When I first started planning this article, I had 13 things I'd learned from my anxiety. I was going to talk about mindset, and coping skills, growth, and acceptance. I was going to talk about how I realized I had a lot of fear surrounding a lot of areas of my life and I was fixated on it — and I'd broken through! I was learning and on my way out of the rough!
Then I went to the local Emergency Room for what I thought was a heart issue. My heart was racing, I struggled to breathe, I was having chest pain, and my left arm even felt tingly like it had fallen asleep. I was scared, and worried, and dizzy, and I just wanted it to stop. Having this for hours and convinced there must be something wrong, I convinced my parents to take me to the hospital. Not that they weren't willing, just that it's in the middle of a pandemic and my mom knew what this truly looked like.
A couple of baffled nurses later and a VERY long time spent in a hospital room, I was sent out with not much to answer for what had physically happened. I was healthy. All in all, I looked fairly normal. My blood pressure and heart rate had even eventually stabilized.
My mom is a therapist. She has dealt with panic attacks, seen panic attacks, and worked with people who had them far more often than I thought I'd had them. Despite all that, it turned out I hadn't learned as much as I thought. Out of all of the grounding techniques, and all of the tips and tricks under my belt I didn't even recognize that I had gotten anxious. I just felt like I was having a major health issue. But it turns out a panic attack, a true one, can feel like a heart attack — like your heart is going to explode kind of heart attack.
I had used the words “panic attack" before and thought I had them. When I felt overwhelmed, or so anxious and then just couldn't contain it, or when I cried or worked up so much I couldn't breathe. I thought that was a panic attack. I had never experienced such physical effects of anxiety and holding in stress.
I didn't want to talk about this, in all honesty.
I was even going to try and publish the list of tips like normal. No one would know, except me. Now it's not to say that none of these things ever work, and I'm not saying that they aren't worth sharing someday, or even next time I write. What I am saying is that this is a very long disclaimer. I have to shed the light that I am NOT an expert on all things mental health, not even in regards to my own. That's not a fun realization to have when you're trying to prove yourself, and prove how strong and independent you are to everyone.
I think ultimately I wanted to force myself to be honest. I don't want pity. I'm not doing this for shock value. But if you see me day-to-day, I do a pretty good job seeming like I've got it all together. Even if I mention anxiety, it's under control — but it isn't always.
Not to sound like one of those stupid Mesothelioma commercials my generation makes fun of, but if you or someone you know deals with anxiety, please seek help. Find a counselor, and it's OK if it's not the first one you see. Talk to your doctor. There are resources and there are things that can help. If you don't talk about it, you'll find it will make you express it in some form or another — in most cases, you'll crack. I learned things the hard way, long after I thought I'd exceeded the "hard way."
A final warning and request: whether you deal with anxiety or you're dealing with temporary stress, please be careful when using the words “panic attack." I wasn't, and I learned what they truly meant. They aren't light, and they aren't easy, and they don't pass that quickly. It's a very physical reaction to your emotions and for those who do experience them, that could cause more damage claiming it's something it isn't.