Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Part 2 - Where am I? (or, Wow, it didn't take long for the panic to set in)
"See?" I said to myself, "You just needed a little break is all."
And then I looked at the syllabi for my upcoming spring classes. And then I looked at my calendar and realized I've only a few days before it begins. And then I thought to myself that I'd better start making plans with people who I want to see socially within the next four days because soon I'll be up to my ears in homework and life will be too busy. And then I whined and pouted via text to a friend about how little time I had left...after which I reprimanded myself for being a complainer. And so within a couple of hours I found myself once again on the edge of the panic precipice.
And all the while there was a tiny voice in my head that was trying desperately to tell me to just calm down. Trying to remind me that the semester's start is still a few days away. That if I don't see everyone I want to see in the next few days it will be okay because they are my friends and they like me enough to stick around. And that I really should stop indulging my inner angsty teenager and take a deep breath before sending out a barrage of panic texts. And all the while...I was not listening.
Some habits are so hard to break...
It was about five or so years ago that I went through a period of extreme anxiety. I wasn't sleeping and my diet consisted mostly of red wine, ice cream and potato chips. My stomach was a mess and most days I was convinced I was dying. For a short time I was on an anti-anxiety medication which did stop the anxiety along with just about every other feeling I had, so after a few months of therapy to figure out what had brought me to that level of intense anxiety I came off the medication and began to learn how to deal with it I learned what my triggers were, and I learned to spot the signs of an impending panic attack long before it occurred. AND I learned how to do what I needed to in order to prevent them.
And then for five years I stopped having panic attacks. Until this fall when every bit of self care I'd so carefully learned went right out the window.
When I am overtired and experiencing a lot of stress I become very NOW focused. Not in the good way of being present in the moment but in the panicky this-is-the-problem-and-I-must-resolve-it-right-now sort of way. Instead of stepping back to take a longer view (like if I stop now, take a nap, make a list of what needs to be done and tackle it one thing at a time I'll get through this) I just see the big heaping pile of TO DO and start feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed (there is now way I can get this all done NOW) and then the anxiety engine revs on up and now the to do pile is no longer the problem...the anxiety is and so now how do we deal with this feeling because I don't like it and I want it to stop right now!
(and here is where I'm absolutely not going to elaborate on my various unhealthy anxiety coping mechanisms...)
And so now this is where I am. At the question of, "How do I deal with this?" And the answer, as I know because a little voice tells me so, isn't found in just a few days of getting away, one or two nights of good sleep or one paycheck or one walk. It's a continuous diet of all of these things, combined with learning to once again see the signs of impending anxiety so I can do what has to be done to take care of myself. Which is usually something as simple as taking a step back, breathing calmly and recentering.
Simple. Except of course when the panic is already flowing over me like a wave.
Simple. Like it was five years ago when I remember first learning to deal with this and I failed over and over again.
Simple. Until finally there was that one time I caught myself, and I stopped and I took a few breathes and the panic began to subside.
Simple. As simple as when I did it again...and again...and again.
Perhaps one of the bonuses to getting older and accumulating experience is that you begin to realize that "Where I Am" is often also "Where I Was Once Before" and that tucked away somewhere in your life pocket you already have the tools you need.