I guess you could say it all started with a small glimmer of doubt, hiding in the depths of the back of my mind. It was small, containable, some would say managable even. I was going about my day like normal. I did just transition into a new job, so I was deducing that the small glimmer of doubt creeping down into the pit of my stomach would soon ride off into the sunset.
Well before I knew it, it had gotten worse.
I have always been on to err on the side of caution. I prided myself on being on the top of my self-love game, especially when it came to mental health. I always got enough water and more than enough sleep at times. I learned when I was younger that running, sleeping recklessly, and not eating makes way for one unhappy spirit. I didn't even realize that I was falling into a full on anxiety hurricane until I was smack dab in the center of the Arizona and California State border lines on the way to see my two good friends Kayla and Nermina. We had organized a trip and I was renting a car and making the journey to go see them from my brother's apartment in Arizona. I had just gotten done barely eating a waffle for breakfast with my brother's wife, Emily. Before I knew it, I began to confide in her.
"I have been feeling very anxious lately."
It was as if those words just smacked me right into a brick wall with the word Realization painted on in bright silver letters. My mind began racing, thinking back to my first signs of falling into a spot of depression. I glanced down at my fingers, all but chewed up from the drive. I didn't even realize that I was biting my nails again.
The farthest I could think back was when I emailed my editor, telling her that I was having a bit of a writers block. I couldn't fathom producing any new content, even for my own website, Photosapian and the least I could do as an accountable, responsible person was tell her. I remember I was in the process of updating the layout of my website and I suddenly closed the laptop, shoving it underneath my bed to go to sleep. I was feeling absolutely exhausted at the thought of five more minutes finalizing a small detail. Before I knew it, a couple weeks had passed and I hadn't even touched my laptop, let alone picked up a book I picked up from the library that I was halfway done reading just before.
I stopped my morning routine as well. I usually wake up fairly early. I have always been somewhat of a morning person and I love the thought of getting a few things done around the house before heading off to work. It makes me feel more productive during the day. I recalled that I only just did the dishes after maybe a couple of days of having the same two cups in the sink. It wasn't a mess by any specific standard, but it should have been a huge red flag in self indentifying what was making me tick.
When I finally got to Los Angeles, I was sitting in my rental car, waiting for my two friends to walk back from a nearby shopping center to our AirBnB and I was feeling a full on panic attack swooping in and suffocating me. My palms began to feel extremely clammy, my breath short. My arms always tingle when I am having an attack, so as a calming mechanism, I will ball my fists up and release them, in hopes to get the blood moving again. I have always dealt with various levels of anxiety. I am the kind of person who will relive a situation over and over in my head until I can't possibly find another outcome. I have to have things go a certain way for me or else I start to panic. Over the years, I have truly learned to manage the symptoms of mind over matter, so when it came down to the fact that I was sitting in a rental car in the middle of a busy Los Angeles high tower parking lot. I was to the point of tears.
Right on cue, I met up with my friends and I couldn't relax. I knew I looked and felt physically pained. I carry my anxiety very tensely in my shoulders and back and when I am in any way stressed, I tend to ball up and come across as stiff.
Sometimes it's hard for me to even relax my muscles after being tense for so long.
The stroke of clock work strikes, one thing after the other. And I know that when I am in an attack, it feels like the situation is heavier than it actually is. My editor emailed me the day before asking if I was okay because I essentially fell off the face of the Earth. I received another email which created a whirlwind of tension for me when the context of the email itself was the easiest fix in the entire world. I felt so very alone in a city of millions. I looked to my friends, so blinded by fear and depression that I wasn't sure if I could even pull myself out of this.
The Next Morning:
I awoke earlier than everyone and cried. And despite what you may think, it felt very freeing. I was bottling up wave after wave of emotion and I didn't have a proper outlet for it to just get released. I was holding onto things that I truly did have control over, but because of my fear, I felt like I was spiraling out of control, when in reality I was healthy, safe, and in one piece sitting on a soft bed. I began to take survey of how I let myself get into this space mentally.
1. I allowed myself to feel the emotion.
I spent entirely too long worrying about covering up how I was feeling, instead of allowing myself to just feel in the moment. Once I started releasing the trapped feelings, my shoulders began to relax and it felt like I could breathe again.
2. I wasn't afraid to share how I was feeling.
Communication is a crucial key into solving the puzzle of an anxiety attack. I immediately confided in my friends, telling them about everything that could have possibly helped put me into this state of fear and worry. Sometimes though, it can be really difficult to even open up your mouth because your body thinks it is just tired from dealing with these fears silently. If you can, I would recommend writing about it - via texting, emailing, or the old fashion pen to paper.
3. I acknowledged my fears.
Saying my fears out loud made them tangible. It made it so I was able to grasp the size of the actual problem versus how big my brain thought the problem actually was. Verbalizing my fears brought them back down to size and made it easier to bring myself back to an emotionally happy state.
4. A new day, a fresh start.
After spending two and a half days on a high intensity roller coaster of emotion, I realized that I needed to relax. As silly as that sounds, I suppose you could say I forced my hand in letting yesterday be yesterday and today be today. I got a fairly good amount of sleep and I got up early as I normally would to create that sense of control and routine once more. I began to feel my spirit come back to life with excitement for my trip by the middle of the morning, which was absolutely freeing.
High functioning anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't have a minor freak out about something small. For example, there are aspects of my job that terrify me, but for the most part I don't let on that on a bad day, it can leave me shaking and feeling sick. Over the years I have begun to learn all of the secondary symptoms that come with high functioning anxiety, like headache or fatigue. The sooner you begin to take the steps to realize what is a trigger for you, the easier it becomes to manage. I'm not saying that you won't fall into an anxiety spell every once in a while, but it will allow you to really survey what is going on around you and justify how you are feeling and whether you need to be at the level of worry you are at. And trust me, you usually think you need to be worrying, but in actuality, you truly don't.