42. It’s All in Your Head

42. It’s All in Your Head

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

It’s All in Your Head

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.

~Bertrand Russell

I was sleeping soundly when, for no reason whatsoever, my eyes snapped open and I jumped out of bed. Something was wrong. My heart raced and my hands shook. My legs felt like jelly as I stumbled toward the hamper to grab my jeans, because I was obviously headed to the hospital. I was gasping for air and my mind was a roller coaster of scary thoughts:

I’m losing my mind.

I’m going to be sick.

I am sick.

It was two in the morning, and I was alone in my apartment. My boyfriend lived just down the road, but he hated cell phones and refused to carry one. My closest family members were twenty miles away, not close at all.

Should I call 911? And if I did, what would they do with someone who was obviously losing her mind? Take me to a hospital? To the psych ward? This thought only made me shake more.

Miserably hot, I rushed to the bathroom for a cool washcloth. I touched my face. My neck. My arms. It helped some, and I went to my tiny living room. I paced. I cried.

Needing company, I grabbed the remote. The television flickered to life, and I watched in a bewildered daze while Sam and Diane flirted with each other behind the bar on Cheers.

It helped.

By the time the credits rolled, my shaking had subsided. I was exhausted and still a little anxious, but the racing thoughts had stopped, so I felt brave enough to venture back to bed. Unfortunately, sleep didn’t come easily. I was too afraid that whatever had just happened would happen again.

At the age of twenty-eight, I had experienced my first panic attack.

A few days later, I was grading papers while my sixth graders finished their assignment when I felt it. My heart raced, my hands shook, and my mind screamed at me to RUN. In that moment, my fear wasn’t having a heart attack or dying. My greatest fear was losing my mind in front of my students.

Thus began a vicious cycle of sleepless nights, scary thoughts, and sometimes paralyzing anxiety that lasted nearly ten years. During that time, I was prescribed a sleeping pill that made me hallucinate and anti-anxiety drugs that made me a zombie. I didn’t want to go anywhere because I was too afraid of having the mother of all panic attacks in a public place, especially in my classroom. Or at church. Or at the store. If it weren’t for the fact that I had to work, I probably wouldn’t have left the house at all.

The human brain is incredible. It can convince you that you’re a bad person. A bad wife. A bad teacher. A bad friend. It can make you afraid to drive, fly, or simply walk out your door. Things you used to do without a second thought now seem too overwhelming to even imagine.

Anxiety may not be a disease, but it still eats at you until it affects your daily life. You feel guilty, depressed, and scared . . . all the time.

When I tried to explain my panic attacks, I heard things like:

“You have no problems. You have a great job and a fantastic husband. What do you have to worry about?”

“Suck it up and deal.”

“Stop scaring yourself.”

And my personal favorite: “It’s all in your head.”

I was always a good student, so if I was going to have this condition, I wanted to be an expert. I started doing some research, and that led me to make some changes. I found a new doctor who understood that I hated taking anti-anxiety medication (it never really helped me anyway). Once she confirmed that I was physically fine, this actually gave me confidence. I could say to myself, “You are not dying. You are not having a heart attack.”

And for the first time, I believed myself.

I also started seeing a therapist. When I told her my greatest fear was that I was going crazy, she simply looked at me and said, “Crazy people don’t know they’re crazy.”

Oddly enough, those words were a comfort to me.

Through my research, I learned a lot about panic disorder and myself. I learned that, for me, the keys to controlling my anxiety are in my breathing. I have stopped anxious episodes from turning into full-blown panic attacks simply by slowing down my breathing and distracting myself with some kind of simple task that makes me focus on anything but me.

I have learned that anxiety can be hereditary, but it doesn’t have to be.

I’ve learned that a panic attack won’t kill me. I may have to excuse myself from a social situation to get some fresh air, but I won’t die. If panic attacks were deadly, I would have died a long time ago.

I’ve learned not to feel guilty about having panic attacks. Anxiety is real, and it’s frightening. Feeling guilty only feeds the negativity, and that is the opposite of helpful.

I’ve learned that, unless someone has actually experienced a panic attack, they cannot understand how it feels.

I’ve learned there is no cure. No magic pill that will make it go away forever. It is an ongoing process that requires you to take better care of yourself, mentally and physically. It encourages you to think positively, to pace yourself, and to breathe deeply. It requires you to be a little selfish. It teaches you that it’s okay to say no.

Most importantly, I have learned that anxiety is, indeed, all in my head. It’s the way I think and react. It’s a message my brain sends to my body, telling me to take better care of myself. To get more sleep. To eat better. To get more exercise. To relax. To say no when I already have enough on my plate.

Anxiety is my little reminder that it’s okay to not be perfect at everything, and that sometimes, good enough is good enough.

~Sydney Logan

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