World Mental Health Day. 10.10.
I remember the first time I had a (recognizable) panic attack. It was the 3rd of July, I was 18 and my now husband and I had broken up for the umpteenth time. Except this time was different. He moved on. He was dating someone else and when I dropped off a box of his stuff I saw her name written all over a piece of paper on his bedside table. I was being left behind. Probably because I was too much. Too many emotions, too much of a rollercoaster. More trouble than I was worth.photo by Brooke Palmer.
On the 3rd of July basically everyone I know goes to the parade route for the next day, where there is music and drive-bys and carnival food and boys checking out girls and girls pretending not to notice. My best friend and I went down to check it out and saw him there. We hung out on a patch of grass and he was nice. Nice, but distant. Like a flight attendant, smiling, but smiling for anyone and not for you to know. Then before I knew it he was gone. I saw him in the distance with her. Opening the car door for her and driving away. I drove a scooter at that point and so my friend and I hopped back on it and very casually sped past them. Just hoping to be seen. In the process hitting the side of his car with my longboard that was sticking out under me a foot on each side. Smooth, Em.
The memories after that point are fuzzy. Time passes but the next thing I know is I am alone running home. Not to my college apartment, my actual home miles away. I am in booty shorts and high top converse and I am hurtling down the biggest, busiest road in my town. My legs are begging to move forward and I can hardly breathe. It is too much now. All of it.
This very same Summer my parents are splitting up. My dad has chosen someone else, too.
A few cars pull over to see if I am okay. “I’m fine, thanks!” I squeak out.
I am not fine.
“Are you okay miss, can I give you a ride somewhere?” – “I’m okay, just on a run!” They look me up and down and surely are thinking who runs in Volcom shorts and Chucks? #2004
I am not okay.
When I finally get home I fall into my mom’s bed. Not my dad’s anymore. And my body erupts. I am sobbing, I am not breathing, my heart will beat out of my chest, but I don’t know how to slow it down anymore.
After this night my heart races like I am running down that highway for three more days. I can’t eat, parts of my body go numb, my fluttering stomach doesn’t relent. These are my symptoms. And I’ve had them a thousand times since.
Anxiety is the answer to so many of my questions. I desperately want control and can’t have it, anxiety arrives. I can’t predict an outcome, so anxiety offers me the very worst options and makes it seem like a done deal. If I feel happy, anxiety lurks to remind me how quickly it can be taken away. I have a flash of a memory where I did it all wrong, where I uncovered too much, bam, anxiety. I get a voicemail. There it is again.
If you don’t know, you don’t know. It is the worst of clubs to be in, yet I feel peace with my membership. Knowing so when someone tells me they have it too I can grab their shoulder and we can pass the knowing around. Of all the things I wish I could give back, I will keep the deep empathy.
I think I resent it most because my baseline is so much higher than anyone else I know. When you have a full pot of water and it finally spills over, how can you know which drop of water was the one who caused the spill? My kids feel the weight of it because they’re who I am with the most. And they’re usually the drop that spills it, even though so many other cups filled it that have nothing to do with them. I can’t think about this too much or I get swallowed up by shame. I just do my damn best. And I have to tell them how it feels to be me and I am sorry and I did it all wrong, and they always hug my neck extra tight and say “It’s okay, mom.”
I don’t know why I felt compelled to write this at 5 in the morning the day after mental health day. Maybe that I couldn’t sleep because my anxiety was through the roof? Maybe because I am so tired of everyone walking around like they are okay when they’re not.
It’s okay to not be okay. What is not okay is to push your-self down, down, down, so deep that you can’t escape. If you are dealing with these things, come back up where you can be seen. Where you can feel and be felt, you might feel like you are too much, and I get that with my whole heart, but this is your life. You get to live it, wholly.
Here’s what I’ve tried and what has worked, for the helpful or not.
- Don’t stir the beast. I do my best not to rile myself up. I avoid the triggers, I don’t get excited for good or for bad. I stay leveled and I try not to spike either way. This is why so many people who don’t really know me say “She’s super chill, she’s mellow.” And I am, but also I am not. Ya feel me?
- Breathe, gosh dangit. Someone told me how to breathe right and this helps 100% of the time. You breathe in slowly for three seconds and you exhale slowly for 4 seconds. Keep doing it until you calm.
- Post panic attack it is really hard for me to get the symptoms off my back and I was prescribed a tranquilizer that I can take to help me fall asleep in those occasions. I am deathly afraid of medication, but I feel a little safer knowing it is there. I tried anti-depressants and I found they weren’t worth the daily side effects, for me. I recently started using CBD oil and that is actually super helpful. I feel like it takes my baseline back down to the land of the living making it a whole lot easier to navigate the spikes. The point of this being that it takes some work to find what will help you, don’t give up.
- Mediate, talk yourself through it out loud. Do yoga or run it out or find a kick boxing class. Eat right, dance to top 40 with your kids, say no and bow out and don’t feel bad for taking care of yourself in all the small ways, everyday, and have your arsenal ready when you need more grand gestures.
- If my husband had said this any year before 2017 I wouldn’t have been able to sort it out but this year he said “You just have to change the way you think” and at first I waved him off – you just don’t get it. But the more I think on it, the more I know it to be true. I know there are chemical imbalances and instances where this does not apply but for me, I am trying. To slow down enough that I can field my thoughts, validate them, re-write them, analyze and question them. To be inquisitive to my reaction of things more than I am to outside forces. To not believe everything I think, and try and give myself the benefit of the most helpful inner dialogue. Find you someone that will talk you through it out loud, too.
All my love, and mess, and heart,