"I've always struggled with anxiety..." NOPE. Not quite.
That's not my story... I wouldn't say I'm a worrier. I've never been an anxious person. But last Sunday, I had a panic attack during church and had to leave service to catch my breath and calm down.
It's been a few years since I've had a major panic attack, and I haven't ever shared about it because I thought it would go away, that I would take the steps I needed to in order for them to stop, and then I would be "fixed" and wouldn't need to mention it again. Turns out, that's not the plan.
A few years ago, nobody was talking about "anxiety" and "panic attacks" were something that sounded far away and none of my close friends had ever experienced them, so I didn't know much about them. But then I started a new job in 2016. For maybe the first time ever I was thrown into something new and had NO CLUE what I was doing. New office, new boss, new coworkers. And working through lunch started to become a regular thing.
Enter: control issues.
As an adult, I like to have a generally clean workspace, but my bedroom has always been a little messy, and it's taken a lot of effort to try to form good habits to put shoes away immediately, to hang clothes up, etc. I remember when I was younger and my family lived in Corpus Christi, my room was huge and always a disaster. Toys, clothes, shoes...everywhere. One time, my older brother had a class party at our house; some of the girls in his class cleaned my room while I was gone. Eight year old Rhonda was horrified (haha!)
But something happened when we moved to Midland, TX when I was 9. I don't remember processing these thoughts as a child, but I do remember that my room was spotless. SPOTLESS. What changed in a year? Each night, I folded back one corner of my bedspread and slid under the covers; I didn't move in my sleep (and still don't!) and slid out in the morning and made my bed in one motion. I would LOSE IT if my parents sat on my covers at night to tuck me in. Like, lose it...as a 9 year old. As I've reflected on my life over the last few years through various exercises, studying the Enneagram, and going to a Steps program at church, that's always the memory that jumps out at me...that, and my EasyBake oven (loved that thing!). Maybe that was my first attempt at control when things around me felt out of control? Interestinggg.
Back to my "new job" a few years ago. I was unsure of what I was doing, and for someone who likes to look put together and totally competent, I felt so fake because I was clueless! The month I started that job, I also went to a conference for my blog. My first-ever blog trip! I didn't know anyone else going, stayed up all night packing, got two hours of sleep, and ended up missing my flight that morning, crying in the airport (really, Rhonda???), and then rescheduling for an afternoon flight. No big deal, right?
Enter: panic attack 1.
I felt nauseous and like I couldn't breathe. I had never been nervous on a plane before, but we hadn't even taken off and I kept going to the bathroom to try to calm down, unsure of what was happening. By the grace of God, I was sitting in the front of the plane between two very nice men (clutching a plastic bag for dear life). They definitely thought I was hung over, and I didn't care to explain myself. One of them happened to know the flight attendant and they fed me Sprite and water the whole flight. Bless. Them. We landed and I was fine the rest of the week during the conference.
The rest of that year was a blur of fighting panic attacks.
Spin classes, church services, my then boyfriend's family vacation...nothing was off-limits. I started trying to piece together any commonality I could find.
There were a few.
- Low blood sugar? Stop skipping lunch, Rhonda.
- Closed rooms, would "cause a scene" if I got up. (church, meetings...)
- Not enough sleep.
- Motion sickness? or Control? Car sickness is an actual thing though. I'LL DRIVE, K THX.
- Feeling nauseous accelerated everything because then I was nervous that I would throw up in public?
You know what, I did throw up in public in 11th grade, and nobody died, and I still had friends the next day. (Shout-out to Shelley Davidson for checking on me after I ran out of English Lit)
So I started making adjustments. In September 2016, I overheard some girls at a yoga class talking about anxiety and I jumped in and asked how they fixed it. They said yoga helped. That's when I started doing yoga.
I practiced breathing exercises and mindfulness.
I sat on the aisle at church (and still do).
I booked the bike by the door at spin class.
I carried protein bars with me at all times.
All of those things helped. Most of the time I started to panic,
there was a physical factor that was a trigger,
and then probably some underlying stress about not being in control of what could happen.
How Do I Deal?
I tried to write this post 5 months ago, but didn't really know what the point was. What was the solution? Well, here we are, and there's no solution. Just a new-found willingness to throw some vulnerability into the internet, in hopes that sharing my story might help someone else going through something similar. I still wouldn't say I'm an anxious person, but I do know that some things can trigger me. So after I address the physical component, I have a nice chat with myself and remind myself of these things:
- Everything. is. fine.
- What is the worst thing that could happen right now? (maybe I throw up. ok then what? then I have to leave. ok then what? thennnn nobody dies. so why am I freaking out?!)
- You can walk out of the room and it's not a big deal.
- Can I focus on something else for 5 minutes? Edit a photo, quote some scripture, have a conversation with someone?
Maybe that's helpful, or maybe not. Mostly, I just wanted to share about this experience, and that anxiety can look really different from person to person. I'm still a goofy, positive-outlook kind of gal, and this definitely isn't something that's on my mind all the time. It just so happened to pop up again recently, so I'm adjusting and checking in with myself. I'm not seeking out medication, but I am trying to be more aware of my emotions from day to day, my physical triggers, and looking for ways to reduce stress in my life. I think the first step in dealing with anxiety is mindfulness and becoming self-aware. I would love to hear about your experiences and what has helped you!