There are some things I want you to know about me and my condition.
I am not necessarily shy, that’s not what having a panic disorder is. I am an outgoing person who often feels trapped inside a wall of fear. I get really angry sometimes because what I feel like is the real me is trapped behind my anxiety. I probably want to be affectionate and laid back and fun at any given time but you make me nervous. It’s not your fault, it’s just people- it’s nothing you do or did. I can only become desensitized to people by spending a lot of time with them and even then sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes, with some people, it works right away.
I know that what I’m afraid of isn’t real. I know that the threat is an illusion and that I’m not really going to get hurt, but my body is telling me otherwise. I try to talk myself out of it but “fight or flight” is one of the most basic and powerful instincts of the body, and it doesn’t always listen.
I am working really hard to combat my anxiety disorder. Some days I start to give up because I’ve been fighting for so long and it doesn’t seem to change, or I make progress and then I backslide. It’s inevitable that I get depressed and may not seem to be working to help myself. Having an anxiety disorder is really hard and I promise I’m doing what I can. Much of the fight that goes on with my condition happens inside the head, so while it might not seem like I am trying to help myself, I am.
I am constantly exhausted. If your body went through intense terror each day (or sometimes, just from time-to-time) and then crashed, you’d be exhausted too. I have to make myself move when I am crashing and sometimes I just have to sleep. My body doesn’t present that as an option; it’s just an order- “You. Sleep. Now”. Sometimes I don’t get things done because I am tired. Please don’t get mad at me if I don’t always do everything I am supposed to do- it can be a real struggle to do little things that most people don’t think twice about, like walking into a store, running errands, sometimes even leaving my house.
Some of my behavior might seem pretty odd at times. I might make someone go with me to places I ought to be able to go to alone because I need a “safe” person there. I might come off as clingy and dependent on others, but my reasoning is not what you might assume- “safe” people are our anchors to sanity. Real or not, we assume we can count on them to help us if we become terrified, and that can make the difference between fleeing a place or being able to stick it out. We develop triggers in specific places and that place, as innocuous as it might seem to you, scares me to death. I don’t want to feel that way; it’s embarrassing, but I do. How would you feel if you were terrified out of your mind in a place or around a person you know is harmless in your heart?
I try many things to combat my anxiety. If you’ve heard about a technique, I’ve probably heard about it. I’ve tried meditation, yoga, acupuncture, keeping active, positive self-talk, cognitive behavioral therapy, regular therapy, and medication, among things. I’ve probably tried lots of different medication. Anxiety disorder (and depression, since the two are linked- you’d be depressed if you had an anxiety disorder) often get treated with strong medication, and strong medication has side-effects. When I am trying new medications I might be “off” and irrational. Please forgive me, it’s not me, it’s the meds. Also, some meds make me extra tired or dizzy or any number of other things that aren’t my normal or desired state. Most medication used to treat anxiety is something the body becomes immune to over time, so the dosage must be increased. So, occasionally I may relapse when I am not expecting it. I don’t necessarily know the cause.
Please don’t make fun of me when I am experiencing a panic attack- it’s horrible enough without you ridiculing me. You wouldn’t be laughing if you were the one whose body was revolting in fear. I’m not making anything up, I’m not trying to use panic attacks as an excuse not to do things, and I surely don’t want to be a burden on you or effect your life negatively. Knowing I sometimes am and sometimes do adds to the misery of the condition. What I really need is for you to let me hold your hand or your arm tightly at times, and to humor me and just tell me it isn’t real and I don’t have to be scared, even if it’s the millionth time you’ve said it. Tell me you’ll protect me and I might just believe you, because I want to so badly. I want to be tough and independent and in control, but something (psychological and chemical) inside of me won’t let me be free.
Panic disorders are almost always genetic and are chemically related, though they’re often triggered by a traumatic event. Before realizing what is happening to us, most panic disorder sufferers go through a terrible period of thinking that we’re dying when we’re having a panic attack, or that something terrible is about to happen to us, etc. It’s impossible to understand when it first happens, unless someone is there to warn you. There usually isn’t.
Many of us live in terror of letting other people know we’re freaking out, so while we might seem normal, in control, and calm, our insides are often a different story. It’s ok to tell us we seem stabler or more confident- we’ll appreciate you noticing. Just know that sometimes it might be an illusion, sometimes true one day but not the next. Acting like it’s a result of something we didn’t do is a double-blow, the first one being our own senses of failure for not being able to just “tough it out”, “grin and bear it” etc.
Sometimes, just walking into a room by ourselves is the accomplishment of the day. Sometimes, we could lead a parade. Please, give us the credit for living with something so tough and managing to do anything. Please, just support us and help us, and listen to us. It’s natural to get annoyed sometimes, but if you’re annoyed, we’re probably beating ourselves up because we’re a self-critical lot. That’s part of how we got this way, by being too self-aware.
We are trying to win the battle, but some days we just want to give up.