I'm having a hard day, one of the hardest days I've had in a long time. It actually started last night, in the wee hours of the morning, when anxiety often likes to strike its vulnerable and exhausted prey. After a few nights of not being able to fall asleep and laying awake to swim around my head, last night became the crescendo to a song that's been building for a while, albeit beneath the threshold of my hearing. 

Last night I had a panic attack while laying in bed next to my husband after what was a wonderful day.  Sometimes I feel the symptoms rising and can take measures to avert a full-blown attack, but other times I am taken by surprise and have to weather the storm as it whips and rages around my shaking and prostrate form. "Panic attack" is an apt description of what occurs when anxiety peaks and your body aggressively enters fight or flight mode. Simply put, you are attacked by every fear in your mind, all of which are magnified tenfold by the cortisol and adrenaline flooding your system. 

Not only do those hormones exacerbate the anxiety itself, but cause a cascade of physical symptoms that also add to your, you guessed it, anxiety. While panic can look different for everyone, for me there are hallmark symptoms that increase as the attack progresses.  In my case, true panic first causes a rapid increase in body temperature, followed by a racing heart, shallow respiration, and crying. If left unchecked, I then experience intense tremors, and often times vomiting. Panic is a full-body, all-encompassing nightmare. While I have many strategies to cope with anxiety on my own, I am rendered helpless when panic hits. It's the one situation where I allow myself to use the rescue benzodiazipine I've been prescribed. Usually, the rescue medication is vital in bringing me out of the storm long enough to catch my breath and begin to decompress mind, body, and soul.

Panic wasn't something I dealt with until I was 34 years old, and as I'm only 35 now, I'm still pretty new to the game. While I had attacks daily when they were at their worst, I rarely have them any more, but when it does happen I am thrust back into the memories of when they first started and I didn't know what was happening to me. Every attack transforms me back into that helpless soul fearing that she'd lost her mind. The anxiety insists that the attack will never end, and in that moment I believe it. I grovel and succumb to my basest form, and therefore experience shame and anger during each attack and for days after. I feel ashamed for "letting myself be overcome" or "needing to take the God damned Ativan." Self-loathing isn't the only after-effect, either. I also experience fatigue, heightened emotions, and sometimes more panic attacks, like aftershocks to an earthquake.

So, after last night's earthquake, I am weathering the aftershocks today. I am trying to breath through the intense waves of anxiety and give myself some grace. BUT, and it's a big but, I am also cursing myself for not recognizing, or, in all honesty, attending to the red flags that have been popping up over the last few days. I've had more moments of anxious thinking or heart racing than I'd like to admit. I've pushed through them and moved on, thinking myself strong for getting past the nagging sensation that a balance was starting to shift in the wrong direction. I realize as I write this that I have essentially reverted back to an old habit of ignoring my feelings and keeping very busy in order to never sit with discomfort.

Since we're being authentically honest in this space, I'll admit that I've been sort of convincing myself that I am healed and "normal" lately. I got saturated with self-help, counseling, and even self-care, so I haven't been diligent with them. I've also been successfully tapering off of the antidepressant I've been on for about a year. It's been going really well, but I think I got overconfident and stopped taking it all together last week about two weeks shy of my doctor's plan. Initially, I didn't feel any different but this particular AD was key in helping get me to sleep. I'm finding that without it, sleep is elusive, which is always a trigger for me.

There are so many other triggers these days. Life right now is laced with a heaviness and heartache born from watching a loved one and his family battle through cancer and poor prognosis. There has been no greater source of grief for me thus far in life, and yet I expected to seamlessly remove key tools from my mental health toolbox without consequence. Often, I delude myself into thinking that I am exactly what I want to be, instead of who I really am. I want to be someone who doesn't need to take any pharmaceuticals or spend hours working on her trauma recovery or eating disorder or clinical anxiety. I want to be someone who can just live without thinking about it so much, to live freely without the shackles of my own devices. 

Perhaps though, I need to shift my thinking. It wouldn't be so bad to be someone who knows their own limitations but also how to work around them. To be someone who is strong enough to overcome the challenges set in front of her, instead of pretending the challenges aren't there. To be someone who is able to be comfortable in her own skin, to exhibit self-love even in the face of perceived flaws. I never see myself through the lens that I view others and it's so detrimental.

My husband said something very profound to me in the midst of an aftershock this afternoon. He said "You need to be a friend to yourself. Be the same version of you with yourself that you are with others. You are kind and listen and never judge your friends. Be a friend to yourself. You deserve to be." With this statement, I was struck to my core. This man. This beautiful man who is a beacon in my darkest times, who knows me better than I know myself, who sees me getting anxious and knows to get an ice pack for my neck, who tells me he loves me even as he looks my demons in the face time after time...This man is always right when it comes to me. He knows that at the very root of my anxiety lies insecurity and a lack of trust in myself. 

He knows that I feel like I am damaged and that I judge myself harshly because of it. He knows that I push myself too far to prove that I am worth something. He knows that I feel inferior taking an antidepressant or an anxiety rescue medicine and so I fight it. But he also knows that I need him to tell me these things, and he doesn't shy away from it. He cuts through the red tape I barricade myself in and flips the script. He asks what I would think of him if he needed to address his mental health, and I have nothing but supportive and loving answers. He reassures me that he feels the same for me, loving and supportive, not ashamed nor burdened.  

Burdened is exactly what having anxiety feels like. It's heavy and tiresome and sometimes I want to shove it in a corner hoping to lose the demons in the shadows. And while ignoring it isn't a solution, neither is letting it dictate your decisions. It seems therefore, that that only healthy path forward is to try to achieve a balance. Vigilance but not fear. Acceptance but not martyrdom. Treatment but not reliance. Grace but not absolution. I'm trying to move forward from this day a little smarter, a little stronger, and with a renewed commitment to finding that balance. 

They say you need to grow through what you go through, and I know that I have. I know that my husband has. Growing is never painless, they don't call them growing pains for nothing. I know that I am not healed, but I know that each time I am brought to my knees, I stand up quicker than before. That's something I can manifest through each aftershock, that this too shall pass and when it's over, I'll be standing side by side with a man who is strong enough to lift me up, but loves me enough to wait as I lift myself. 


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