Monday, March 21, 2011


A few nights ago (or more precisely a few mornings) - I had my second real honest-to-Betsy anxiety attack.  I've had minor melt downs before, but nothing that compared to this feeling of total helplessness.  Of truly feeling that I am not in control of my own body or mind.

Its one of the most terrifying experiences and I am bummed to the max that it has now happened twice.  Had it only happened once (which was about a week and a half ago), I could write it off as a crazy fluke.  But twice in two weeks - that's a pattern.

To be perfectly honest, I am not 100% sure that what happened to me last week, and a few Sundays ago, was truly a anxiety attack.*  But I don't have any other words to describe the sensation of alertness and dread that came over me.  I woke up suddenly and every nerve ending, every fiber of my being was on alert - except for this one part of my brain that was tired and wanted to sleep (all of this was happening at about 2 AM).  It was this bizarre tug-of-war happening and I felt completely powerless.  Which is the strangest, hardest part for me to understand, because I was powerless against myself.

How upset and stressed does your body and mind have to be to turn on itself?

To be powerless is the worst feeling in the world.  But to be powerless against yourself goes beyond what I could image hopelessness to feel like.  If even your own body and mind are in revolt, who can you turn to?  I remember feeling my fingers kept reflexively clenching into fists either to start a fight or to release some of the energy coursing through my veins.

I attempted some breathing exercises I had been taught to calm myself down (fun fact - if you ever find yourself in the middle of an anxiety/panic attack - your first instinct is going to be to take deep breaths, but that is actually just going to make it worse.  You want to take a deep breath, hold it in for a few seconds, and then let it out.  This way you are ever-so-slightly denying your body of oxygen which slows everything down and, with any luck, relaxes all the panic away).

They helped a little, but I was still feeling the strange pull of exhaustion and yet being totally awake.  So I did what I have been doing since I was a kid and couldn't fall asleep.  I went into the bathroom where I could turn on the bright light and not bother anyone, and I lay down on the cold tile floor with a towel in a ball under my head. And I read.

How I wished that I had access to a Blackhearts in Battersea or a Wild Magic - something I knew all the words to.  But it was the New Yorker I found next to the bed - specifically a literary review, boring as all get out but melodic and calming.  For some reason the panic and anxiety dissipated when I was reading.  The distraction of the words did more to calm me down than the breathing and the trying to be still.  Which shows you just how big a nerd I am. Words have healing powers for me.

Eventually I fall asleep on the cold tile floor and then eventually I wake up, and the anxiety has left.  So I pick myself up off the floor and head back to bed.  I don't know if this will ever happen again.  I'm hoping that the act of writing about it (though not writing about what I think may have brought it on, which is really neither here nor there) has massaged out the mental knot that is causing it.

**So after talking with a few people, it seems like what I had maybe labeled as an anxiety attack rather than a panic attack.  Which is fine.  Apparently panic attacks are worse.  So, yeah, I'll take what I can get in terms of nocturnal meltdowns.


the teej. said...

Panic attacks mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. I stop my anxiety and panic attacks by distracting myself. TV is pretty helpful. Sure, it means you wake up for work the next morning alone in a jumble on the couch, but at least you slept.

Rachel said...

Yeah. Whatever this actually was - I was surprised by how much of a physical attack (rather than mental). Blerg.

She's pint-sized and amazing.