Living with Panic Disorder

There is not cookie-cutter, clear-cut way to describe a day living with panic disorder. Sometimes, it’s just like what any other college student would call a normal day. I wake up, I work out, I go to class, I work, I hang out with friends. That’s what my day looks like most of the time. I think it’s the things that everyone can’t see that make my days so drastically different.

I try to stick to routine for stability. My brain doesn’t always follow suit. When I wake up in the morning, I have no idea how the day will go. Regardless, I’m always aware of how badly it could go. I’m always afraid of the drop of the pin moment when I can’t keep it together anymore.

A day filled with panic is a day that I can’t see coming. It’s when I’m five and my mom parks in a different spot than usual to pick me up, and the anxiety shoots up my spine as I cannot stop crying because I think that she has left me. It’s when I’m ten and my friends tell me I’m not very good at jump rope, and I feel the tears and the panic pulse throughout my body, all while I’m trying to argue with the feelings – I don’t even like jump rope. Why is this happening?

It’s when I’m twelve and I’m sitting in my best friend’s room and suddenly the world is moving too fast and everything is wrong. And they keep asking me what’s wrong and what happened, and the truth is I just don’t know, but I make up something because it’s not normal to be upset over nothing.

It’s when I’m sitting at lunch in high school surrounded by friends but suddenly get hit in the chest with feelings of being alone, unwanted, and invisible. It’s at my graduation after party, when I’m supposed to be happy, but the crowds make me hyperventilate and I spend most of the night crying in the bathroom. It’s when I’m running late for an event, and I get hit with feelings of worthlessness and panic.

The same thing could happen twice and it could give me a panic attack the first time, but not the second. The same thing could happen a hundred times, and only give me a panic attack once. The worst part is not knowing when it’s coming, and not knowing what will trigger it. The worst part is the ironic panic I constantly feel about the possibility of having a panic attack.

A panic attack feels different for each person, or so I’ve been told. For me, it’s like a train of feelings of sadness, insecurity, anxiety, and depression hit me at once. It’s when the world suddenly feels too loud, too bright, and too quiet, and all I want to do is close my eyes and plug my ears. It feels like I’m drowning in a tank that everyone walks by, staring in.

To all the people that have tried to help me but haven’t known how, I want you to understand that this is an illness. I am not having a panic attack because of something you did, I did, or anyone else did. I am having a panic attack because of the chemical imbalance in my brain. Please do not try to fix me, or tell me that you don’t understand me. There is nothing to be fixed or understood. Just a person who is drowning who wishes to be listened to. Thank you to everyone who has listened to me and sat with me – that is the best possible thing that you can do.

Teach Your Kids to Talk About Mental Health

My mental illness is a disability I’m very, very aware of. I’m made aware of it every day. I’m made aware of it when I sit in class and cannot sit still without a million of thoughts racing through my mind. I’m aware of it when throughout the day, my entire body urges me to crawl back into bed. I’m aware of it when people treat me like a bomb ready to explode, when all I want is to be treated like a person. I’m aware of it when sending a simple text makes me sweat until my palms are soaked and my hands shake. I’m aware of it when I have to leave the classroom to cry. I’m aware of it when everyone in my life tries to fix my problems, or calculuate my thoughts and my feelings down to one experience or event, when in reality it’s a daily routine. I’m aware of it when it’s hard to get about of bed. I’m aware of it when I look down and see that I’ve scratched so much at my hands that I’m bleeding. I’m aware of it when I’m alone, I’m aware of it when I’m with people. I’m aware of it on the days I’m feeling good, because I’m afraid that the next day, I won’t be feeling good. I’m aware of it on the days I’m feeling bad, because I can feel all eyes on me, staring at me, watching me fall apart. Little do they know that the days when I cry, when I shake, when I waver, are the days that I am fighting the hardest. The days when I smile and when I laugh I am still fighting, the war is just not raging as loudly on those days. And most of all, I’m aware of it when people don’t know how to help or talk to me.

Over the past few years of my life, I’ve been diagnosed with Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Seasonal Depression. Want to know what a panic attack feels like? It feels like a train hits you full of every feeling of insecurity, anxiety, and depression I’ve ever felt. It feels like the world gets too bright, too loud, and too crowded all at once, and all I want to do is plug my ears and close my eyes. It feels like drowning in a tank that everyone just walks past, not noticing. The worst part, though, is the lack of understanding and compassion from others, who try to equate my experience to “over-reacting,” while in reality it’s a chemical imbalance in my brain that sends pangs of anxiety throughout my body in very unexpected and unpredictable circumstances.

I was lucky enough to receive training on how to talk to others experiencing these feelings and thoughts through a volunteer program. That, in addition to the fact that I live it every day. Of the plethora of problems with our education system in the United States, I think that a large problem is the things that we teach our kids. We know how to measure the angles in a triangle, but we don’t know the difference between OCD and Panic Disorder. We know how to properly cite with MLA citation, yet we don’t know how to spot the signs of depression in a friend, or what to do if we do spot those signs. We can draw a parallelogram, but we don’t know how to talk about the faded red lines on the arms of our best friend. It’s like the system is built to make us alone; to make us afraid and unable to help others.

We should teach our kids the warning signs, teach them to listen to the whispers that echo from the eyes of those suffering. The halls of my high school are filled with my demons  because not even I was trained to fight them. We need to arm our kids with weapons of self love and compassion to fight off their own demons and the demons of their peers. I’m tired of the neglect of mental health in this country, and I’m tired of my disability being overlooked, devalued, and invalidated. I’m tired of seeing articles that question my experience, and I’m tired of explaining myself. If our education system is so progressive, then mental health should be included, valued, and understood on the same level that physical health is. My experience is valid, and so is that of everyone else. I hope that you can all see that too. One in four people suffer from mental illness in the U.S. It’s not invisible, it’s present everywhere, and America needs to wake up to that.

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How to Help: Panic/Anxiety Attacks

Every word feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. Every decision feels like it is life-threatening. Every move feels like it is the most important thing in the world. The world feels too bright and the light hurts my head. Everything is spinning. I cannot breathe. I cannot think.
I get anxiety and panic attacks a lot. Lately, it has been daily. It’s been hindering my writing, hence the lack of posts in the past month. Thank god for my dog, who always seems to know what’s going on, and cuddles me even though I can’t stop hyperventilating. When I’m able to clear my head, I realize what I must look like from the outside, and how hard it must be for the people who love me to see me like this. I’m writing this for anybody who loves someone who suffers extreme anxiety attacks, and for those of you who suffer attacks like I do, I would suggest creating something similar to show your loved ones.
A few simple steps to help somebody having an attack:
1. Listen to them. If they tell you to stop talking, do. If they tell you to leave them alone, do. Don’t completely abandon them and walk away, but take a step back and be there to listen.
2. Get them water I know it’s something very simple, but it helps a lot. Especially if they are dry heaving or hyperventilating. They need water. It can help calm them down.
3. Remember, this is NOT who they are The person they become when they are having an attack is not who they truly are.
4. Do NOT downsize their problems While the situation at hand may appear easily fixed from your point of view, to them, it’s the scariest thing in the world. Do not downsize or try to fix their problems. Listen to them. If they want to think of a solution, you can help, but do not try to fix everything yourself because you do not see the problem the same way they do.
5. Be there Honestly, that’s the best you can do. Sit with them through it. They will appreciate you so much for it.

Hope this helps somebody. Will try to write more these coming weeks. xoxo