It’s been years since I have had a major attack. One that made me consider the scary scenario that I may actually be dying. Knowing that I experience these types of attacks, I am usually able to talk myself down. To remind myself of what this really is and that it will pass. Everything will be ok.
But tonight, I was completely taken by surprise. I had just finished up dinner and done the dishes. I was getting my kids finished with their baths and ready for bed. I was getting ready to finally RELAX for the day. And suddenly it hit me. It came out of nowhere. In an instant I felt like my entire world shifted.
My vision changed, just slightly. I felt for a split second like I was floating, but not in a good way. In a way that made me feel like my equilibrium was shifting rapidly. And then fear set in. I was scared. My throat was tight and my body felt weak. I was sure I was going to pass out. My heart started racing and my mind and my body went into flight mode. I wanted to run but I also wanted to go nowhere at all.
These are all common symptoms I have experienced in the past with a severe panic attack. Attacks that I was having on an almost weekly basis. Attacks I had started to attribute to my failing marriage because coincidentally after my divorce was finalized they seemed to vanish. At least at the severity they had be coming in.
My attacks in the past had landed me in the ER a number of times. Convinced that something catastrophic was happening to my body, only to find out, every time that I was having yet another panic episode.
But today, after years of being able calm myself down and talk myself out of these situations before allowing them to escalate to something unbearable, the unthinkable happened. I was scared.
If you’ve ever been scared about anything at all, you know the feeling. You know that rush to run. Get the hell away as fast as you possibly can. But what happens when the source of the fear is inside your own body? In your mind? It’s your heart, your shallow breath, your clammy hands? You can’t run from that as hard as you may try.
You try to count your breaths, you take deep, melodic ones in hopes that your heart will catch up with the rhythm and they will slow down in synchrony. You walk around, you lay down. You close your eyes and pray for this to stop. And the panic becomes overwhelming because you now start running the terrifying options through your head. Could this really be something more serious this time? It doesn’t seem to be going away, does that mean I AM dying? My body feels tingly, my head feels light and empty. Is this what a seizure feels like? Could I be having a stroke? Maybe it’s a heart attack? Should I call 911? What if I wait and it’s too late?
Meanwhile, my boyfriend is trying to help and it’s relative to when you have a significant other with you while you are delivering a baby. EVERYTHING they try to do is annoying and hurts or pisses you off. They want to help but they simply DO. NOT. GET. IT. Tonight, mine looked at me like I had completely lost my mind. I felt like he didn’t believe that in my head, what was going on was very real and VERY frightening. And it hurt. It hurt so bad because I just wanted to feel like someone understood how scared I was feeling.
And it’s not his fault. How would he understand if he has never experienced this in his life? He wouldn’t. Yet it hurt because you just want someone to tell you that you’re not crazy, but you ARE ok and that it will pass. And someone who can’t do that you just want to go away. Leave you be so you can work yourself down off the ledge and feel better.
It took hours tonight. I ended up falling asleep after and that’s really the only thing that put a stop to it. When I woke up, I felt slightly better. It was a relief. But now I’m going to live in fear. Worried about the next attack. Tonight’s attack seemed to have no obvious trigger I can put my finger on and that scares the ever loving crap out of me. Next time this happens will I be at school pickup? At the grocery store? Will I be far away from home and have nowhere to retreat to when what I really need to is hide in the fetal position and convince myself that life WILL go on for me?
And then there is the guilt. I feel bad for not wanting or need to accept help from anyone tonight but really I couldn’t take it. And what little help I did accept was from me ordering people around to do things I thought might make things feel better. And then swiftly to go away because it wasn’t helping. Or their presense alone was exasperating every symptom I was having.
My son came into my room in full doctor garb to give me a check up and I had to turn him away with a promise that he could finish his full exam later that evening. But after I woke up, he was already in bed. And I felt terrible about that.
I feel like now I am going to live my life in fear like I did years ago when these attacks came regularly. Scared to leave the house in worry that this will happen in public, that I will be driving and have to pull over. That next time I won’t be able to calm myself down and I will take a trip to the ER instead. I was close tonight.
