Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mental Health Words We Like to Throw Around...

Words like panic attack (Like, OMG, I just totally had a panic attack when Peter talked to me after class) and anxiety and depression (I'm just soooo depressed!)  are words/phrases that tend to get tossed around colloquially a bit too often.   How about crazy?  Nuts?  Insane?

For people who actually live with anxiety, panic attacks, depression and all kinds of other mental health issues, these things can get a little, you know, annoying.  It leads to all kinds of misunderstanding about what really living with mental health issues is actually like.  It leads to furthering the 'why can't they just pull themselves up by the bootstraps' attitudes.  And it just generally makes light of something that is extremely challenging and life-altering for many, many folks.  So, for the record, there's a pretty hefty difference between getting sad about something, like a death or a break-up and being depressed (you know, being unable to function for days on end for no good reason...).  There's a difference between being worried and having actual problems with anxiety.  Further to this, there's a large difference between being anxious about something that's reasonable to be worried about and having a full-on, big old ugly-assed panic attack.

See, I have this issue with anxiety.  Everyone on here already knows this, but I like to talk about it because this shit needs to be talked about more.  Lots more.  Ad nauseum more.  And it's been on my mind, lately, because the anxiety has been more of a struggle than usual, of late.  Probably because my life is in flux.  And change and uncertainty is scary at the best of times.  Throw a 'wee' issue with anxiety into the mix, and things can really get interesting.

So there's been some generalized anxiety, which sometimes (thankfully not always) gets followed by panic attacks.  You know, like a few.  Okay.  Maybe a few-ish.  Ever had one?

So- in case anyone wanted to know, this is how my anxiety tends to happen, though I would surmise that this process can be different for everybody.   Again, I think actually talking about the nitty-gritty of what these things look like is important, because it helps to debunk some of the ways words like anxiety and depression and such get used from day to day.  Alrighty - back to me, then.

1.  It usually (but not always) starts with a trigger.  My triggers are mostly other-people focussed, because my anxiety is largely of the social variety.  This can vary - it can be something as benign as being in a large group and feeling out of place or being unable to situate myself in group dynamics, feeling like I've said 'the wrong thing,' (which incidentally, I feel often), that someone is angry at me, annoyed with me,  a funny or awkward encounter with someone, worries about friends etc. etc. etc.    These triggers are of course exacerbated by other variables going on in my life:  external and internal stressors, whether or not I've managed to remember to take my meds, getting enough sleep, and getting enough exercise (my four biggies).

2.  Everything gets quicker.  It's like Mama T on speed.  My thoughts, my speech, my gestures, my pace, my heartbeat.  Everything races.  (And you'll just have to trust me when I say that I am not the sort of girl for whom speed is at all useful!  I move so fast in non-anxious mode that speed would make me supersonic. Perhaps this is my latent superhero power ;))

3.  My heart starts to pound.  This is usually my cue to 'get the hell outta dodge' or seek refuge in the bathroom or a quiet place if this is a possibility.  If it isn't a possibility, or I'm stuck in a social situation, I will get very, very quiet and withdrawn (all the while feeling internally like a speeding train wreck, which is a mighty odd juxtaposition).  Because if the pounding gets stronger, I'm on my way to a panic attack.  And if the pounding gets stronger, it will be the only thing I can think about, because I will swear it is beating right out of my chest.  Sometimes, on the good days, when my heart beat quickens, when I feel like 'Mama T on speed', I can stop things before I reach the level of panic.  Things like consciously acknowledging the anxiety (which is not always as easy as it sounds, in the moment) and naming the trigger, if I'm aware of it, out loud, trying to stop and ground myself (like physically planting my feet into the ground and forcing myself to stop and focus), and deep breathing.  And other times, this practice is useless.   I catch it too late or it just plain doesn't help.

5.  Next, my breathing can get effed up:  shallow, ragged, and really ineffective.  It will feel difficult to get enough air and my ears will start ringing.  I can get dizzy, but this doesn't always happen.

6.  My eyes might start to water or I will start crying and not realize it at all until afterwards

7.  I will temporarily become completely consumed by the feeling of panic.  Heart beating out of my chest,  Almost entirely unable to breathe.

And then somehow, in variable amounts of time passage, it will subside.  I'm not really sure why, or how.  The panic will settle down and leave in its place overwhelming exhaustion, frustration, and small bits of beating myself up for 'letting it get the better of me'... again.  I don't always go through steps 1-7.  But steps 1-3 are pretty usual for me.  It happens quite a lot.  You'd think I'd be a total pro at it by now, these trips to crazy-town (and yes, I can use that word to refer to myself.  And no, you can't call me crazy).  Oddly, given my vast amount of experience with it, it never does get any easier or less visceral.  Crazy-town just plain sucks.

It's hard to explain to other people what living with this kind of stuff is like.  It's hard to explain why you might seem to be acting oddly or withdrawn or a little bit nutters (yes, I can use that word to refer to myself, and no, you can't use it to refer to me).  It's hard to explain why you are easier to trigger than other people, more sensitive, more prone to negatively reading social cues that may or may not actually exist.  It's hard because you know deep down that you are more 'work' than other people, and you will likely often question whether or not you are worth it.

And it's hard, hard, hard shit to talk about, especially in our current culture which continues to see mental health as a luxury and not a necessity.  Casually throwing around words like depression, anxiety, panic, crazy etc. etc. when one doesn't actually have a real sense of what these things mean or feel like doesn't make these difficulties easier.

But I guess, if you're out there reading this, or something else like it, and you struggle with these things too - I encourage you to blab about it.  Blab, talk, announce, shout, sing your crazy to the world.  The more you do it, the easier it gets.  And the more voices we can add to the chorus, the louder (and less crazy) we'll be.


  1. you couldn't have said it better
    i am sorry that this your world too

  2. Thanks anon. I'm sorry your world looks like that too...

  3. All respect for stepping up and putting all that out there. You're right - more people need to talk about it. Talk TRUTH about it, not just social mumbo jumbo. Hugs to you even though we've never met and likely never will... being as how it seems you are in Canada and I am in Louisiana :) Have a great day today girlie :)