Over on YouTube a bit later this morning, I’ll be posting a vlog about anxiety and panic disorder. Not any lecture or medical or scientific thing, but just my thoughts and experiences with it. (The vlog will also be on the front page of this website.)
One thing that inspired me to do a vlog on that topic this week was a meme I saw on Facebook. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was along the lines of “Don’t think I’m weak because I have a mental illness. If you had to cope with a panic attack, you’d be on your knees.”
While I’m not completely happy with that comment, because it seems kind of harsh on people who *don’t* have mental illness, I do agree that having anxiety doesn’t make someone weak. Just imagine waking up in the morning feeling like you have a giant black blob of doom surrounding you. With teeth and claws and a voice whispering “Don’t leave the house. Don’t talk to that person. Don’t work on that book. Don’t practice that song. You can’t do any of it. Bad things will happen if you try. Bad things will happen anyway, but especially if you think you can do anything.”
And you can’t catch your breath…your stomach churns…your heart races…your skin feels like something’s crawling all over it… Your thoughts swirl so fast in your head that you can’t catch hold of a single one, and the more you try to figure out what you’re so afraid of, and the more you try to convince yourself that it’s “all in your head,” the darker the doom cloud becomes and the deeper your thoughts spiral, until it’s as if a hundred voices are screaming in your head and not a single one is making a bit of sense.
Now imagine getting out of bed anyway. Showering. Getting dressed. Making breakfast, or coffee, or whatever you ingest in the mornings. Sending your kids off to school if you have kids, and/or getting yourself off to school or work. Putting one foot in front of the other even with those screaming voices and that black blob. Desperately hoping that this time will pass, just like all the dozens of times before. Forcing a smile even though you want to scream, even though tears are blurring your vision, even though you want to hide under the blankets on your bed until everything goes away. But you don’t hide. You go about your life.
That’s what an anxiety attack or panic attack is. And that’s what many people who have those disorders do, sometimes on a daily basis. We open the door and step outside even though just doing so makes us sick to our stomachs. We pretend we’re just fine so we don’t scare our children or annoy our spouses. We get things done. We go places that scare the hell out of us.
And when the anxiety or panic leaks through, and someone sees it and decides we’re weak, we try to remember that they’re wrong, because they’re only seeing that moment. They aren’t seeing the hours beforehand that we fought, that we struggled, that we forced ourselves to live anyway. They aren’t seeing the countless times in the past when we managed to fend off the attack, or managed to get to a private place so no one would see us fall apart. They’re only seeing this ONE time out of many that we couldn’t hold it together.
So yeah. Not weak. Not whiny. Not lesser. Strong as hell, courageous, and fighting.