Today was the first day this week I felt at ease in the office. Before this morning the pace of the coming month was revealing itself, and meetings stacked on top of meetings caught up with me. And in keeping with my goal of expressing vulnerability, I can admit that I had an anxiety attack on Tuesday afternoon. I know how to ride them out now and what I have to do to make sure I come out of it okay, but it happened.

Another challenge for me is mindfulness, so I try in those moments to remember that it’s not going to kill me and concentrate on what I can do to help it pass. I have been asked what my anxious moments feel like; the passage below is my attempt to “write my way out of it” while maybe explaining what frequent yoga, “me time” breaks and a modified diet and supplement regimen are helping me to avoid.

It is an unstoppable and unmistakeable quickening of the pulse and breath, coming on suddenly but staying far longer than you would ever expect or hope for;

It is an inability to breathe deeply, with the heaviness of something indeterminate or unknown bearing down on your chest;

It is the tingling of the fingers and the tightening of the shoulders, reaching for something you want to find in your bag or in a drawer; what you’re looking for, you can’t quite say;

It is the shifting of the eyes, slowly at first, then more and more quickly in search of something to jog the memory of what you might be looking for or needing;

It is the racing of the mind, ruminating and repeating standard tasks in hopes of remembering what you are positive is being overlooked, or what you will say to the person you’re sure you’re letting down or forgetting;

It is the desire to close all the doors and pull down the shades, to sit or lie down eyes squeezed shut until the racing stops and the world slows down;

It is the gradual understanding that these feelings are both transitory and constant, fleeting and everpresent. It is the acceptance of the fact  that no matter how these moments are managed or mitigated, that they may never truly leave. It is the belief that these moments will not define you, and do not have to render you powerless between their occasional appearances. It is the faith in the fact that you are bigger than these moments, that they will pass, and that you will be standing when the pulse slows, the breath returns, and the panic subsides.

This should be my version of the Hulk’s purple pants: on at all times, even if out of sight.

7 thoughts on “What Anxiety Feels Like

  1. Wow. Definitely a powerful read. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a true anxiety attack – but when I read your descriptions I know I’ve at least felt some of those feelings before. Not pleasant and I’m glad you are attempting to look at these feeling objectively. You are a wonderful writer, so keep letting it out. I’ll be here to read it.

  2. I was scared to read this, and I was right to be–felt it coming on myself as I read.

    You are to be commend for being brave enough to writ this post AND for portraying it so perfectly.

  3. Thank you so much for adding your voice to some of the awareness around issues of mental and emotional illness, Amma. Keep writing!

  4. Amma, what else can I say but thank you. You mirror very closely what it feels like to live with and battle through anxiety. My attacks often include that frightening inability to breathe, and feeling that you have lost complete control. There is also a profound sadness and accompanying heaviness that saps you of energy, motivation and desire to do anything or see anyone. It’s a particularly sneaky villain, trying to keep you away from the very people and things that could save you. I actually had one of my worst attacks right before I walked into the Health and Wellness Centre at my undergrad institution. I knew I needed help when I couldn’t anymore: couldn’t move, couldn’t care and couldn’t breathe. Thank you for reminding me that I’m bigger than these moments. I will confess I don’t always believe that, but hearing it from you is helping. Thank you Amma. Truly.

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