Dear sentient, sparkly clusters of starstuff,
Last night I had an severe anxiety attack. I took the photo above just a few minutes before it happened, because I wanted to show off my cool Transformers sweater on Instagram. Instead of doing that, I short circuited. This attack was nowhere near the first time I have had one, but they are not something a person could ever possibly get used to. Some only last a few minutes, I don’t cry at all and am just slightly uncomfortable as my heart goes warp speed inside my chest. Then there are the type like last night, where I feel as if the entire world is on fire, there’s no oxygen left anywhere, and my body is covered in excruciating pain. I’m not entirely positive how long it lasts, but by estimation, I’d say it lasts about an eternity. These severe attacks convince me that I will surely die.
Normally in these instances I call a hotline. Don’t get me wrong, the people on hotlines have helped me dozens of times and I am so grateful for them. I encourage people to use them when in need. But last night, it just wasn’t enough. I needed someone who knew everything about me, who knew exactly how to talk to me and who knew me as Eleanore, not just another unwell person. So naturally, I thought of my best friend Stan (don’t worry, I won’t rant about him again, but if you would like to hear more about him, you can read about him here).
When I first called him I was gasping for breath, the pain in my chest screaming, “you will not make it out of this.” The tightness, the razor like stabbing and the intensity of it all was far too overwhelming. “I’m going to die,” I told him through gasps and tears. Spoiler alert: I didn’t die.
About an hour later, we were laughing and discussing all kinds of things. My pain was still there, my life still felt like a terribly made straight to DVD movie, but there was also this strange feeling of calmness, and the fact that I was able to laugh on the phone with my best friend felt like a miracle after struggling through such a terrible attack. At one point I finally asked Stan,”is it odd that we’re talking like this after everything?” Of course, because we are ourselves, we then proceeded to dissect the feeling of surviving something awful. This conversation led me to think about the one big secret that we, people who suffer from chronic illness of every kind, don’t talk about.
I’ve read tons of articles like this that talk about how to act around a sick person or what we wish others would know. “Ten Things to Never Say to an Anxiety Sufferer.” “What People Don’t Know About Anxiety.” They all make wonderful points. They all talk about the different types of anxiety attacks, what they feel like, and how to help someone through them. Sometimes they come out in aggression, tears, or sometimes they are completely unnoticeable. All of this is completely true. What we don’t talk about often enough, though, is what happens after and before.
After an anxiety attack some people may think that a person is mostly likely to be a lethargic blanket burrito. Somedays, that is exactly what I need. Anxiety attacks completely purge me of all my energy and emotion, and functioning in that state can seem futile. However, other times I can seem completely fine afterwards. I can laugh, converse, and carry on with seemingly “normal” ability. But what I wish people would know, and what is often hard to convey, is that after an anxiety attack, I am most certainly not alright. Whether I’m wrapped in a blanket or making dinner, I still feel as if a storm has passed through me. I feel the wreckage inside me, and even though I’m laughing, I’m still hurting.
People tend to think that those who suffer from illness of any kind must show it at all times. We must constantly look disheveled, be depressed and teary-eyed, and be dysfunctional at all times. But we aren’t. It isn’t always obvious that someone is suffering, but just because someone isn’t clearly distraught, doesn’t mean they’re alright. The worst being of course that when we don’t look or act how people assume we should, we are met with doubt, disbelief and harsh, cold judgement.
I can’t tell you how many times people have exclaimed around me, “but you were fine just a minute ago!” They don’t comprehend that I am rarely “fine.” I am always in pain. I am always trying to think through the static in my head my anxiety disorder causes. I struggle to run past the PTSD flashes and the endless pain in my body that always remains, no matter what I do. At the same time, I’m trying to enjoy time with my friends. I’m trying work so that I can pay my rent, because if I’m even an hour short, I don’t have enough money to keep my shelter over me. I am still trying to create a life, a good one, despite everything holding me back; and I’m doing it mostly on my own. Currently I am not succeeding at that, but I am trying to survive until I see a light in the blackness.
The big secret of anxiety, of all my illnesses really, is that they are always there. With my anxiety in particular, the physical manifestation of a panic attack isn’t the beginning of my sickness. In fact, at least for me, my anxiety attacks are the end, the part where I finally explode after trying so terribly hard not to. The explosion of what has been inside for hours, days, weeks or even months. They are the boss levels of my game, too enormous for me to fight. Yet somehow I defeat them. Somehow, despite the gasping for breath and feeling like I can’t go on one more day, I do.
On another note, as I wrote a few days ago, I am struggling more than ever. I am barely making it and I’m scared, trying for anything that I can do to keep my head above water for a little longer. So, I’ve decided to sell a good deal of my things. I’ve started with selling most of my jewelry; I honestly wish I didn’t have to, but my survival is most important right now. Most of my jewelry is vintage styled and in wonderful condition and well priced. So, if you know anyone who might be interested or are interested yourselves, I hope you will peruse my little bonanza shop and find something neat. I am grateful for any and all help. Until I either find a better job I can work with my physical restrictions as well as the restrictions placed on me by waiting for my disability hearing (which I have 1.5 years left to wait for), I’ll be struggling for a while.
Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding from the storm?
Just shine a light into the wreckage, so far away, away,
‘Cause I’m still breathing, ‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own.
My head’s above the rain and roses, making my way, away,
‘Cause I’m still breathing,
‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own.
My head’s above the rain and roses, making my way, away,
My way to you.