Explaining Panic: An Open Letter

I’ve become accustomed to explaining (or attempting to explain) anxiety and panic disorder to people. Seriously, I should just print out little cards with the CMHA blurb written on them and pull it out whenever I meet someone new.

“Hi, I’m Spencer. Are you familiar with panic disorder? Here’s a leaflet…

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder involves repeated and unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is a feeling of intense fear or terror that lasts for a short period of time. It involves physical sensations like a racing heart, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, shaking, sweating or nausea. Some people feel like they’re having a heart attack or suffocating, others fear that they are dying.

Panic attacks can be a normal reaction to a stressful situation or a part of another mental illness. With panic disorder, panic attacks seem to happen for no reason. People who experience panic disorder fear more panic attacks and may worry that something bad will happen as a result of the panic attack.

Got it? Awesome. Please keep it in mind in the future! Oh, and nice to meet you!”

Now, of course it’s never that straightforward and simple, but I’ve made a point over the last 5 years or so to not shy away from talking to people about it. Chances are that if we have even casual contact with once another you’re going to see me having an attack eventually.

Unfortunately, every once in awhile I reach a place of thinking ‘what’s the point?’

Especially knowing from experience that such a definition is meaningless to most people. Because in spite of a diagnosis from a doctor and the above explanation, I still find myself stuck in regular conversations where I’m told things like “for god sake stop it, you’re an adult!” or “just get over it” or “try harder” etc, etc, etc.

I understand that the people around me are frustrated, I really do. But saying things like that on regular basis do nothing whatsoever to help. In fact, not surprisingly, they hinder. Do you not realize that whatever frustration you’re feeling, I’m feeling tenfold? Honestly, you think it sucks being around me for an hour or two- Try living inside my head. It’s a nightmare. And, bonus, after a short period of time in my company you get to leave. I don’t.

And this is every single day for me. I have panic attacks for little to no reason on a daily basis, meaning that on a daily basis my body freaks the fuck out when my brains sends a ‘you’re going to die‘ red alert signal. My blood pressure skyrockets, my nose bleeds, it feels like someone is standing on my chest, and I can’t stop crying. This has become my life. Do you honestly think I’m not beyond infuriated with it? Do you not think that’s why I’ve been going to doctor after doctor, trying medication after medication for years? Did it ever occur to you the lengths I’ve gone to find relief from this? The things I’ve done that I would never even utter on this blog, but done nonetheless because at the time they’re all that worked?

I’m sorry that me and my imbalanced brain are an occasional annoyance to you. But this is my (often unbearable) reality. I can’t even escape it when I sleep! Did you know I wake up sweating, nose bleeding, and crying from dream-induced attacks on a regular basis? Plus the panic/anxiety is often worsened by other factors like depression and PMS. Please don’t even ask me what the trifecta looks like… I’ve only just worked up the nerve to talk to my doctor about that one!

Anyway, the point being: I know I’m a lot to take and if you need to bow out, I understand. You won’t be the first and you certainly won’t be the last. But for everyone else- the family and ‘you’re stuck with me forever’ friends- please don’t be too harsh. All of that frustration and anger you’re feeling towards me, know that I’m feeling it towards myself too. Spending too long with me, does not a good relationship make. Small doses, all that. It’s the reason I try and keep a lot of space between visits. It’s the reason I try not to stay in one place for too long. It’s the reason I generally stick solo.

I’m sure that sounds fairly sad and pathetic to most, but it’s how I roll. I’ve always done my own thing, in my own time, and have been fortunate enough in life to find some people who get that. And the rest, well, I vent to them in passive-aggressive blogs that they’ll probably never read.

IMG_8524One day I’ll know this to be true.