You know what’s a nice little challenge to set for yourself? Blog about panic attacks without having one. Cause, I’ll be honest, I don’t love telling strangers that I get panic attacks. Fuck, I don’t love telling anyone.
Now, I could say that the reason for this is the stigma behind panic attacks. And that certainly doesn’t help — because despite the fact that people are becoming more aware of how they actually work and that everyone knows someone (probably more than one someone) who’s afflicted by them, society at-large doesn’t really take kindly to anything that effects your brain or your emotions, let alone both.
But it’s actually my own perfectionism that makes me not want to tell people. I don’t like the idea that I can’t handle something. It makes me feel weak and inferior. Like, I wasn’t given all of the proper tools to function as a human being. It’s isolating. At least for me it is. When I’m having a panic attack — or one is approaching — other people, no matter who they are, get sucked into the noise of the panic attack and add to the assault on my brain. So, sharing that I get panic attacks with the world — even when I doubt anyone is going to read it — is pretty close to a 10 on the scary meter.
I feel like I need to blog about it though because as someone who’s getting married in just about three weeks, the panic attacks are more frequent. Now, before you start to worry, the attacks have nothing to do with the actual getting married part. That part is awesome and the man I’m marrying is the most effective person at helping me with my panic attacks. He’s never once judged me about them, which kind of blows my mind cause whether it’s true or just feels true having a mental illness in this country (not saying we’re worse just saying I only live here) is like setting yourself up to be judged. People assume just about anything they want to when they find out a nugget like this. You can’t be relied upon. You can’t handle stress. You aren’t logical enough. You let your emotions rule you. You’re defective.
And god-forbid you take medication for it, well, you’re more than broken…you’ve given up on yourself. I actually had a friend once who, when I made the big and brave decision to go to a psychiatrist, turned into Tom Cruise before my very eyes — rallying around the idea that psychiatry was a bunch of crap and more dangerous than anything imaginable. Never once worrying that the most dangerous thing imaginable was saying all of this shit to me — preaching it, really — after I had struggled so long to make that harrowing decision like that.
I have certain triggers — things that I tend to refer to affectionately as “what makes me twitchy” — and one of those triggers is money. There have been times in my life when I’ve been comfortable and times in my life when I’ve been in fear of homelessness. And I think that once you really think you could be out on the street, that fear of being back there never really leaves you. I hope I’m wrong about that because I’d like to think that someday I might beat this feeling but so far that hasn’t happened yet.
And, of course, you can’t plan a wedding without talking about money. All the time. And, more than likely, with people whom you’re not comfortable talking about money with — at least for me. Which kind of puts me in an area where I can have a panic attack at any time. And I can feel them from a mile away. I can feel the oxygen leaving my lungs and my fingers starting to fidget. I can feel myself looking it dead in the eye, wishing like hell that it won’t come while knowing the whole time that it’s going to. And I can feel the world’s disappointment when I can’t stop it from happening.
The stigma is bad. It’s so bad that even though this runs in my family, I don’t feel like I can tell them. My mom knows but she’s the only one I’ve really told and it took me decades to do that. But when you spend your whole life listening to family members talk about your favorite aunt who passed when you were in high school — the godmother that you have so much in common with — and make light of her struggle, it gives you the scars that she can no longer wear. I understand that she didn’t make life easy — not for her or for others — and I get that sometimes we need to be able to laugh at the things that scare us most or have caused us pain but you just never know who might be listening.
It’s not easy being a human being. We’re all broken in some way. And if you don’t think you’re broken, well, that thought is a neon arrow pointing to those broken pieces. I struggle with depression and anxiety. Every day. It has little to do with how happy I am or my goals or dreams or the love I feel. It just is. I have triggers and crutches and coping mechanisms. I have hopes and fears. I have insecurities — some that I was born with and others that the world helped to create.
I am real. I am valid. I am not less of a person because of my struggles. And I say this all as much for you as I do me. Because some days, I can’t hear my own voice inside my head, all I hear is the world echoing inside of me. And where mental illness is concerned, those words are generally not positive and soothing.
Sometimes writing can help me manage a panic attack. Sometimes, not. But regardless, I have a gift and an understanding. It’s time for me to stop being afraid of other people’s ignorant thoughts. I don’t deserve that. No one does.
I am depression. I am anxiety. I am also intelligence, compassion and strength. I will continue to try and not let others dictate how I feel. I will continue to try to stop being my own worst enemy by broadcasting negative thoughts and words into my own head. I am brave. Things that are easy for other people are not easy for me but there are things that I can rock the hell out of that other people can’t.
We are all different. We are all equal. We’re human beings and this isn’t math class. There isn’t a spreadsheet somewhere that lists all of the things a human being is supposed to have that each of us has to check-off for ourselves. Doing something or handling something better than another person doesn’t mean you win. Nothing about you — on the inside or the outside — works that way. We may want it to, we may have spent millennia trying to tell people what traits are better to have — from skin color to gender to how your brain works to who you love or how or if you worship — but the only trait that really sets us apart is compassion. And if you have it deeply, it can seem like your tragic flaw. You can feel crushed under the weight of it, watching all of the pain in the world and feeling it in your bones. And people will make you feel weak because of it. People with little or no compassion will do all they can to make you feel like there’s something wrong with you if you do have it. It’s not that the people without compassion have louder voices, our voices are just as loud, but they’ve been holding the microphone for far too long. People’s differences, people’s uniquenesses–do not make them less-than. There’s no such thing as a human imperfection. Why? Because there’s no such thing as a perfect human being. It’s not in our genetic makeup.
I am depression. I am anxiety. I am panic attacks and humor and compassion and intelligence. I am the only version of me that there is. And therefore, I am the template. I am the mold to being the ultimate me. No one and nothing can take that from me as long as I don’t let them. And I don’t.
I am proud of who I am. There are things I need to work on and things I need to cultivate. And there are things I need to spread to others because the force is rather strong in me. The force is strong in all of us, we just need to realize that no one is more privy to strength and character than anyone else.
We, as humans, can make the world the beautiful place that it can ultimately be. But it’s all on us. We can’t wait for someone to do the work for us. Whether you believe in God or not, it’s our job to do not his. And the first step in the process is to tell someone else how great they are. Pick someone you wouldn’t normally say it to. Pick a stranger. Pick an enemy. Pick someone who looks like they’re having a tough day. Look them dead in the eye and say, “hey, you’ve overcome a lot and I think that’s pretty awesome. I see you doing things that I wish I could do and I’m really impressed. Thanks for adding that to the world.”
I am depression. I am anxiety. And I wouldn’t change any of it because then I wouldn’t be me. And I like me, as Mark Darcy would say, just as I am.