It’s a beautiful series that focuses on Rae Earl, who spends her time hating herself, being snarky about her appearance and self-image. She holds a lot of hatred toward herself and after self-destructing and tearing apart relationships with everyone she loves at the end of the second season, she yells at her therapist, Kester, attacking him for always insisting she love herself and like herself but never telling her how.

So he tells her.

In one of the most genuine and moving scenes of television I’ve ever seen, he tells her.

He tells her to imagine herself as she was as a child, sitting on the couch with her. He instructs her to tell that child that she is worthless, and ugly, and an embarrassment, and all of the horrible things that Rae says about herself on a daily basis. She begins to cry, refusing, telling him to stop because as much as she hates what he’s saying, she knows that this is what she says to herself.

She would never say those things to herself as a child, so what makes it okay for her to say them now?

It’s so easy for someone to tell you that you need to love yourself, treat yourself better, but no one ever tells you how.

No one ever tells you where to start.

I watched that scene and I realized I was crying and suddenly I couldn’t stop because in all my life I had never heard a better reason to stop hating yourself.

I wouldn’t tell my ten year old self she was useless. I wouldn’t tell her she was selfish or a terrible person, or a burden to the people she loves, so why the hell do I accept that from myself now?

We expect our friends and family, and even strangers to respect us and treat us well. If someone on the street yelled all the negative things you think about yourself at you, would you listen? Or would you shout back, telling them to shut the fuck up, that they know nothing about you and the kind of person you are? You might even ignore them completely, shocked or disgusted that someone would make such unfounded statements about you.

I demand respect from everyone around me, but when I try to give it to myself I feel selfish and embarrassed. It feels wrong to give myself the love I need. I don’t quite feel that I deserve that respect.

It’s funny.

Whenever I feel like I’ve moved forward I find another thing that’s holding me back. And in a way, I find that comforting. Because it isn’t falling back. It’s just finding something new that’s trying to keep you where you are.

The thing is, you can demand better from yourself at any time. You can work on eradicating your toxic habits and ways of thinking as soon as you decide to do it. It isn’t fun and it isn’t easy, and it sure as hell isn’t fast, but changing the way you think about yourself, and how much you respect yourself is a place to start.

It’s a place I need to start.

The Fear

I haven’t been having a spectacular few weeks.

Now, don’t get me wrong, for the most part things are going really well for me. A few things ended that needed to end and some new things are happening that I didn’t expect but am genuinely excited about. In the general sense, I’m happy.

At the same time, I also had my first panic attack since August last week. Then, this week, I had an anxiety attack.

(Now, I know those aren’t necessarily separate things, but for the purposes of defining my own life, I essentially label my less severe panic attacks as anxiety attacks.)

Anyway.

I’ve been doing well for so long that outside of having the occasional off day, I was starting to forget what this feels like.

And to put it simply, I’m scared.

I’m terrified that every time I have a panic attack it will be the start of a set. I’m terrified that one day I’m going to wake up feeling sick and that that feeling won’t stop, won’t go away for a week, a month, a whole semester.

I’m terrified of falling back to where I was.

I promised myself that I will go to whatever lengths necessary to keep going, and the amount of commitments and activities in which I have been engaging have helped me tremendously.

But at the same time as I’ve been getting better, I’ve stopped fighting.

Sometimes I take it for granted that I’m better. It feels so good where I am that I stop. Stop running, stop doing yoga, stop showing up to therapy with valid concerns, stop actively pushing against this bullshit disease that takes up so much of my mind.

I keep getting sick. Not with colds, or anything really concrete. Just this general feeling of malaise. Headaches, nausea, constant exhaustion. My chest gets so tight that I breathe in until my lungs can’t hold any more air and I still don’t feel like I’m getting an ounce of oxygen.

Last year, the physical symptoms hit me hard before the mental. The way I’ve been feeling recently is feels too similar for comfort.

I know that I can get ahead of this, and that’s what I’m going to do. Realizing what’s happening and knowing that it is possible for me to stop it, or at least slow it down so it can’t progress as far is everything.

As clichéd as it may sound, I didn’t know what I was up against last time. The slide was so gradual that I didn’t even realize I was losing ground until I couldn’t climb back out. It took months for me to accept where I was and how I had gotten there, and to realize that it did not have to be my life.

