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,
KendraOctober 11, 2017 at 8:24 am
Thank you for sharing your heart!
AthenaOctober 11, 2017 at 10:30 am
LOVE you even more!!! (I have 2 kiddos that are dealing with this). So insightful! Glad you couldn’t sleep at 5AM! 💕💕💕💕💕 AAL
sabrinaOctober 11, 2017 at 10:55 am
so strange that I see so many people online and think how they have it all together. How they can plan family trips without the crippling fear of irrational things happening while we are gone. Crippling to the point of almost cancelling it all together. thank you for sharing this, I’ll admit (ashamed about it) but I always thought you were one of the many who had it all together.
Andi MarshallOctober 11, 2017 at 1:57 pm
Thanks for sharing your heart Emily. I don’t think “having it all together” exists. We’re all just working it out. We have similar things in our home and as much as the dips hurt, the insight and compassion and your beautiful words lift just the same. I’ve always thought the world of you. You’re doing just fine.
Maggie G.October 11, 2017 at 2:32 pm
People who are brave enough to face their anxiety and learn how to cope with it are the bravest there are. <3
Hilary de LisleOctober 11, 2017 at 2:38 pm
Thank you! For your honesty and humanity.
At times in my life, I too have struggled with anxiety and have gone to see doctors because “I am just not doing well”. I have felt the moments where I know I am spiraling into the muddiness of worry and feeling so overwhelmed by everything.
It’s so good to be honest. Honest with ourselves and everybody else. In doing so, we can help those who are in the same shadows that we are/have been in. You are stupendous!
SerafinaOctober 11, 2017 at 8:50 pm
Thank you for sharing your heart. It means a million.
Katelon Rey-GrantOctober 20, 2017 at 12:23 pm
Your beautifully written, rawly authentic post brought tears to my eyes. I remember that moment when you burst through the door and flung onto my bed. Oh Em. I love you so. You do SUCH an amazing job at everything, and now, after actually experiencing full blown anxiety — the kind you describe so intimately– for the first time, I’ve seen the face and felt the hot breath of the monster that’s been chasing you ever since that night. And I marvel that you do so well, at so many things. My experience is like yours in the ways to deal I’ve been led to — breathe, look at my thoughts, invalidate the invalid horribilizing ones, ponder on who God has always had my back as I find the faith that seems to disappear when the jerks my stomach into a knot, pump pump pray. That CBD oil has been a gift to me, too. And the breathing part works even better if I can be laying on the grass under a gigantic tree, or at the ery least, on the hot floor of my yoga room looking up through the windows watching leaves blow away in the wind and imagine my worst fears are going with them.
I know there are millions and millions and millions in today’s uncertain, overloaded, stressed out world and you, and not I, are not alone.
You have always been one of my greatest teachers. Empathy is the gift, and I was pretty clueless as to what it actually felt like for you all these years since that first run. I am so grateful for you!! You’ve always been one of my biggest teachers and are still teaching me, today. Love Always
DanaOctober 20, 2017 at 1:38 pm
You are not alone, yet you do such a good job of sharing what so many feel but have no words to express. Thank you, Emily. <3
Michael BlairOctober 21, 2017 at 8:12 am
All good! Two tools I use regularly w dozens of wonderful anxiety filled people that have permanently positive results: go to new website at blaircounselingandcoaching.com and explore!😇🤓🤠🙏
Brian NeffOctober 21, 2017 at 10:52 am
Thank you so much for writing this and then courageously sharing it. From another one who suffers with anxiety and the lingering feelings that my best efforts will never be enough to calm the fears inside of me, I’m super grateful for you normalizing this. All the best to you and your family, dear sister.