Functioning with anxiety attacks is anything but easy. I struggled in my youth to walk that fine line between being a functional student and then member of society while trying to hide my terrible secret from the world, lest they think I was bonkers. At times it was very, very hard to show up for school or work, because I knew I would have to suffer through anxiety attacks.
Although I was never housebound, I had agoraphobia- a fear of open spaces. This was compounded with panic disorder and a big order of social anxiety on the side. I lived my life while functioning with anxiety attacks.
The Old Way- Using Props
As a young person, I knew I had to show up to class, and later show up to work- panic attacks or not. So I would use various props and do whatever things I need to do to make getting through my day easier.
My big fear in college- the crazy thought that came with every anxiety attack – was that I would projectile vomit right in the middle of a lecture. So I used various props and did everything I could to make sure my stomach was calm and quiet before class. The goal each day was to make it through my lectures- which were anywhere from an hour and a half to 3 hours.
To keep myself feeling ok, I would not eat before class, always have mint gum, tums, and seltzer water on hand, and always have tissues with me just in case…Also, I positioned myself to have a b-line to the exit- I would sit in the last row on the seat closest to the door.
Also, I would make sure my pants weren’t too tight so as not to put too much pressure on my stomach. Most importantly was to make sure I always had an extra tranquilizer in my pocket. If I felt very uncomfortable during class, or felt an anxiety attack coming on, I would discreetly pop a pill into my mouth and dissolve it under my tongue. Or chew it if I was really bad.
Carrying that extra pill with me was something I did almost every day of my life until just a few years ago.
I would modify and adapt these things to help me function in various situations in my life. I remember when my oldest daughter was a baby, pushing the stroller was better than walking without one- so was wearing sunglasses.
Life didn’t stop just because I was anxious and coping with anxiety attacks was what I had to do daily. So I did the best I could to self sooth with the props. If some things were just too hard, I sometimes just stopped doing them.
I hated driving on the highway, for example. So I avoided it unless absolutely necessary. If the highway was unavoidable, I would give myself a lot of extra time and would stay in the slow lane the whole way. And still I had to contend with the anxiety attacks.
I eventually gave up going to church, because I couldn’t deal with feeling like I was going to puke or die every week in God’s house. Besides, wasn’t church supposed to comfort me? I remember being really mad at God and thinking it was particularly cruel of Him to make this impossible for me.
I did believe that functioning with anxiety attacks meant modifying my environment to make me as comfortable as possible. I did scrape by and remain functional- but man, did I suffer.
The agony of an anxious person going back to work on a Monday after the weekend is something my friends and family could never in a million years understand.
I Learned A Better Way
Eventually by the grace of God, I learned functioning with anxiety attacks didn’t have to mean I had to put so much energy and preparation into doing everyday things, only to have multiple panic attacks anyways and feel like I was just barely surviving getting thought the day.
It did not have to mean the only relief I ever had when out in public was when i was properly medicated or could taste an extra pill dissolving under my tongue…
I learned that I change from being this anxious person functioning with anxiety attacks and suffering every single day, to being a functioning anxious person.
I had read again and again about Facing, Accepting, Floating, and Letting Time Pass from Claire Weeks in Hope and Help for your Nerves. And frankly I was sick & tired of living at the mercy of stupid anxiety. I wasn’t happy and I longed to be the person I once was before all this panic and fear overtook my life. So I decided to give it a really good effort…
I picked up my dogeared book and read it like I had never read it in my life. I wanted to learn exactly *how* to do these 4 simple steps: Face, Accept, Float, Let time pass.
I learned that by using all my props and extra medication, I was not helping myself. I was only keeping my anxiety alive and staying very very afraid of it. I learned that I had 2 fears, first fear- which is normal fear – but I also heaped tons and tons of second fear on top of it. All those “Oh my God, here it comes… Oh no, not again..”
And this- the second fear– absolutely blindsided me every day with the prospect of the next impending panic attack.
Once I learned to Face, Accept,Float, and Let Time Pass- just a little bit, my burden began to lift.
Are you living and functioning with anxiety attacks? Do you wish it could be easier? Dust off your copy of Hope and Help For Your Nerves.
I wish you peace,