Panic attack chronicles: Don't let your mental illness bully you

July 12 | Guest post by Minerva Siegel
Oh, if only you could use these panic attack planner stickers to actually know when they were coming…

I was totally fine this morning. I woke up, went for a nice walk with my dogs, fed my Amazon habit by buying these super chic faux-marble makeup brushes. It was a lovely, sunny morning that seemed like it should be the beginning to a perfect day.

Then, while I was out grocery shopping with my husband, something just hit me high in the gut like a lightning bolt: a wave of absolute panic.

I'm prone to sensory overstimulation, but I can usually feel it coming on and get out of the situation before it becomes a big deal. This morning wasn't like that at all — anxiety and panic overwhelmed me suddenly and irrevocably. I don't know if the fluorescent lighting at the grocery store was too much for me, or the brightly-packaged products were overwhelming, or if the overhead music was too loud, but my flight-or-fight response kicked in and I had to get the fuck out of there.

My husband drove us home in my car, sans groceries. I sobbed the whole way, shaking and panicking. I felt suicidal. It seemed like I would feel that way forever — like there was no way I'd never be happy or calm again. Any part of my psyche that wasn't experiencing inexplicable, overwhelming anxiety and terror felt embarrassed and frustrated with myself.

When we got home, my husband ran to the medicine cabinet and got me a Valium as I hyperventilated. I hadn't had to take one in months, and I felt like a goddamn failure as I swallowed it between sharp, shallow, panicked breaths.

My stressed-thus-vulnerable brain filled with toxic thoughts which made me feel even worse. I'm so embarrassed. What's the matter with me? How could anyone ever really love me when I act like this? There's absolutely no reason for me to be acting this way! My husband shouldn't have to put up with this shit. I'm such a weak fucking loser. I wonder if he'll leave me. I hope he does — he'd be better off.

My saint of a husband, who has no mental illness, or experience dealing with mental illness outside of what he's seen me go though, held me and comforted me until the Valium kicked in and I could breathe again. He's so supportive, and never holds any of my mental issues against me.

Thank You For Texting Me Through My Panic Attack Letterpress Card by Etsy seller SugarDoilies

After I'd calmed down, I felt exhausted and drained from all that adrenaline. My whole body ached from being so tense. I used to have panic attacks daily — even worse ones, where I'd actually pass out from hyperventilating.

I can't imagine living like that anymore, and I hope everyone reading this who struggles with mental illness makes their mental health top priority, because no one should have to go through life panicking to the point of suicidal ideation spontaneously.

I've done a lot of thinking now that my Valium's calmed me. Taking medication for mental illness doesn't make you weak, or a failure. It shows you're brave, if anything. It shows that you recognized toxic and unhealthy behaviors and thoughts in yourself and were strong and sensible enough to be proactive about correcting them.

And having panic attacks/mental illness doesn't make you unlovable, or a bad partner, as long as you are being proactive about caring for your mental health. My husband puts up with my mental illness-related idiosyncrasies because he knows I'm doing my absolute best. I go to therapy twice a month. I see a psychiatrist monthly. I go for sunny walks, work out at the gym, meditate with crystals (I love using this set ) and do other things that are supposed to be good for your mental health along with taking prescribed meds.

You're still a valuable person worthy of love, even if you slip sometimes and have a panic attack.

Don't you dare let your mental illness tell you any differently!

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  1. I've heard it said that "me too" are two of the most powerful words in the English language so thank you for your "me too". Me fucking too!

    8 agree
  2. This is good advice even if you don't have a mental illness. Bad days happen. To everybody. Berating yourself is counter productive.

    2 agree
  3. I needed this so bad today. I'm in the middle of a anxiety attack so bad that even though we have 1 diaper left the idea of going to the store is more terrifying and daunting than the prospect of toddler diaper blow outs.

    2 agree
  4. This is making me cry so hard.

    "You're still a valuable person worthy of love, even if you slip sometimes and have…." <- I'm keeping this. I'm writing it down.

    I don't have panic attacks, but I have depression. My depression often expresses itself as anger, and screaming, and illogical arguments, and saying things I don't mean. Sometimes it expresses itself as not wanting to do anything, or cancelling plans with a significant other last-minute because I just can't get out of bed, or just wanting to be alone. Sometimes I just cry, and cry, and cry. Uncontrollably. Like the pain will never stop. Sometimes I want to die. Sometimes I make really bad decisions.

    But I'm working SO HARD. Every day. I'm doing all the things I can. Meds are helping, self-care is helping, therapy is helping. It's a lot of work. It's a lot more work than everyone else has to do just to make it through the day. But I'm doing it.

    And sometimes I'm still mean. Like really mean. Sometimes I still want to not wake up tomorrow. I think this will always happen, no matter how hard I work.

    That doesn't mean I can't be responsible for my actions in these times, but I'm really and truly not myself when I'm screaming like a child. Sometimes it even feels like I'm not in my body.

    And someone fell out of love with me, even as I realized this was a problem and started to get better. This person stopped being attracted to me altogether, in any way. This person needed distance from me to keep from being hurt by the anger when it happened. And more distance. And now I've done too much damage to ever have that back. Or, I guess, my depression has done too much damage. It's hard to separate. It makes me feel unlovable. It makes it feel like it's not safe for people to love me. It makes me feel like a love liability. I'm a love hand grenade, and I can go off at any moment. I don't want to be like this. I don't want to ever be mean.

    But I'm trying.

    And what you wrote helps.
    Thank you.

    4 agree
  5. I don't have panic attacks but I do have GAD and social anxiety. Today is a rough day–an it takes two hours to get out of bed, make coffee, and feed the cats kind of day. But now I'm sitting in my office preparing to go face a classroom of 30 students. I came to Offbeat Home, hoping to read something calming to help me get ready to go teach.
    So.. thank you for this. Thank you so much!

    2 agree
  6. I appreciate and respect your sharing of this so, so much. Thank you for that. But I think it is unfair — both to yourself and to what panic attacks are in and of themselves — to characterize having one as "slipping up."

    The thing about panic attacks — not just mine and not just yours — is that many of them seem to have no apparent trigger. Sometimes they happen because we are anxious or overestimated or triggered, absolutely. But a lot of them don't. A lot of them are what can be considered "unexpected" — without an apparent trigger or stressor, sometimes even occurring in sleep.

    So, basically, please try not to sell yourself short. Having a panic attack is not "slipping up," no matter how shitty it is. Sometimes you can do your absolute best and still have them happen. And that doesn't mean you're any less than, it's just something shitty that happens to a swell person.

    <3

    4 agree
  7. Thank you so much for this. I think it's really important that you highlighted symptoms that neurotypical people or people who do not have mental health concerns don't realize can be part of panic attacks – because of my PTSD, crying and feeling suicidal is common for my panic attacks. If you watch a movie, it's mostly hyperventilating and heart palpitations; other symptoms don't seem to be discussed.

    I related so much to this, and I really needed to hear the positive things you said about taking medication and not being a failure because of a mental health concern. <3

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