I mentioned in my last post about how much of a struggle the last half of the year was. I finally feel like I can talk about it (real talk: I’m at a point where if I don’t talk I think I might explode). I struggle so much with vulnerability- both in writing here and with people in person. This post has taken over
two four weeks for me to finish writing, because I was afraid to put myself out there. I was so afraid of people’s reactions. But then I realized: this is mostly to help me. I need to write about it, because for me, writing will make me feel better. I hope by writing it’ll help someone else too, but even if it doesn’t, I need to do this for me for once.
My heart was pounding loudly and fast; every time I tried to lay down and forget about it, it got louder.
I had a lump in my throat and felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was shaky and absolutely terrified, thinking I was dying or was going to die.
It was hellish. I had never been so scared in my life.
I quietly walked towards the bathroom to look at myself in the light; everything looked okay, but yet I still felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest. I walked back to the bedroom and climbed into bed, unsure what to think: at this point I didn’t think heart attack because I’m pretty sure those are fast acting types of deals, but I had no idea what else it could be. I got back into bed and tried to focus my energy elsewhere (it kinda worked). I finally was able to get some sleep, and woke up with everyone else around 8:30. My whole body just ached–every inch of me was sore. I was still totally clueless and feeling out of sorts… I sucked it up best I could and attempted to enjoy the rest of the day’s plans.
Then it happened again, later that night–only worse.
I tried lying down, took a shower to cool off, walked around trying to calm down-nothing worked. I had no idea what was going on.
I went to my RA friend in the lobby and talked about possibly going to the hospital to get checked out. A parent (it was parents’ weekend on campus, PTL) overheard me and introduced himself as a doctor (but really, he was a guardian angel). He asked me what had happened, took my pulse, and asked me questions. He said my pulse was normal and everything seemed okay. He asked me about my caffeine intake that day (… a lot. More than normal), and suggested cutting down (I quit cold turkey the next day). After talking to him, I felt a lot better (at least in my head, my heart was still freaking out on me). I sat down in the lobby the rest of the night, until I felt decent enough to head upstairs and attempt to sleep.
Fast forward to Monday. Our on-campus nurse was pretty concerned and ordered an EKG to make sure everything was OK with my heart. It was then she asked me if I’d ever had panic attacks. My thought was, “what do I have to panic about?!” I left the nurse’s office upset and confused… still unsure if something was scary wrong. I decided to look up panic attacks online, and realized how many of my symptoms matched up. So I went back to the nurse and talked to her again. She gave me medicine to help if/when I felt like an attack was starting, and recommended melatonin to sleep.
EKG came back normal, to my overwhelming relief. So, the only clear choice at that point was panic attacks- something I’d never imagined dealing with.
And they kept happening, almost nightly.
After a week, I went back to the doctor for a follow-up. With the amount of panic attacks I was having, she diagnosed me with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD-which my counselor confirmed when I started therapy in January). At that point, she didn’t prescribe me anything else, but gave me some tips about how to deal with the panic attacks, and requested I go to the counseling center. I didn’t put that on the priority list (though now I wish I had), simply because I didn’t have the time (or didn’t want to make the time, truly).
On top of the panic attacks, the crippling anxiety began… even more devastating than the panic attacks themselves. It was a cruel cycle: I’d get anxious about panicking, then I’d end up having a panic attack.
Part of my anxiety was (is) that something else was wrong with my health. I still wasn’t sure that it was just mental since I was having so many physical issues… every ache and pain triggered my anxiety and caused me to spiral. My brain just wouldn’t shut off; I couldn’t stop the never-ending thoughts that were sending me into this fear. It was like a voice track playing in my head, every time I had an ache or pain, or something felt off… my brain just would go off the deep end. My brain and my body are at war constantly… and for awhile, I wasn’t sure which one was going to win out.
I’ve gone to bed every night since October convinced I wouldn’t wake up the next day.
That is the most terrifying sentence I’ve probably ever written. It’s most definitely the most terrifying thought I’ve ever had (and have continued to have).
This fear has crippled me in every sphere of life. It made me physically sick, and unable to sleep– I doubt I slept 3-4 hours a night most of November and December (and if I did, I didn’t sleep until 2,3,4am). Most mornings I was still awake when my Mom was getting ready for work, all because I was terrified about sleeping. I had panic attacks just getting into bed. My (illogical) thought process was this: if I don’t sleep, I can’t die in my sleep. If I wait until the night is over, I’ll survive. (Nights are still hard. So, so damn hard).
Like I said–it’s a never ending cycle. The anxiety made me sick, which triggers more anxiety… and repeat. It made it impossible to want to get out of bed and function mentally or emotionally- I didn’t want to spend time with anyone or do anything.
I spiritually was scared out of my mind– seriously, when your prayers every night end with, “please, don’t let me die in my sleep”–SOMETHING. IS. WRONG. I also dealt with the whole, “I trust Jesus yet why am I anxious” debacle, which is a whole other post. Seriously: I love Jesus and trust Him a whole lot (some days more than others). But, this is not a spiritual problem I’m dealing with. It’s all mental.
I knew this by now, of course. I knew I needed help out of this hell. But I didn’t know what to do–it was December, in the middle of winter break. It was the midst of Christmas stress and whatnot.
I was in my own mental hell, with no way to crawl out on my own.
I had spoken to a few people in small details about it (people like some family, my best friend, etc), but I never told them the extent of my issues. I don’t think anyone knew how badly things were, because I’ve been able to keep a straight (albeit tired) face most days.
I finally scrounged up the courage to talk to someone about everything; she helped me feel less crazy (because trust me, it is hard to not think you’re crazy when this crap is going on) and has walked with me in all of this since then. I’m thankful I had the strength to finally reach out–but more importantly, I’m thankful I had someone’s hand waiting when I finally did reach out.
It’s February (almost March!) and here I am now, almost 5 months after this all started. As soon as I could, I started counseling at school– and it has done wonders. It’s taken a lot of vulnerability and strength to talk this out, but I am starting to feel better and have more better days. My panic attacks and anxiety are starting to become manageable, thanks to both counseling and the introduction of anxiety medication (at the recommendation of both my counselor and my doctor). Medicine nor counseling are a cure all (for me or anyone); however, both right now are helping me immensely, and I’m so, so thankful.
There are still days and nights where my panicking and anxiety overpower my medicine (like tonight) and I struggle with sleep and being able to control my thoughts, despite the tools my counselor has given me to help. Some days are going to be hard, and I’m just going to be anxious– and right now, that’s OK. I’m taking it day-by-day, and it’s in no way going to be “fixed” for me anytime soon. Or ever, really.
But I’m getting better. And right now, that’s really all I can ask for.
(if you read this, thank you. really).