Feeling like your mind and body are betraying you is the more terrifying thing. You start to feel like you have to live in a bubble because the one thing you rely on most, your intuition, has betrayed you. You can’t trust your instincts anymore because they are sending mixed, jumbled, and fucked up signals.
I hope the next time I’m able to calm myself down faster. I’m able to remind myself that even though it might FEEL like this is the end, it’s not. And I hope that it will gradually be less and less until I go another few years without another excessive episode like tonight. Until then, if you suffer from panic attack, I see you. I feel you. And I trust you even if you don’t trust yourself.
Can we talk about mom anxiety? I know this isn’t a technical illness with a formal DSM diagnosis, but let’s be honest, it’s a thing. I firmly believe there is a whole population of moms out there that experience this specified version of panic that only has an onset when you create a living, breathing being from your own body. Or, in some cases, even if you haven’t created said being, but care for it as if you had.
This debilitating “disease” can range anywhere from serious to seriously asinine. It starts off precisely at the moment you find out you are pregnant. For a whole second (or longer) you stop breathing.
It’s as if the world stops, and you crawl into The Matrix, there’s an absolute transformation, and suddenly you go from being an independent, free-thinking, free-spirited woman to an anxiety ridden, over-thinking, over-analyzing, always questioning, never sleeping, always worrying mom…. and the baby isn’t even here yet.
People will say things like “there is so much for you to worry about later, and stress is not good for the baby. Enjoy your pregnancy!” But you simply CANNOT when you are incessantly finding myriads of information on the internet that send you into a click hole of examples of what could go wrong at any given moment now that you are pregnant.
You could eat the wrong food. You did, in fact, yesterday… and now you are petrified that you have somehow stunted your unborn child’s brain grown with one bite sized sushi roll. You definitely haven’t taken enough folic acid, so surely your baby’s spinal chord hasn’t developed properly. That happens early, ya know. And that medication you were taking before you found out you had a fetus growing inside of you, that causes club foot. So that is inevitable.
I waited for each ultrasound like it was Christmas and I was visiting Santa to make sure he knew what presents to bring me. As soon as I left the doctor’s office knowing all hands and feet were in tact, I could breath… and start worrying about the next thing. Like what problems I would encounter on the delivery table (oh, GAWD, would I POOP on the table?!)
You tell yourself, once the baby comes and everything is healthy and perfect you can and will relax. But that is just a little inside joke we tell ourselves, as moms. Besides the sleepless nights that come with an infant, there are the sleepless nights that come with mom anxiety.
As my kids get older I worry about so much more. It was first development: rolling, crawling, walking, talking, running, eating, growing. I thought those were a really big deal. I was so blissfully ignorant.
Now, my fears have only been magnified as they grow figuratively and literally. I wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night wondering if I ever remembered to mount the new furniture to the wall so that when one of my monkeys climbs on it, it doesn’t come crashing down on them, killing them in the process. (I did, of course).
I think about all of the day’s events that could have went horribly wrong. Like when my child opened the door to the neighbor knocking to see if they could play. What IF that were a stranger? What IF they had come to steal my child away and at that very moment I happened to be in the bathroom screaming at them to leave me be so I could sit on the toilet in peace!? I’m a bad mom… I could have lost them to child trafficking today from their very own living room, and I was so selfish I wasn’t even THINKING.
Every day is loaded with examples like this. Where I simultaneously am screaming my head off at my kids while worrying in agony that something terrible will happen to them, to me (and leave them motherless), to our house, to my job, etc etc etc.
Mom anxiety is crippling and ruining my chance to enjoy my kids, but I take solace in knowing that absolutely every other mom out there has the same crippling (unwarranted) fears running their lives too. And I’m not alone. Neither are you.
Despite this terrible “disease”, be the mom you want to be. Even if she wakes up in the middle of the night wondering if the oven was ever turned off. Even if she calls the neighbors seconds after leaving the house because she can’t remember if she closed her garage door. Be that mom. And rock the shit out of it.