Anxiety – My Attempt to Understand and Accept It

I describe a panic attack, and understanding why I get anxiety episodes and how we can work around them.

I had my fifth ever panic attack yesterday.

I’ve noticed a trend within these anxiety episodes – all five of them had a baseline of negativity that was racing through my head during the event. During each attack, these were the singular thoughts that underlined everything going on:

“My career is ruined.”
“I am lost in a foreign place.”
“I am going to get attacked.”
“I will never lose this weight.”
“I will never find someone.”

Whereas, the triggers were very simple and maybe even underwhelming:

  • In second year of college, there was a possibility that they might be cancelling the honors program which I had opted for.
  • I was travelling to Hyderabad to meet friends, and at the bus station I couldn’t find any mode of transport.
  • I was going home from Brigade Road, Bangalore at night.
  • I talked about the gym episode in My Experience with Antidepressants. It’s that one.
  • And the fifth one that happened yesterday.

Each of these triggers are probably very normal, maybe even mild or inconsequential. Maybe you, the reader, feel confused or flustered that someone could claim to be panicked by something like this. Panic, after all, is a strong reaction reserved for ‘strong’ events.

It does feel weird to talk about motivation last Monday and anxiety this time.

But that’s what a panic attack is – it’s a rush of blood that makes people go into fight or flight mode. Today morning, once I had gotten sleep, I started reading up on it here: Panic Attack article. It helped me understand what happened yesterday.

The video is from Scrubs, about how Michael J. Fox’s character deals with extreme Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Yesterday, I had brunch with someone I met, and she was this wonderful, joyous person, who lights up the room when she speaks and who was full of life. I was enamored, and we had a great conversation for a few hours. Afterwards however, she stated that she didn’t feel romantically inclined.

My first reaction… was acceptance. I was disappointed, and I expressed the same, but I was largely okay with it.

However, a couple of hours later, while I was out with a couple of friends, I started breathing heavily and I had to step out to get some fresh air. The first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t muster much strength in my shoulders and I had to sit down for a bit while I tried taking deep breaths. This was the time when I started thinking that I wouldn’t ever find somebody (which may or may not come to pass).

Recovering a bit, I rejoined my friends but the rest of the evening, I was visibly sweating (as was pointed out) and had an elevated heart rate. When I got home, I lay down, and didn’t move. My roommate (Jester) suggested I take my medicine again, which I’d been considering for a week, actually.

I decided not to, and eventually fell asleep, in fitful bursts. Today, I’m better. I woke up and immediately started writing this, although it was a struggle. Getting up to brush my teeth, I washed my face and behind the ears.

Washing behind the ears is a great way to immediately get relief, since that is one of the places your body generates a lot of heat.

Reading the article on panic attacks was helpful. People get them, they deal with them. They even manage them. I take solace in the fact that I managed to make it through dinner with friends without grabbing too much attention.

It’s helpful to know that you don’t have to be whole all the time. If I can’t cure anxiety, I can at least mitigate it, like I did yesterday. I already know how to handle this from everything that happened last year. There are things I can do, like lose weight and getting better sleep, and at least, I can get renewed motivation to do the things I’ve been doing for the last few months.

I’m getting better – I’m just not there yet, and that’s okay.

  • I hear you Vaibhav. You took the right step by writing about your panic attacks on the blog and sharing it on Microblog Mondays. I hope you are feeling a lot better today. It is good that you are aware of what all you can do to deal with your anxiety. Thus, now, put them into action. Once you start losing weight and getting sound sleep at night, you will be doing good. A question – Are you fond of reading? Because if you do then it will be a nice idea to read a few pages of a book every night before sleeping. It will quieten the mind aiding sound sleep.

    • Vaibhav

      I AM reading currently. Thank you for your kind words, I’ll read a bit more and see if that helps.

  • The beautiful things about panic attacks: (I know how weird that sounds!) 1) We totally control them. I know it doesn’t feel like it— but nothing makes us have them but us (how we think about and react to things) and so just like we make them come, we can make them stop. 2) You can have them for years or over and over but once you learn to get rid of them, the secret’s out– once they don’t scare you anymore, they start going away quickly. 3) It makes you feel horrible, but it’s only anxiety. A panic attack isn’t going to give you a heart attack or make you stop breathing (like I used to feel) or lose your mind. Hang in there! xo

    • Vaibhav

      Thank you for your advice – it’s really helpful!

      I’m currently relying on a lot of water – showers / drinking / washing behind the ears, and a lot of air – breathing, sitting under a fan.

      Basically anything that cools me down and reduces the heart rate!

  • I think writing it down is a good thing. I am no expert but keep writing. Also, find things to do that you enjoy. I know you cook which is a cool thing. Other things could be watching the sky, reading or watching a good show. Sometimes, a distraction helps.
    If you are around Indiranagar, give me a shout out – we can meet 🙂

    • Vaibhav

      I found a breathing trick: breathe in 4 seconds, hold for 7, breathe out for 8. Repeat as required. This apparently directly signals the brain to go from fight-or-flight to normal.

      I live in Whitefield. Would love to meet you sometime!

  • I don’t suffer from panic attacks myself, so I have no advice to give other than to keep fighting and doing what you know works for you!

    • Vaibhav

      Thank you for your kind words. They’re very rare for now, so I hope they stay that way!