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The Manipulative Ways of Anxiety

And a recent panic attack that really scared me
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View from the bench where I calmed myself down

View from the bench where I calmed myself down

Anxiety is a manipulative, tricky beast and something I've struggled with for as long as I can remember. Of course back when I was a kid in the '80s, it wasn't something people really spoke about and I just felt...different. At 38 I more or less feel like I have a grip on my anxiety - what it feels like, when it's prone to come on and how to best manage it. But then there are times when it sneaks up on me and I'm left feeling shaken and terrified.Last week I went on my normal hike and felt more out of breath than usual. I chalked it up to high pollen count and construction dust that we've been dealing with the past few months. But once I got to the top of the mountain, I realized I had to take a break. I sat on a bench to assess the situation. I swapped out my disturbing true crime podcast ('Your Own Backyard,' which I'd still highly recommend, just not when you're feeling anxious) for a Taylor Swift song I put on repeat like I do whenever I'm nervous. I focused on my surroundings, taking in the fresh air, the sounds of leaves rustling, and the view and before long, I'd settled myself and finished the rest of my hike without any issue. It wasn't until two days later when I had a slightly scarier experience.

I'd just gotten back from taking Sloan to school. We held hands, talking, and we blew each other kisses as she skipped off to meet her classmates. But as I started heading home, I felt the same shortness of breath. By the time I got home, I'd worked myself up into such a panic that I couldn't tell if I was truly struggling to get in air or was having a panic attack. That's the thing about anxiety - it can morph in such insidious ways to basically convince you you're dying. I looked at myself in the mirror - which is always a bad call, since you're guaranteed to pretty much look like death, which is in no way settling. My face was ashen and my eyes looked certifiably panic-stricken. I took half a xanax, something I typically only need for flying, followed by an at-home Covid test, which promptly came back as 'negative'. Over-the-counter PCR tests aren't 100% accurate, but for someone with a whole lot of anxiety surrounding the pandemic, they've been a worthwhile investment to have on hand to ease my mind. It also goes without saying that you should always consult a medical professional if you're considering any sort of medication. I then called my friend who struggles with asthma and allergies who assured me that I was fine. It was only then that I was able to start breathing normally again and felt some relief. This is all to say that no matter how much experience you have with panic attacks, they can still be scary enough to convince you that you may be dying.

I'm telling this story because struggling with anxiety can make it seem like you're alone. And that's coming from someone who has access to professional help/resources in addition to a large platform and still, it can be a struggle. It's all to say that there's no such thing as a quick fix and for a lot of us living with anxiety, it will be part of our lives in some capacity forever. It's like being stuck at the bottom of a dark hole knowing that if you just stand up and crawl out you'll be fine, but not having the ability to get out on your own. It's debilitating and frightening and the impacts of a bad panic attack can create imprints that last days. But I'm on the other side of it, at least for now, and wanted to share my experience in hopes that it makes others not feel so isolated. And it's funny how it can strike - just the night before we'd had one of those magical evenings. It was still over 90° at night and instead of Sloan's normal bedtime routine, we drove out to an Italian ice shop 30 minutes away we'd been meaning to try. It felt fun and spontaneous and as we sat outside eating, a man passed by and said how lovely it was seeing a family enjoying their time together. To go from such a high at night to a staggering low the next morning is distressing and unsettling, but unfortunately a reality for those of us who live with anxiety. So to those of you suffering, often silently, I see you and you're not alone. And to the helpers - the friends and loved ones whose empathy and calming words make a difference, you matter as well. x

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