This week I have sadly experienced, yet another, disgusting representation of the stigma around anxiety. I overheard people making fun of anxiety. It made me realize that, yes, I could tell you the story of what happened, but the real issues here was the fact that their jokes came from their lack of knowledge.
Most of today's negative behavior around mental health stems from lack of discussion. As a matter of fact, I was criticized for posting about my PTSD because someone thought that I couldn't possibly have it. PTSD is associated with war veterans, which is why they found my diagnosis so confusing.
I feel it is my job to help the world understand what goes on in my head. I have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), which stems my panic attacks.
But I realize most of you don't know what it feels like to have a panic attack. You may not know what in the world is going on in my head when my body is shutting down. So, I will tell you (in the best way I can).
First, in 2016, I had severe functioning anxiety. This occurred to me after the death of a cousin and I had never seen a therapist. My morning started like this, but I will use this in terms of "you" so you can place yourself in my shoes.
You wake up in the morning. Your eyes flutter open to see your room, but it wasn't the alarm that woke you up. Your stomach is sick, but an empty sick (as if you were hungry). You check your phone to see that it is only five in the morning, but you recall falling asleep around three.
Your body starts to shake, even under several different blankets. The shaking increases over the next few minutes, making your empty stomach weaker and weaker. Eventually, you spring out of bed and rush to the toilet where you vomit up nothing.
You haven't eaten in a few days. Not because you are watching your weight, or because you are sick. You haven't eaten because every time you bring food to your mouth, your mind finds something else to get anxious about.
You start to walk around your house, but nobody is home. Suddenly, your breath is taken away by an unknown cause. Each breath you try to take is sharp, short, and non-satisfying. Then, your head chimes in.
Every bad thought you could ever have had, racing through your mind. Every possibility of how your day could go comes to your thoughts. Before you know it, you are crying and trying to calm down. Instead, you are starting off at the wall while sitting on the floor of your living room.
The shaking increases and becomes so bad that your body looks as if it is having a seizure. Your mouth freezes in place, unable to call out for help or say anything at all. Each muscle in your arm tenses up, locking your hands in a fist, as if it is chaining you permanently to this moment.
There is a weight on your chest, heavy enough to be 100 pounds laying against your lungs. You are convinced that this is the last moment you will ever be alive. There is no way your body would survive losing oxygen this long.
After ten minutes, the feeling fades and you are finally able to take a complete breath, but you haven't stopped shaking. You can now move your fingers and mouth, but you say nothing. Instead, you crawl back into bed because even one panic attack makes you feel as if you have run two marathons.
Laying in your bed, under the covers, you know the anxiety will only come back, but it is impossible to know when. Even the thought that it will come back gives you a sense of hopelessness. In a cloud of fog, you want to fall asleep, but your shaking body keeps you awake.
Over the past few months, you have lost several pounds and you have forgotten what it was like to have a social life. You don't talk to your friends anymore because it too hard to explain. You don't go out because panic attacks in public are a nightmare.
This is just one snapshot of living with severe anxiety. I have had panic attacks in public, at home, and even driving. Panic attacks can happen anywhere at anytime. In the worst of my panic, I had four attacks throughout the day.
I've lost over 30 pounds from anxiety, due to not eating. I have lost contact with friends because the thought of hanging out was terrifying.
So, before you make light of anxiety, think about this. What would you do if this was you every single day? How would it affect your life, job, friends, relationships? Think before you speak.