Mi first anxiety attack
How to tackle it
I was sitting at the edge of my bed, with one towel in my hair and another on my body. Looking at myself in the mirror, I started to feel an intense heat inside me that turned cold in a matter of seconds. Suddenly, a pain in my chest appeared, as if I had been hit with a baseball ball. I tried to inhale and exhale slowly, but it was getting harder and harder to breathe.
I doubled over, the pain was terrible, and my throat was tightening more and more. Something inside me knew this was not normal, and I forced myself to breathe as deeply as possible. It ended with an unstoppable sea of tears that lasted about 30 minutes and slowly helped the pain recede.
Ladies and gentlemen, my first anxiety attack.
Listen to your body, alegría macarena.
I told my psychologist and some close friends about this episode, and I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had experienced something similar and that it was a well-studied pathology with a name.
“Girl, what’s happening to you?” That’s exactly what I said to myself after I calmed down. I’m 29 years old, with a job, an apartment, and a good salary. Why the hell is this happening to me?
I bet you’re saying to yourself: “That’s not going to happen to me” or “Maybe she’s a negative person, I’m always #positivevibes”. Well, let me tell you that just like you, I thought the same whenever I heard about anxiety. However, it’s not the first time my body has asked me to stop. Ever since I was a girl, I remember when I had exams, I would get red welts on my face or lose my voice.
This time, I had already been accumulating personal and work-related situations that made me feel uncomfortable, and my body had been sending me signals for two months before the anxiety episode.
First, I started with sleeping disorders. I would wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. to write on a list by my bedside the things I had to do the next day. I decided to fix that with melatonin gummies. Then I started getting red spots on my stomach. Three different doctors all agreed: “It’s stress”. Which made things worse and, of course, caused more red spots. The last symptom was my voice. I suddenly lost it. Since I had to travel to visit my family and take care of personal matters, I never rested. I spent three weeks without my voice. Until it finally culminated in that anxiety attack.
The worst part is that during that time, I never listened to my body, who was screaming at me: “hey gurl, wake up”. I just kept piling up my responsibilities instead of seeking peace of mind. It’s essential to listen to those signals your body sends you to avoid having a breakdown. But, how to identify them?
New challenge unlocked: Anxiety
For the sake of making the rest of this blog more dynamic (and not stress us out), we’ll add some of the tweets I posted during that time because we know that “life’s better while tweeting”.
“This game called adulthood is hard. How do I unsubscribe?”
The first thing we need to know is that anxiety can make you feel great restlessness, intense excitement, and extreme insecurity. It’s a very intense fear of an everyday situation. Now, an anxiety attack is a physiological reaction to that event.
The most common symptoms to recognize are tachycardia, hot flashes, sweating, temperature increase, hyperventilation, chest tightness or discomfort, numbness, trembling, and choking sensation. An anxiety attack lasts less than 10 minutes and can occur because of an accumulation of stress over common situations.
Although anxiety attacks are common, few people know the symptoms, so it’s easy to think it’s something else, for example, a heart attack. Back then I thought I was experiencing a heart attack as well, and saw my whole life flash before my eyes.
“Hello, God! It’s me again!” #Dramaticmoment
Hey but, if it’s that normal, why do I feel like a failure?
After this experience, I wanted to know more about it, so I made an appointment with a psychiatrist. I couldn’t calm down until I knew why this had happened to me. And to be honest, I was hoping that there was a magic pill that would prevent it from happening again.
On my way to the appointment, I felt like the greatest loser in the world. I thought that from that moment on, I’d have to take pills to have a stable life.
For as long as I can remember, my dad has taken medicine for many things. One of them is to control his stress levels. Stress would paralyze him, make him feel like he was about to have a heart attack, and had to go to the doctor. When I was 11, we took a road trip to the United States to visit a famous amusement park (insert sponsorship here). That day he forgot his medication, and within hours, he started to feel sick. We had to leave and take him to a hospital. When we got there, he took his pills, and within minutes he was feeling fine.
We didn’t return to the amusement park, and as a kid, that makes you sad. But it made me feel sadder to know that my dad was an adult who couldn’t enjoy a day without taking his medicine. At that moment, I equated not being at the amusement park with being a failure, and therefore, my worst nightmare.
After my appointment with the psychiatrist, I realized that it’s not about taking pills and that’s it, but a series of adjustments in your life that can make you live better. Not my intention to say that medication is not necessary. There are as many solutions as there are contexts when we talk about anxiety. All of them are valid and useful, as long as they are endorsed by an expert.
Simple methods to work on anxiety
I’ll share some simple recommendations (and some not that simple) that can help you, but remember that it’s key to seek professional support for specialized treatment. For me, the simple fact of putting any of these methods into practice is an act of self-love:
The simple ones:
- Stop working on a defined schedule
- Going for a walk or exercising
- Eat/sleep well
- Take time out of your day to do something you enjoy (singing, painting, talking with a loved one, etc).
The not so simple ones:
- Learning to say NO
- Stop trying to please everyone
- Realize the burden of responsibilities and decide if we can handle them by ourselves or if we need to delegate.
- Accept that not all the time we can be positive and permit you to not feel ok.
Since childhood, we have been taught that it is better to avoid or even hide our problems instead of facing them. Society has made us believe that expressing ourselves makes us look weak in front of others, it labels us as Losers, and that’s NOT TRUE! My dad, my friends, and probably people close to you, are living with this problem. They’ve all noticed that the more they talk about their situations, the more in control they feel.
“Realizing things in therapy is like an adult magic show. I can’t stop saying ‘Wow!’ during the whole session.”
The burnout syndrome
Kalinda Kano mentions in her book “Perfectly Imperfect”, that being always busy doesn’t make you more successful. Actually, there’s a syndrome called “Burnout” which is a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion that occurs as a result of overwhelming demands, chronic stress, or job dissatisfaction. It is not a disease, but it’s a major trigger for anxiety attacks.
Being honest with ourselves is the most valuable gift we can give ourselves because it helps us to know what we can and can’t do. We can’t always do everything, and it’s ok to accept that plans can change, or even to raise our hand and ask for help. For me, that’s the hardest part.
“I’m going to let things flow, but I need to know when they’re going to flow, so I can add it to my schedule.”
And if it’s hard for you too, sister… Stop lying to yourself! If it can’t be done, then it can’t be done. Many people might tell you: “You can do anything if you want to, you set your own limits”. But what if my body tells me “this is it”? Learn to listen to it. It’s okay to set limits and to stop thinking that the more things we can do, the better person we will be.
“I’m almost there with balancing my life. I just
feel more tired now because it feels like a second job.”
Having a balanced life so you don’t break down is the hardest thing. I’m not saying that now I’m a new woman and that I’ve changed all my habits overnight, but I am trying to make small changes, starting by talking about this topic with more people so I don’t feel alone. This is an act of love towards myself.
Showing vulnerability is not a symptom of weakness. Let’s eliminate that irrational fear of sharing we couldn’t achieve a big dream or finish a project. Let’s see it as an opportunity to become famous on a Fuckup Nights stage (wink, wink. Send your story to [email protected]).
Since my first Fuckup Night, I was amazed by the concept of “sharing the failure”. We are so used to share what we do well, that we don’t realize that failure can unite us and therefore, liberate us.
Sharing my story helped me understand my dad and my friends, but most of all, it helped others understand me. It opened a door to the possibility of being more honest with myself and feeling more alive by listening to my body.
Fuckup Nights Mexico City