planes, trains & anxiety.
today someone asked me what its like to have an anxiety attack. although i've had anxiety most of my life, no one has ever asked me what it feels like and i guess ive never thought about it before. ive never known the difference but i guess if youve never had an attack it must seem like a weird thing to have happen to you. ive often wondered if the fact that i have anxiety annoys other people or if my friends think i can control it, but just dont. i hope not -- :(
anxiety is different for every single person that has it. people have different forms of it (social, OCD, panic disorder) and different variations (severe, situational, etc.) you can have an attack that lasts 2 minutes or one that simmers for hours, even days. some people constantly worry about their disorder (although, i hate that word for the record) and others are totally fine until they get in a sticky situation. some people fear being away from those who can help them during an attack and others have a fear of therapists and doctors themselves. its all pretty individualized.
firstly, i have OCD. it is best described as: an anxious thought or thoughts that you may feel you cannot control. there is no pleasure in carrying out the rituals you are drawn to, only relief from the anxiety that grows when you don't do them. there are healthy people that carry out this behavior, such as checking the stove many times before leaving the house. however, people with OCD can do this for at least an hour every day, which interferes with daily life.
i'm lucky, because i dont have a severe form of OCD. basically, i clean a lot and like to keep things in order. when someone comes into my room and say, slings their bag on the floor and kicks their shoes off, it feels like they are punching me in the stomach. and i KNOW that sounds insane, but the people that love me have embraced it and so it doesnt affect my day to day life too much. it DOES make working at urban hard sometimes, because when i clean the fitting rooms and then a customer comes in and trashes it (although i understand its my job) i want to scream.
i also have social and general anxiety: anxiety disorders can take many forms. you may experience free-floating anxiety without knowing exactly why you’re feeling that way. you may suffer from sudden, intense panic attacks that strike without warning. your anxiety may come in the form of extreme social inhibition or in unwanted obsessions and compulsions. or you may have a phobia of an object or situation that doesn’t seem to bother other people.
"social" anxiety means basically that i hate speaking on front of other people, being the center of attention and meeting new people. some situations are worse than others, but as a whole it bothers me more than it does most people and i can become so paraliyzed by fear that i flee a situation. see: hearst christmas party 2006. about 500 people in the ballroom, all dressed up and chatting, drinking. i cant find anyone i know, start to hypervenalate and literally sprint to the subway. yeah. i know.
in contrast, general anxiety is all about the totally random anxiety attacks i get. from flying on planes, being in large crowds, having too much to do....it can happen pretty much anytime. i even have anxiety attacks while im sleeping and wake up panicked and sweaty. sometimes i can feel it coming on and crunch it and other times i just "need a moment." there isnt much of any way to prepare and since i live a drug free existence (yes, even advil is a drug) i dont use anything other than therapy to curb attacks.
how to help: everyone is different. you'll know im having an anxiety attack because, well- i'll usually tell you. i also (like many other people) hyperven., pace and shake my hands (like im fanning myself). some people liked to be touched, some people dont want to be touched at all. heres a cute video on how to help someone: www.videojug.com/film/ how-to-help-someone-having-a-panic-attack
heres how best to help me: dont tell me im over re-acting. this will only make it worse (plus, its kind of rude, since i cannot help the fact that i have anxiety, it is genetic.) dont try and hug/hold me because i will feel closed in and only panic more. all you really can do is reassure me i'll be ok, help me get my breathing back to normal by counting my breaths with me. make me sit down, put my head between my knees and focus on something positive (an old friend of mine very cutely laid on the floor looking up at me with my head between my knees told me a story about her day. distractions like this are helpful because when i get a panic attack its usually because i feel overwhelmed about a situation and need to be removed or distracted from it.
having a panic attack is embarassing but fortunatly, i have them much less than i used to. a lot of people in my life have never had to witness one of mine and never will. for all that have, it means the world to me that you are as understanding and helpful as you are.
one day, maybe they will be gone for good.