Panic Attacks Are My Cardio, AKA, Hold On, Let Me Overthink This

Blogger: Joan Poirier

It is the SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) season. When the days are short and the darkness is overwhelming, when our Vitamin D is depleted from hibernating inside, it is so easy to give in to depression and anxiety.  So easy to curl up in a ball, and ignore the world and let the Nothing take hold of you in what seems to be the most comfortable rocking you have received since the cradle.  Yeah, I know it well.  I have lived here often.

Depression is a dick. I have struggled with it my entire life.  I have accepted it as my own, but I struggle every day to make peace with it or learn to love it as a “part of me”.  Don’t get me wrong… I have “learned” plenty from my depression.  Personal strength and perseverance at the top of that list.  But no matter how “strong” I get with each bout and battle, there is always another one around the corner waiting to sneak up on me and whack me over the head, kick me in the gut and sit on my head so I can’t see or breathe for a while.  Depression is a life draining, soul-sucking, miserable beast.

That being said… so much worse, is living with anxiety.  Depression seems like a walk in the park compared to anxiety.  Anxiety is the daily, minute by minute worry that everything is going to fall apart.  The worry that something will go wrong, is wrong.  If it’s not wrong, then I am wrong, and that makes me worry.  Anxiety slips in when everything is seemingly ok and whispers in your ear “What if?”  What if you are in an accident on the way home?  What if your spouse died tomorrow?  What if you didn’t turn the stove off?  What if you screw up that project for work?  What if the world runs out of oxygen RIGHT NOW? What if aliens attack?  What if you just suck at life and everyone hates you? What if, What if, What if?

“And then anxiety set in.   If you told me that I’d have to be depressed for the next month, I would say, “As long I know it’ll be over in November, I can do it.” But if you said to me, “You have to have acute anxiety for the next month,” I would rather slit my wrist than go through it.” – Andrew Solomon – TED Talk “Depression, the secret we share”

What does it feel like?  It feels like a killer over your shoulder waiting to strike you in the heart.  Your heart races, your palms get hot, you can’t see straight, and everything is out of focus.  Your hand’s tingle and your body is vibrating so loud from the inside out that you swear you can hear it.  And you know you are going to die from it.  You are having a heart attack for sure.   You are not going to wake up if you go to sleep, but you are so tired.  But you can’t sleep because when everything is still and quiet, you become aware of the killer standing over your shoulder waiting to strike.  You live in a constant state of fear and physical discomfort.  When its bad, you drive yourself to the emergency room (more than once) and tell them you are dying, they swoop in, do an EKG, and you wait for them to confirm that you are in fact dying, only to have them tell you that “you are fine”.  A little valium and a “just relax” before they release you back to the killer.  Well, thanks for valium anyway, that does help temporarily put the killer to sleep so I can rest.

Sometimes I feel like a human pin cushion. Every painful emotion hits me with ridiculously exaggerated force. And the anxiety feels like hands inside of me, squeezing my guts really hard.  – Juliana Hatfield

“Just Relax”.  I truly fucking hate that sentence.  As my therapist once told me, telling a person with anxiety to “just relax” is like telling a constipated person to just take a shit, you will feel better”.  If it were that fucking easy, don’t you think I would do it?  Living with anxiety means you can rarely relax.  I mean, if you had a killer over your shoulder all the time, could you “just relax”?  Of course not.  I have found certain things do help.  Exercising and being outdoors are the biggest and most successful treatment.  Eating right and taking vitamins.  The beach… something about the salty air and sounds of the waves calms me.  Hot baths.  They don’t always work, but at the very least, they lessen the load a little.  But sometimes, no matter how much I do right… it still gets me.  And it gets me hard.  I carry “rescue meds” on me at all times to avoid those oh so fun trips to the hospital.  I try to retreat and regenerate when I am feeling overwhelmed (I am famous for disappearing for a week or two and avoiding people as much as possible).  But it never really goes away.  There is no cure for anxiety and depression.  They are as much a part of me as my bones and my blood.  My genetic and chemical cursed lot in life.  But managing it has gotten easier.

If you love someone with depression, anxiety, or both…. Be patient.  Understand they are struggling daily.  The battles in our heads and in our hearts that we fight daily to just keep going, are fucking exhausting.  We are tired.  Hug us.  Often.  Listen.  Sit in silence with us while we weep.  Don’t try to “fix” us or our fears.  Just be there, wholly and present. Don’t judge us.  Just love us.  And whatever you do, do not tell us to “its ok” or we are “overreacting and most definitely don’t tell us to “just take a shit, you will feel better”.

 Ode to the Public Panic Attack – Andrea Gibson

You find me at the coffee shop,
at the movies,
buying comfort food in the grocery store.

You find me on dates,
which is terrible, because on dates
I really try to appear––dateable.

You found me at Disneyland,
in line for The Little Mermaid
Slow Moving Clam Ride.

You found me at parties
so often I stopped celebrating
my own birthday.

You found me on an airplane,
in the arms of the medic,
after the plane stopped on the runway

and turned around to let me off.
Don’t worry, the medic said,
It’s just a panic attack,

as if that would comfort me,
to be told I am the enemy,
to know my body is its own stalker.

Last week, you found me on stage,
In the middle of a poem
Chewed the hairs on the back of my neck
Until I couldn’t hear the words coming out of my mouth
Until I wasn’t even there

Do you know how hard it is to read a poem
When you’re in another state
googling, sudden onset asthma
or how many bugs are in the human body?

Is it possible to be eaten alive
while an audience is all eyes asking,
Are OK? Are you OK? Are you OK?

No, never.

But I am creative,
so when I can’t breathe
I tell myself, It’s fine.

That’s just my heart
giving my sternum a high five
fifty times a second.

After the show I said to my friend,
that was so humiliating.
Did I look like a goat giving birth in a mall?
Yes, she says.
But also like someone who had fallen
Though an iced over lake and was screaming
To find the whole they fell through
To take a breath.

I think every good artist
makes their audience uncomfortable.
I’d hoped to do that with my politics

and not my body flailing
like the about-to-be-dead-girl
in a teenage horror flick,

my own spine curling into the claw
that strips me down to my day of the week panties––
and it’s always Doomsday.

If you’ve never had a panic attack,
there’s a good chance you’ve been an ass
to someone who has.

It makes sense that JUST RELAX
would feel like a helpful thing to say
if oxygen has never been over your head,

if your body has never become its own corset.
At the restaurant I say, I have a small bladder,
because it’s less awkward than saying, My parachute

didn’t open when I left the house
and I prefer the privacy of bathroom stalls
when falling towards my death
at the speed of utter darkness.

what pisses me off
is that this ever got misnamed weakness
Do you know how much courage it takes to live through this shit?
To know the apocalypse
is on the other side

of the front door,
and still–– I reach
for the knob.

To step towards the terror.
Its promised jaw.
To scrape your boots on the welcome mat.
To tell yourself fear
Is the seat of fearlessness.
Even when you’re falling through the ice that is never
Been weakness. That is the bravest thing I have ever done in my life.


joan2

Joan Poirier is an Empath, a goddess, a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend.  She is you, and she is me.  Just a real woman, embracing her age and her wisdom, and not afraid of opening the da,m and making some waves during her short time on the wild ride of life. She is on an ever-growing quest to live better, do better, be better and taking all the lumps that go with it.

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