At one point in every person’s life it happens: the dreaded anxiety attack.  For some, it’s only a one off.  You’re over-stressed, losing sleep, bills are piling up, or you’re not eating properly, and you freak out.  Your heart pounds, the room spins, you can’t breathe, and you may even think you’re having a heart attack, but that’s it.  It ends and never happens again.

I was not so fortunate.  A lot of people probably don’t know this, but I have an anxiety disorder.  It’s called agoraphobia, which is basically a fear of everything, or that’s how I prefer to describe it.  What I have, however, isn’t important.  It’s what I did about it that screwed me over, tenfold: nothing.  I let it brew for days, and then weeks, until I couldn’t even leave my own bedroom without having an attack.

It literally feels like you’re dying, and the sad part is that the longer you let it control you, the worse it gets.  Think about it.  You’re afraid to go outside, to eat, sleep, bathe, and it only gets worse as time goes by.  I thought that if I left it alone, it would sort itself out.  I had never been more wrong.  I lost fifty pounds in three months, couldn’t eat more than a cracker, and I wouldn’t allow myself to admit to anyone that I had a problem.  I’m not sure if it was pride, fear, embarrassment, or humility; I could go on.  But the truth is it was everything.  I hadn’t done anything to get better, and I was angry that no one had noticed something was wrong with me.

A little more than three months after it started—I was on layoff from work at the time—I was called back to work, and they expected me to start in a little over a week.  That meant I had nine days to get better.  I still didn’t tell anyone about my problem.  Instead, I researched anxiety and tracked my symptoms, then started easing myself back into the world.

I was afraid that if I ate too much, I’d throw up and cause another attack or that the food would make me sick, and that I wouldn’t be able to handle an attack and die.  I was also afraid that if I walked too far I’d have an attack where there was no one around to help me, and even worse, that I’d have an attack and make a fool of myself.  But everyday I’d force myself to eat a little extra, walk a little further, and talk a little more.  The major problem, though, was the part where I was supposed to tell someone.  I couldn’t do it. I had managed to get myself out of my room, I had managed to stomach an entire meal without dying, and I had walked all the way up to the corner store by myself and didn’t even pass out, which I had come really close to doing on more than one occasion.  At the time it didn’t seem necessary to tell anyone, and I didn’t.

When it came time to go back to work, I couldn’t force myself onto the bus, but I didn’t let that stop me.  I walked the entire 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) to work, which is a lot when you weren’t even able to leave your house a week prior.  When I got there, I was a wreck.  Everyone was worried about my appearance, freaked out, raised a big fuss, and that’s what I was afraid of!  But guess what?  It’s what I needed to hear.  I desperately needed someone to know and see that something wasn’t right with me, and I couldn’t work out how my own family couldn’t see it.  Other than that tidbit, I was relieved that other people knew, and I had one of the best days of my life.

In the months that followed, I kept up with making sure I ate properly, set time to relax, exercise, and enjoy myself.  I’ve gained back the weight now and perhaps a tad bit more.  One of the most important things that help to keep me on track is that now I have someone I can speak with whenever I feel anxious and uneasy.  My family, well, they sort of know, but they’ve always been incredibly passive over everything that comes up.  Of course, that’s another story.

The point I’m trying to make is simple.  If you’re suffering from anxiety, don’t do what I did.  Talk to someone, anyone, even if it’s an email to a friend you have 3000 miles away.  Don’t keep what you’re feeling inside.  Do some research and learn what to expect throughout your recovery, and don’t be afraid to talk to a professional.  They will speed up your recovery and show you ways to prevent a relapse.  Believe me when I tell you that it will not get better on its own.  You have to take the first step, and once you’ve taken that step, take another.  Push yourself a little further every single day until you’ve got this thing under control.

For my condition, it’s not going away.  It will be with me throughout my entire life, but I can control it and live a normal life, just as long as I don’t bottle everything up and make sure to do more than stew on my thoughts day in and day out.  You may think that this is silly and that it can’t happen to you, but for all of us who write a lot and concentrate a lot, while sitting in front of a computer screen, it’s easy to lose track of time.  In turn, we forget to eat, sleep, or do other things, which make us more susceptible to anxiety disorders.  The mind and body need to do more than concentrate on your next story.

Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety, you can take steps to avoid it.  Make sure to take breaks from whatever it is you’re concentrating on at least once every hour.  Look away from your computer screen every ten to fifteen minutes to stretch your fingers, back, and legs.  Drink some water, or even spin around a couple of times in your chair.  What you do doesn’t matter, just as long as you’re breaking your concentration for a moment.  More importantly, make sure to get out of the house every single day.  Go on a walk, jog, or even to the movies.  Keeping yourself involved with the real world is the best thing that you can do to both avoid and ease anxiety.

If you can’t find someone to talk to, I’m listening, even if it’s just to talk about the weather.  Every little thing that you do will help.  The trick is to keep your mind distracted, because when you’re not thinking about having an attack, you’re not going to have an attack.  The longer you let your anxiety control you—trick you into be ashamed or embarrassed—the worse it’s going to get.  Don’t let anxiety be your never ending death.

Published February 1, 2012

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