Editor’s Note: This month, that is October 2019, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Mental Health And Well-Being, where we invite various articles narrating people’s experiences of living or living with someonewith mental health issues. If you’d like to share your story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trigger Warning: Anxiety attack / Panic attacks
As someone who suffers from anxiety attacks since the last few years, I frequently come across people talking about anxiety and/or panic attacks very casually. Nervousness before an important interview or excitement before a grand event of your life, is not exactly anxiety. Living with anxiety is somehow indescribable in words – yet, this is an attempt to do that because the real side of it, needs to be felt. It cannot be expressed or seen.
I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder in 2014 alongside many other surprises. Funnily, by then I had already been living with it for three years, completely unaware of its co-existence within my mind. But 2014 was when it got worse. That sudden tightening of the chest, inability to breath normally, hands and feet turning cold, a tight band closing onto the crown area, increased heart-beat to an extent that you can feel that thumping with every fibre of your being – this aptly described my anxiety attacks, which increased not only in degree but also in frequency. It gradually metamorphosed into panic attacks and reached a phase where I would end up having both, leaving me totally baffled.
That sudden tightening of the chest, inability to breath normally, hands and feet turning cold, a tight band closing onto the crown area, increased heart-beat to an extent that you can feel that thumping with every fibre of your being
Scared. Lonely. Helpless.
Every time I got panic attacks, my feelings would oscillate between these three words. Was this how death arrived? I wondered in those nanoseconds before the ice-cold feeling took over my senses completely. If there was one thing, I had learnt from my depression phase, it was ‘This is not how my story ends!‘. But my anxiety attacks always made me wonder if this is how my story was going to end. The feeling of despair though hovering above me, never managed to reach my senses as the fear of the unknown kept on multiplying all the while.
I didn’t know what my trigger was, or perhaps I knew, but didn’t want to acknowledge it. This is what happens when you grow up being taught how to hide your feelings. You begin lying to yourself. You keep telling yourself you are okay even when it is not. You keep ignoring the hurt, anger or pain your heart feels and try keeping up a fake smile because you have been told not to cry, not to be honest, not to fight, to argue, express your thoughts or back answer. One and a half decades is time enough to train your subconscious into behaving like this. And finally, you reach a phase where you have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde within you. The good behaviour always displayed at right places and before the right people, and the bad behaviour and the harmful thoughts comes out the moment you are alone. It is as if you are unable to bear the mere presence of the real you, with its ugliness, cuts, wounds, scars, tears and the hurt displayed in all its ugliness.
The year when I felt I had finally figured it all out. I recognised my signs from early on and had successfully managed to avert full blown attacks. Though not fully, I knew some of my triggers and began to stay away from it all. Till November, when the ghosts from my past arose again.
I clearly remember I wanted to attend an author’s talk. He was one of my most favourite authors, and I would push myself to leave the house and go out… something I had not done in months. Or so I thought! After all, how difficult could it be to travel till the nearest station, take a metro to the place where the meet is happening, walk down to the venue, listen to that author for 2 hours and come back home? Trust me, very! It turned out to be extremely difficult as my panic started showing signs the moment I reached the station but I decided to not give in so easily. After all I had waited for three years to meet this author, it would be worth it.
Also read: To All The Traumas I’ve Lived
Gathering all my courage, I somehow managed to reach the venue almost half an hour early. And that is where the gravity of the whole situation dawned upon me. I did not know a single soul there. Was this even a good idea in the first place? Oh my gosh, I am hungry now… a zillion thoughts scrambled through my brain and I knew my panic attack was building up. I fished out my phone to call a friend but could not dial as my hands refused to stay still. Once the call got connected, I couldn’t speak and was simply fumbling for 5 minutes or so when my friend said, ‘It’s okay… shhh… don’t worry…!‘
This is what anxiety does to you. It shatters your confidence; makes you question your decision-making ability and leaves you perplexed.
Somehow those words helped, and I let out a wail. Soft enough to not disturb the passers-by, loud enough for my friend to get the hint. Yes, I was standing in the middle of the street and howling away because I didn’t know what, why and where. It all felt strange. This is what anxiety does to you. It shatters your confidence; makes you question your decision-making ability and leaves you perplexed. After my friend was done trying to calm me down, I found my voice back and screamed, ‘Idiot, why did you have to leave me alone. You should have come along. I am hungry and I don’t know what to do. This place is deserted and am feeling weird here now. I’m taking the next train back home!’
‘We will think about the train later. As of now, there is a wonderful eatery just next door. Hop over and have some hot food first of all.‘
‘I can’t see anything!’
‘It is right there. Blue doors, glass windows. Can you see something like that?‘
After looking around for a bit, ‘Yeah…. but it says tap room. I don’t drink. Doesn’t look like a place I would be comfortable at. Loud music, too many people and just too much for me to bear.’
‘Oh, it has a superb menu. They even have some of your favourite dishes. Just go in…‘
My friend stayed on phone till I went in, ordered and ate. All the while I was shivering (in peak summer) and my heart was thudding like crazy.
Just to add: I did manage to attend the event, holding my nervous palms tightly.
Believe me when I say that it almost gave me another attack just to write it all out. But I know that I needed to, just the way I know that I need to face these attacks and not let them get the better of me. It is not easy writing about it and it is not easy dealing with it. You don’t know when and how it will strike you. All you can do is be prepared to face it every single time and manage to drive it away.
Meeting people, travelling in public transport, phone calls, shopping – some of the most seemingly fun things in life are actually some of the very things that cause anxiety and panic. Anxiety is real. Panic attacks are real. It can’t be seen or heard but can only be felt and that too most of the times only by the person who is going through it. Believe in them, in their nightmares.
Featured Image Source: A Lust For Life