I still won’t let that be my life again. The fear I have of regressing is real and not necessarily unfounded, but realizing that I have control over this situation, over how far I go — well, that’s everything.

If not everything, it’s still enough. It’s more than enough.

Octobers

This has been a bit of an evening. I just met with the Into the Woods cast for our last (official) gathering and I’m feeling it.

As is always the case near the end of a show, I was exhausted and ready for a bit of a break. It hadn’t really hit me that Woods was over and that I had actually done it until tonight.

Tonight, I also started coming to terms with how vastly different my life is from a year ago.

A year ago I dropped a callback for a show that I loved, sobbing because I couldn’t imagine adding any more pressure to my life. This year I worked my ass off to get cast in one of my dream shows.

If you’ve never dealt with anxiety or panic attacks, I don’t think I can quite convey what they feel like. The feeling that you’re completely useless, disappoint everyone you love, and have nothing to offer the world. It can get hopeless. It can get to the point where you feel like you’re watching your surroundings blur past and you can’t move and you can’t scream and there’s no one who can convince you that this is real, that you are alive.

You can become so numb, weak, and terrified that all that matters is getting from moment to moment. Forget getting through the day. Get through the morning. Get through your class. Get through waking up crying for no reason and forcing yourself to move, to get up, to just get up.

In general, the parts of last year that I remember are not the happy moments. I remember being desperate to snap out of it, to be able to breathe, to be able to handle stress like a normal human being.

I remember the complete dependence on my friends and loved ones, reliance on people who I will never forget and who I will never be able to repay.

I remember crying until I threw up, hyperventilating until I passed out, and screaming without being able to stop myself.

But you know what? I’m lucky.

I had people who loved me, and little by little I became stronger, more aware of myself, and lucky enough to pull myself out. Not everyone can do that. Not everyone has the resources or a mental illness that will allow them to do that.

I don’t think that I’m stronger than anyone else and I know that there are people who go through hell I couldn’t imagine, but I won’t minimize my personal hell to acknowledge someone else’s.

Last October, I was secluded. I was addicted to my friends and family, putting far more pressure on them than they deserved. I hated and feared myself so much that I was terrified to be alone. I had a boyfriend who endured more than he should have for me. I could barely get through my classes and could barely remember my weeks.

This October, a lot has changed. I worked on a huge show that I adored, and had the time of my fucking life. I learned how to do things on my own, and little by little, I’m learning how to be okay with being alone. My relationship ended. And I finally accepted that it was okay to let that happen. I’m here, and I feel like I’m actually living my life. I am so grateful, and so proud of what I have been able to do.

I still have anxiety and I always will. I’m sure that I haven’t endured my last panic attack. But you know what? I’ve gotten this far from October to October. I’m not afraid to keep going.

Ghost pain

I had forgotten that anxiety is not solely a mental issue.

When I was having panic attacks every week and was feeling highly anxious all the rest of the time, I was so focused on how horribly I was doing that I didn’t notice any of the physical symptoms.

I am currently doing a lot better mentally. The majority of the time, I’m not anxious, I haven’t had a panic attack in over a month (!), and I’m just generally feeling better about myself and the world around me.

Unfortunately, I am definitely still struggling.

It’s not as violently obvious as before, but the panic attacks have been replaced by migraines, the numbness and crying jags with nausea and dizziness. And still a little bit of crying.

Okay there’s still a lot of crying, but I don’t think that’s going to change ever any time soon.

Things have been busy lately. Stressfully so. It’s mostly my own fault. I missed a lot last year. More than I care to go into. So I may be overcompensating just a little this semester by trying to do literally everything.

I am extremely proud of myself and the choices I’ve been making lately, but I’m at the point where I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus and I’m only just figuring out why.

Whenever I’ve talked to friends and family about my current stress levels everyone has given me the same advice: to relax and not get myself sick over anything. So that’s what I do. I sleep 8 hours every night, eat relatively well, I even drink water now!

I just don’t feel any better.

So, I’m taking it back a notch. I can’t actually get out of any of my commitments at this point, and I don’t have any desire to. But at the same time, I’m acknowledging what my body has been trying to tell me over the past few weeks.

I’m so far changed from how I used to be that I almost feel like a different person, but I still have a lot of work to do. So I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing, and see if I can’t get my body to follow my mind.