This Is What An Anxiety Attack Looks Like

Ten minutes post-anxiety attack

Ten minutes post-anxiety attack

I am stood in the laundry room. I’ve just lost my shit at my husband. I’ve thrown a few dirty plates into the sink with so much force that I’m grateful they are plastic and not smashed into a million pieces. Which is how my brain feels - smashed into a million pieces. As far as my husband thinks, this outburst has come out of left field, but for those of us that live with anxiety and spend most days pushing it down, managing it and ignoring it, these ‘outbursts’ don’t come out of the blue.

So, I’m in the laundry. I’m sobbing. Heaving with each gasp and pushing the heels of my palms into my eyes. My eyeballs are almost touching my brain but I keep pushing, in the vain hope, I think, that whatever short circuiting is going on in there will stop. My chest is tight. I’m not sure where my next breath is coming from and I’m still sobbing. My husband is in the garden. He’s not talking to me, probably because I just acted like a total maniac and screamed and shouted but I know I can’t do this panic attack on my own so I go into the garden and collapse, sit up, puke and still I can’t breathe. My hands are fuzzy - my shortness of breath is making it hard for my blood system to get to my extremities. My vision is blurry; I can see stars and still I can’t breathe.

My husband has put aside his anger to get me through this. He’s seen it before. He knows it’s going to be ok and even though I can’t feel that, just having him near makes me start to relax a little. My breathing starts to slow. I puke again. Just bile. He feeds me small sips of water. He knows I don’t like to be touched when I’m having a panic attack so he gently asks if he can touch me. I can’t answer but I nod weakly and as soon as I feel his hand on my back I start to relax. It grounds me. It brings me back.

‘I should have seen this coming,’ he says. And he’s right but even more so, I should have seen it coming. I knew I wasn’t right - so not right in fact, that I cancelled a weekend at a festival. I knew I was tired and run down but I wasn’t fully aware how run down, how tired, how stressed. Something in me did know though, because cancelling a weekend at a festival with my girlfriends is UNHEARD of for me. I think something in me, subconsciously knew that a break down was imminent, that I’d pushed it too hard to claw it back without a major reset.

And then it’s done. As quickly as it comes on, it finally passes. I’m drained, exhausted but somehow feeling lighter. I am able to focus more objectively on what’s stressing me out rather than feel like my brain is full of buzzing bees that are all talking at once. I’m ashamed because it feels like failure, like weakness and like I can’t hold my shit together. My daughter gives me a hug - she’s been watching a movie but she knows something isn’t right. I’m immediately hit with a wave of guilt about fucking her up with my batshit craziness so I pull her in and explain what’s happening, as much as you can to a 5 year old. What I do know is that I’m not going to ignore it, pretend it didn’t happen and leave her to deal with that on her own. I’ve been there and it doesn’t end well.

So now it’s movies and writing. It’s Star Wars and blogging. It’s cathartic and necessary and I know that I can move forward and enjoy the day. I can start to recover, to piece it all back together in my head and to cut out the stuff that, for now, isn’t urgent. The only thing that matters is reminding myself that it’s not a sign of failure; that it’s a sign of strength because anyone who’s been through a panic attack knows how strong you have to be to get through that shit.