Finding Sweetness in Panic

Today marks the first of February which means the beginning of the Life is Sweet projectI met Alexandra, my first guest blogger, about 10 years ago when I was the assistant manager of a local youth choir. I'm so proud of the woman she has become and honoured that she would share her story for Life is Sweet month

It’s a Sunday night and I am standing on the Eastbound platform at Yonge station. This is nothing new; I’ve been here, standing in this exact spot, hundreds of times.

My heart starts pounding-thump-tha-thump-tha-thump. It feels like it is expanding, and I wonder in sheer distress if it will burst. Breathe. My throat starts to close, and I am getting hot. The train doesn’t come for another six minutes. I feel trapped. Everything is going to be okay. I can see my heart beating through my shirt. I look at my hands, which have gone numb. It feels as though someone is pressing down on my chest, and I try to breathe the weight off but my breaths are shallow and get caught in my throat. There is just enough room left for me to breathe; it feels like I’m choking. Calm down. I’m convinced this is what it must feel like to die. The feeling of complete lack of control over my body terrifies me. I make my way up to the payphones. “Mom? I’m having a panic attack, I want to let you know if I’m not home in half an hour I’ve probably collapsed somewhere.”

I’ve suffered from anxiety most of my life, and last October was diagnosed with panic disorder. Anxiety changes the way you think and is based on perceived stress; the brain thinks there is something wrong even when there isn’t. Similarly, a panic attack occurs when the brain senses danger that doesn’t exist. Sometimes panic attacks occur once. Other times panic disorders develop, in fear of having another attack. It becomes routine to avoid certain situations or public spaces in fear that they will trigger an attack, or not offer an escape if an attack occurs.

I first sought help for my anxiety when I was seventeen and my worrying began taking over my life. I worried about everything, and my mind would jump to extreme and bizarre conclusions. I learned how to control my thoughts and began to change the way I thought. Then panic knocked on my door unexpectedly, as it usually does, when I was feeling healthy, happy and as though I had complete control of my anxiety. I had never experienced panic before, and suffered with it for a year before seeking help a second time.

The year in between was really tough. There were days when I didn’t leave my bed and when I cried for absolutely no reason. Going places became an event I feared because I didn’t want to have another attack in public and away from the comfort of my home. I felt helpless, overwhelmed and fearful. It was hard to imagine it would ever get better. It was a mistake not to seek help right away.

Staying positive is something that really helps me stay healthy. The key to any anxiety disorder is becoming aware of how the brain thinks, and learning how to challenge its anxious thought patterns. I work everyday at counteracting my anxious thoughts. That may mean thinking everything is going to be okay over and over, or realizing that my brain senses fear and recognizing that this fear is perceived before I begin to panic.

Eating regularly and getting a full night sleep are things I strive to make routine. When I eat regularly and am rested my body feels healthy and in turn, my mind does too.

Even with a panic disorder, I feel enormously grateful to be on this earth, and to be the person I am today. Sometimes I miss the person I was before the panicking started, until I remind myself that I still can be that person. I still accomplish the things I want to and I will never let anxiety take that away from me.

I strive everyday to find the balance between not letting anxiety take over who I am and accepting its presence in my life. I often wonder who I would be without anxiety. I do think I would be different, but I’ve tried to stop dwelling on what I’ve lost. Instead, I try to focus on what I’ve gained.

I find enormous strength in knowing I am not alone in dealing with anxiety. I hope talking about my experience will encourage others to do the same.

This isn’t a post coming from someone who has fully recovered, and to tell you how to do so. But what I am here to tell you is that healing is a process. And what I know for sure is that healing is possible. Some days are harder than others but I have learned to face these days, for life is much too short to stay under the covers in fear. It is also much too sweet.

Alexandra is a journalism and photography student at the University of Toronto. She is passionate about creative writing and telling others’ stories through words and pictures. She hopes to one day publish a novel, empower others through photography and take a master’s degree in photojournalism. Be sure to visit her blog or follow her on Twitter @alexandragater

1 comment:

Shannon said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Alexandra!