What it feels like to be blindsided by anxiety

I was sitting in the Algonquin Times office one winter afternoon. Everyone around me passing ideas for upcoming stories while my heart raced. I could feel it beating in my throat. My hands started shaking and no matter how much I wanted them to stop they, just keep getting worse. My chest got tighter and […]
Photo: Angeleah Brazeau-Emmerson

I was sitting in the Algonquin Times office one winter afternoon. Everyone around me passing ideas for upcoming stories while my heart raced. I could feel it beating in my throat. My hands started shaking and no matter how much I wanted them to stop they, just keep getting worse.

My chest got tighter and heavier, my breaths got shorter and shallower. The room started spinning, my ears started ringing and before I can stop them tears were falling over my cheeks. I wasn’t having a heart attack – this is what it’s like for me when I have a panic attack.

Being blindsided by an anxiety attack that has your heart racing, your ears ringing, and makes your chest feel so heavy that every breath is a struggle would be, for any average person, a cause for major concern. For me, however, it was just another Tuesday.

I can’t remember a day in my life when I didn’t have the little voice in my head telling me that what I wanted was impossible. I have an anxiety disorder and it’s a tough weight to carry. Living with it in my day-to-day life can feel like an impossible task. What would make the weight lighter – for me and others like me who struggle with anxiety – is for those around us to understand our experience a bit.

My anxiety is more than just feeling worried or scared. It’s tossing and turning until 4 a.m. with flashbacks of moments that made me scared or uncomfortable or embarrassed. Even cuddling up to my favourite teddy bear can’t calm me down enough to get some sleep. It’s missing classes because I’m afraid of what might happen, or missing an assignment every week because I’m too overwhelmed by the amount of work to get started on it.

It’s thinking too much, about things that don’t even require my attention. It’s being hyper aware of everyone, and everything, and overthinking the tiniest shift in tone or body language. It’s a constant state of being on the edge, panicking about tiny details and being too caught up in them to look at the big picture.

It’s overcompensating. Trying so hard to please the people around me. It’s striving for perfection and then beating myself up when I don’t reach my own standards.

It’s hearing people tell me to “just stop worrying” or to “just let it go” when they have no concept of how badly I wish it was that easy.

It’s wishing that it was as easy as just flipping a switch and turning it off so I could go just one day without the little voice in my head reminding me of the work I’m procrastinating because I’m so scared of failing that I can’t start.

It’s listening to people tell me what I need to do to help myself when they’ve never experienced what I go through.

When really all I need, is someone to sit down beside me, hold my hand, and tell me “we can get through this, together.”

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