I started this blog because I want there to be more transparency and less shame surrounding mental health. I want people to be strengthened and encouraged, but I also want people who don’t understand mental illnesses to be made more aware of what their friends and loved ones are going through on a daily basis.
I’m not completely done with my journey to get mentally healthy. Sometimes, I still have bad days. I’m still on a regular regimen of medication, and will probably continue that until next spring. Last weekend, my days were overwhelmingly busy and it completely slipped my mind to take my medication. It took a few days to catch up to me, but once it did, it hit me hard.
I had a full-blown panic attack on Monday night.
It kind of hit me out of nowhere. Suddenly, I was curled up in a ball in my bed, bawling my eyes out, completely unable to stop. I didn’t know why I was crying. All I knew was that my head was spinning out of control. The more I thought about how to make myself get out of this attack, the harder it got to get a hold of myself. My head hurt from crying. I was exhausted. I just wanted it to stop.
Then I remembered all of my anti-anxiety techniques that I learned back in fourth grade, and I started to employ those.
First, I sat up, and took a few deep breaths. Then, I reminded myself that I am not my anxiety. I am more than my panic attacks. I have gotten through them before, and I was going to get through this one.
After I had caught my breath and slowed the tears down, I used one of my favorite tools for coping with anxiety. Starting with my toes, and working up to my face, I clenched my muscles for 10 seconds, released for 5 seconds, and then clenched again for another 10 seconds. 10 seconds on, 5 seconds off, 10 seconds on, 5 seconds off. After my toes I did my feet, my calves, my thighs, my stomach, arms, etc., until I got to my face. I scrunched up every muscle in my face as tight as I could before releasing. It’s surprising how helpful this simple technique is for releasing anxiety.
Those were all the things I did on my own, and they were really helpful. I know I am more than capable of pulling myself out of an attack. But sometimes, a little outside help can go a long way. And guess what? There is no shame in asking for help from someone you trust. For me, that was my boyfriend. I want to share how he helped me that night so that anyone who has a loved one struggling with anxiety can understand the kinds of things that are helpful to someone going through an attack.
By the time he got to my house, I had managed to calm myself down a little bit, but there were still tears that needed to be shed. He immediately climbed under the covers, wrapped his arms around me, and held me tight. I was trying my hardest not to cry and he could tell I was holding back so he said, “It’s ok hun, you can cry if you need to. I’ve got ya.” I said, “But I don’t even know why I’m crying.” He said, “That’s ok. You don’t have to know.”
I cried for a little while and then I realized my nose was dripping snot all over his shirt. When I apologized for it he said, “Oh that’s ok I love snot. I’m like Shrek. You can get snot all over my shirt, I won’t mind.”
He asked me if I needed to talk about anything and I told him that I felt like a failure and weak and crazy, and his response was, “Sweetheart you are none of those things! Everyone feels those things once in a while. Your brain just feels them under a microscope.”
At that point, I was really starting to calm down, so I asked him if he would rub my back until I fell asleep. He replied, “I’d thought you’d never ask.”
When a loved one is going through an attack, they aren’t looking for someone to fix it. They usually don’t need to talk about anything. Sometimes they don’t even need you to touch them. They just need to know they’re not alone. That’s the best thing you can do. Let them know that you love them, and make your presence known. That’s it.
To anyone going through an attack, remember; there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Give yourself a little bit of patience, a little bit of time, and a little bit of grace. You’ll be out on the other side in no time.
Featured photo for this post taken by m.e. the morning after my attack I described above.