panic! and the aftermath

I had a panic attack last night and today, well, today I feel like shit.

During a break from the rain I went out into the world to walk Winnie. The sky -both blue and cloudy- was beautiful in a way I’m pretty sure only exists in Los Angeles. Clear, crisp, and slightly haunted. I kept looking up. A song came on that reminded me of a hard year and I cried. I thought about the panic attack and about how I’ve been very forthright about my anxiety disorder online. I’ve tweeted, I’ve written about it, I’ve made fun of myself. But one thing I’ve never done is to describe what it actually feels like for me. And, more importantly, what it feels like afterwards.

My first instinct was to do a video for my instagram stories but I scrapped that immediately. I’ll inevitably think I look weird (body dysmorphia) and feel bad about it. Why add more anxiety to a mind and body already under duress? I decided to retreat into my comfort zone so now I’m sitting here with headphones on and a kombucha within reach pouring my heart out onto the void that is my laptop, my website – something that’s worked for me emotionally time and time again.

For me, panic attacks come out of nowhere. Sometimes I can pinpoint a trigger (last night I had to drive in the dark, in the rain, to meet someone for the first time while I was feeling extremely delicate and I STILL don’t know if that’s what caused it since I wasn’t conscious of feeling anxious at the time) but sometimes it’s literally anyone’s guess. I can be at dinner laughing with my friends and have one suddenly. It usually starts as a physical sensation before I even know I’m emotionally upset. I feel like I’m floating. That’s always there, that’s my always symptom. From there it escalates to chest pain, trouble breathing, a rapid heartbeat, numbness in my limbs, dry mouth, and/or dizziness. These physical symptoms are often accompanied by a feeling of doom, suicidal thoughts, or a strange feeling that I’m not real, that the universe is not real. Any given panic attack for me is comprised of several or all of these symptoms.

I get through them by reminding myself it’ll be over soon, by using a weighted blanket, by popping a cbd or a xanax if possible, by cuddling with my dog, by trying to remind myself to breathe.

For about 24 hours afterwards, I feel like a fragile little baby. Raw, emotional, exhausted. Last night I was in bed by ten and I slept until after nine. I had violent, stress nightmares but at least I rested. I woke up not refreshed but depressed and depleted. The aftermath of a panic attack is in some ways worse than the panic attack itself. There’s physical fatigue and often aches and pains. But there can also be a feeling of unreality or shame or both. My brain feels like it’s stuffed with tissue paper. I feel hopeless. I often don’t see the point of going on. It occurs like a severe backslide, especially if it’s been long enough since the last one for me to forget how shitty they are, long enough for me to delude myself into thinking maybe I’m over them for good. I try to be gentle and kind to myself. Today, I stayed in my pajamas under a blanket with Winnie until I had to walk her. I let myself skip working this morning. (I know not everyone has this luxury and I’m very grateful I was able do that.) I try to love myself instead of hating myself. It doesn’t always work but I try.

I write this because I know a lot of people struggle with panic attacks. But even more people don’t and couldn’t possibly know what they’re like, how much they impact the confidence of the person afflicted. So to you, I would say, if you know someone who has these, try to be patient and gracious with your panic attack-y friend. My loved ones are like that with me and it absolutely makes all the difference. Because I know I’m loved and understood, I get up, I brush myself off, and I try to go forward.

Because everything ends, even panic attacks.

Published by Kendra Alvey

I love Ewoks, books, dogs, Ewoks, cocktails, concerts and long walks on the Ewoks.

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