My first experience with an anxiety attack- wasn't so much with myself. It didn't happen to me. I've mentioned this story before, but I want to really analyze it.
I believe I was 15 at the time. I was in the passenger seat of a 10 hour car ride to Virginia. My was uncle driving, and my brother and 2 cousins were in the back seats. My cousin Erica had just recently seen a girl on her soccer team throw up, and instantly believed it was going to happen to her. She has a severe fear of throwing up. Whenever she felt the least bit "not right" she subconsciously put herself in panic mode, triggering a stress reaction in her body. I didn't understand this at the time.
During the car ride that same week, she complained of feeling nauseous. Half way into the ride she was crying and begging for help. She said she couldn't breathe. She wanted her dad to pull over on the highway. When he was unable to, she started banging on the window "daddy please." I couldn't help but laugh. I could hear my youngest cousin laughing too. To me, it sounded like overreactive whining, and that she just needed to calm down. The "dramatic" scene she had created just made me laugh.
When I had my first anxiety attack years later, I thought I was dying. Anxiety was not a name in my mind. I truly believed I was dying.
I had taken time to reflect. Reflect on my own experiences, and reflect on the car ride with my cousin years before. I felt sick. I felt mean, and I hated myself for it.
I laughed at her.
She felt trapped and scared, none of us understood her, and I laughed at her.
Anxiety plays tricks on you. It leads you to believe words like "crazy" "whining" "wimpy" "attention-seeking" when there is absolute fear involved. Nobody can see it, and only you can feel it.
There doesn't have to be a reason for it to be anxiety.
This is the thing that still makes me angry, because it just sucks right?
There is a term called "fight or flight"
Specific anxiety situation: You see a bear heading towards you. Your heart starts racing, your adrenaline increases, you start feeling warm, maybe even sweating, and your muscles tighten up, you start shaking. You have to make a decision: fight or flight?
That's a normal reaction of anxiety.
But here's the thing that is F'ed up in my opinion:
Your body can trigger those symptoms when there is ZERO danger. Your mind can be 100% wise and know that there is nothing wrong, but your body can lead you to believe something is wrong. With psychological stressors, our reaction can be suppressed and come up sometimes years later when the stressor has passed.
How annoying, right?
It is common to feel fear and threat by these anxiety attacks. It is common to feel that the world is closing in on you, and you have absolute no control over your own body. What you're feeling is a response, and knowing that something else has triggered it (maybe in your past) can you help you learn to cope with it. Knowing exactly what your trigger is can also help you work around the anxiety. Of course, easier said than done.
I have heard comments from many others about their struggle with anxiety:
"My friends don't believe me."
"They tell me to snap out of it."
"They said to just let it go."
"They said I'm making a big deal over nothing."
"They say I'm being dramatic."
"They said I'm milking it."
"Just be strong"
It can drive a person into a depressive state- to believe that they are misunderstood, and that nobody will ever believe what they're going through on the inside.
You can't just "snap out of it." It takes work. Sometimes years of work. Being told "just be strong" only convinces you that you are weak in those moments, and that this should come easy to you. Anxiety can make you feel week, but it does not make you weak. Fighting an anxiety attack- that is true strength. It has taken me a while to realize that.
It's hard not to get angry. That was me. I was the one laughing at my cousin for behaving "crazy" when she was experiencing one of the scariest days of her life. I've apologized. It's in the past. But it's not okay to me. I was completely oblivious and confused to how she could be feeling like that. It's not just me. Serious change needs to happen where we can no longer make these assumptions about others. The term "anxiety" is thrown around too carelessly. We all have experienced anxiety in our lives. The anxiety itself isn't so difficult to understand. Misconceptions and judgements arise when the panic attacks occur and anxieties consume one's day to day life. With understanding mental disorders, comes learning mindfulness. Being mindful with yourself, and others. Anxiety disorders are not the same as typical anxiety, and you can never be sure what someone else is really going through, when it is invisible.
A Boston social work student, using writing for healing. Sharing the peaks and valleys of an empath's mental health journey.