This is me having a panic attack.
We were at a family gathering. There was some tension between two members of my husband’s family. Each one kept approaching me, venting their frustrations, then leaving. Basically, each one emotionally and verbally vomited on me and left me to deal with the mess.
I don’t like confrontation. I especially don’t like being put in a situation where I’m expected to pick a side. In this case, both sides were terrible.
What upset me the most about the entire situation was the lack of empathy from people who love and care for me. Either I’m really good at hiding my symptoms or everyone else was just too busy to notice.
This got me thinking about what people think panic attacks look like. What they are and how people react to them. Shockingly, it’s not always crying and rocking back and forth. Sometimes you have to look a little harder and see what’s beneath the surface. Some of us have had years of practice pretending nothing is wrong.
What would you see?
What Would You Hear?
If you could hear me you would hear the jagged breaths in and out. You would hear raspy intentional inhalations in an attempt to regulate my racing heart beat. You would the exhalations catch as I try to breathe out every ounce of fear and pain. You would hear the crack in my voice as I lie and say, “I’m okay.”
I say that as a mantra. Like the repetition will sink down and drown out the voices in my head that tell my I don’t belong (I’m okay) I’m weak (I’m okay), I’m stupid (I’m okay), I’m a failure (I’m okay). Bad mom. I’m okay. Bad wife. I’m okay. Bad daughter. I’m okay. Bad friend. I’m okay. Bad teacher. I’m okay. Bad writer. I’m okay.
Look vs See
If you looked at me you would think there was nothing wrong with me. I have no reason to be tired all the time. I have no reason to cry. I have no reason to be angry.
But if you saw me you would see that I’m just trying to be the best me I can be in difficult circumstances. If you saw me you would see the person I am. You would see the invisible illness that I wear like a cape. But that cape is not me. That cape does not wear me. I wear it. And I am cutting it into smaller pieces every day. I doubt I will have a day when I don’t wear this cape of depression and anxiety but hopefully, it will be small enough to carry in my pocket instead of big enough that I have to wear it on my back.
Do They See You or the Illness
If you’re reading this, I hope people see you and not your illness. I know for me, that’s hard. My anxiety likes to play dress up. It pretends to be a giant. He blocks out the sun as he towers over me. My anxiety likes to make believe that it’s stronger than I am. And sometimes, he’s really good at making me believe I have no power. No control. His Oscar worthy performances get me thinking I’m worthless and won’t amount to anything.
That’s when I need to pretend. I pretend so hard I start to believe my own fairy tale. Except, I don’t need a white knight charging at this dragon. I don’t need a wizard to cast a spell to free this princess. I don’t even need Clark Kent swooping in without his glasses, suit, and tie. No, I become my own superhero and I squash that monster down. Down so small no one else can hear it. Down so small he could get lost falling through the hole of my pocket.
He’ll always be there. Sometimes, he’ll get too big to put in my pocket. Some days, he’ll ride on my shoulders and whisper in my ears. And those will be the times that I will have to reach into my other pocket, pull out my cape, and remind my anxiety and myself who’s in charge here.
I hope your illness becomes small enough to carry in your pocket. Until then, let’s don our capes and become our own superheroes.