Until very recently, I've never even thought that this topic had anything to do with me.
There's a lot of discussion concerning panic attacks and anxiety on certain corners of the Internet these days. Like this video for example:
And I've seen others, and read stuff, and a few of my friends have talked to me about their situations. And I've listened and understood. But I've never thought that any of that might also concern me. This is mainly because even though I easily understand what people are talking about when they are talking about anxiety, I've always felt that the anxiety that I experience is different, thus not really anxiety. I'll try to explain what I mean by that later on. Also, I've never had a full-on panic attack - not the kind I often hear being described by others. And so I tend to just shrug off my unpleasant sensations as some sort of unavoidable parts of my personality.
In the NHS website the symptoms of a panic attack are described as follows: a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations); sweating; trembling; hot flushes; chills; shortness of breath; a choking sensation; chest pain; nausea; dizziness; feeling faint; numbness, or pins and needles; dry mouth; a need to go to the toilet; ringing in your ears; a feeling of dread, or a fear of dying; a churning stomach; a tingling sensation in fingers; shivering; shaking.
I underlined the ones that I've at times experienced together when having an episode that I don't count as a panic attack. Now, I'm not a doctor, but 13 symptoms out of 23 sounds an awful lot like a panic attack nonetheless.
Another thing about panic attacks is that they may appear out of the blue, without a clear cause; and that once you have experienced panic in situation x you may start panicking regularly every time you are faced with similar conditions.
First of all, I always know why I'm panicking. I might not admit that I know if I don't want to explain it to you, but there is always a reason, and I'm always aware of it. Secondly, my panicking doesn't seem to be attached to any specific situations like social gatherings or whatnot. I can go to a concert packed with people and have a good time, I can talk in front of my class without collapsing (I don't like it though). I can do a lot of things. Panic attacks are so often connected with agoraphobia (fear of public places) and social anxiety, neither of which I suffer from, that I don't consider myself as having anything to do with them.
Let's jump some six years back in my personal history.
I'm fifteen years old, on the ninth grade of comprehensive school and my life is devoted to synchronized skating. I'm one of the captains in my team. By this point, I've probably already gone through various medical examinations regarding the hyperventilation that I'm regularly experiencing in practices. No one has been able to shed any light on what's wrong with me, and the recurring attacks including, in addition to hyperventilation, trembling, numbness, ears ringing, faintness and fear, are seriously affecting me, and confusing the team. I'm often told to 'cut it off' or 'stop acting' by my coaches. That's not helping either.
The first doctor that I went to asked me if I was afraid of standing out and being scrutinized by my coach. I don't remember what I told her, but I do remember not liking her, hence deciding to keep to myself and not tell how I really felt. To be honest, I'm not even sure that I knew what I felt well enough to put it into words, and so I remained silent when I was ushered to asthma tests. Finally I was diagnosed with a vocal-chord dysfunction, which basically means that my breathing turns heavy and squeaky when under physical stress my vocal chords start closing around my larynx, letting less air through than I need.
There isn't a medicine for vocal-chord dysfunction, but I'm advised to go to see a psychologist.
I do that, and it helps me to get rid of hyperventilating. It doesn't, however, remove an inner nervousness that I still feel every day, but I am tired of doctors and tests so I carefully keep everything to myself.
When I quit skating it was like replacing an old pair of glasses with a new, better and sharper one, and for a while I was baffled by the physical an mental freedom that I was able to enjoy. Soon enough I found new things to be stressed over, though.
It has been quite a rough Autumn at university, and the amount of stress piling up from different sources has been more notable than in years. I've been tired and tense, and very unsociable because most of the time I've been feeling so awful that it's almost as if it might poison other people as well.
Anxiety is hard to explain because even though I, for example, have certain things that I'm consciously anxious about, there's also kind of a more general level where the anxiety isn't exactly caused by any one thing that could be singled out. And at least in my case, when one reason for anxiety disappears, a new one will rise to take its place after a while.
I can't remember a time when I haven't been continuously anxious about something.
Usually my anxiety doesn't keep me from doing things, it doesn't restrict me and I've never considered that it might be something that directly affects anything in my life - it's just yet another part of my stormy emotional system.
Anxiety makes me dread really small and seemingly inconsequential things - sometimes it's asking someone a completely ordinary question; or mixing up words when I'm speaking English; or sometimes missing a bus. One of the most powerful fears that I have is disappointing someone that I particularly respect or like. It makes me really over-sensitive and paranoid about relationships: I'm terrified that I've said or done something wrong, or that I've made an idiot of myself by saying something stupid, or that no one just really gives a shit about me because why would they.
From NHS website.
The psychological symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder can include the following: restlessness, a sense of dread, feeling constantly "on edge", difficulty concentrating, irritability, impatience, being easily distracted.
Anxiety also causes physical symptoms: dizziness, drowsiness and tiredness, pins and needles, irregular heartbeat (palpitations), muscle aches and tension, dry mouth, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, stomach ache, nausea, diarrhoea, headache, excessive thirst, frequent urinating, painful or missed periods, difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia).
I'm experiencing more or less frequently all of the psychological, and most of the physical symptoms. There's also a lot of crying and trembling, as well as not feeling rested after an eight-hours sleep, and sometimes having nightmares.
So on what grounds am I stating that my anxiety is different and not as real as someone else's?
I guess I have this notion, because for me these feelings and sensations are kind of swingy, they come and go, and I don't feel anxious all the time. I get good days, bad days and worse days, but even when in a short period of time the amount of worse days clearly outnumbers that of the good ones I always think that it'll pass, and once I get this assignment done or that problem sorted, I'll be fine. Even now I don't see myself as needing help of any kind because I'm on a fairly good mood and I've just accomplished a couple of things that have been causing me stress. I do acknowledge that the previous semester has been hard, and the reason why I'm actually pondering this stuff is that I've had a few panic attacks which even I could identify as such, and that there have been days when I've felt psychologically incapable of meeting any other human being due to overall anxiety.
Other reasons why I find it hard to accept that there might be something going on here:
- I don't have any real reason to feel this bad, there are people who have it worse.
- I'm probably overreacting.
- Maybe I'm just subconsciously seeking attention (by sulking in my room and not talking to anyone?)
- But on Christmas Eve I wasn't the least bit anxious.
- Everyone gets stressed.
I'm contradicting myself quite a lot in this text, but maybe that just illustrates how conflicted I feel about the whole thing.
But it's gonna pass, it always has. Right?