This past week, I had a full-blown panic attack.
Those around me tried their best to make sure I was OK, but the problem is that unless you’re living with anxiety, it’s so hard to understand how it works. To understand how it feels.
As a mother, who works from home while homeschooling my kindergartener, I feel the pressure more than ever. The pressure to always be on. The pressure to balance everything while plastering a fake smile across my face and responding, “I’m OK,” when asked how I’m doing.
Well, I’m not always OK. Not every day.
I often get asked to describe what a panic attack feels like or how my anxiety presents itself. So, I finally sat down, allowed myself to be vulnerable, and I came up with this explanation.
It’s real. It’s raw. It’s terrifying. And it’s so incredibly freeing.
Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I close my eyes and imagine myself standing in the dead center of a vast, frozen lake—the ice delicate and fragile.
The reality of my situation slowly begins to seep into the crevices of my subconscious, planting seeds that threaten to grow and destroy everything like toxic weeds overtaking a rusty garden trellis.
Knowing I need to get safely to the shore—to comfort and warmth—I begin to take slow, deliberate steps.
Gingerly picking up each foot and moving it ahead of the other.
One after another.
Carefully, and with precise control.
It’s just walking. I do it every day. It’s a familiar movement.
Yet, with each step, I feel the relentless pressure begin to build within my chest.
I feel the weeds curling and tightening their hold on any shred of rational thought I have left.
Despite the cold, my skin is on fire, anticipating the worst case scenario.
Step by step.
I can do this.
I’ll be OK.
I’m so close.
With a deep exhale, I set my foot down cautiously upon the icy illusion and suddenly . . .
It’s such a subtle sound I almost don’t notice it at first, but it’s loud enough to render every muscle, every breath, every fiber of my being useless.
It’s followed by a more resounding crack as the ice below me splinters in a million different directions.
Just like that.
My body freezes in time.
I lose control.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t move.
But my thoughts release and flood my subconscious—questioning and analyzing each and every step I took.
Could I have gone slower?
Should I have taken a different path?
How can I possibly ever make it to shore now?
It’s as if time has stopped and although I can feel the bite of the wind upon my cheek, I am completely numb.
Across the shore, I hear someone shouting my name.
It’s faint at first, and it seems like it takes forever to register in my mind, but the sound gives me hope.
It’s familiar and reassuring.
I feel the blood begin to pump through my veins again, and suddenly, I can breathe.
I can feel the warmth begin to return to my body, and the weeds release their persistent grip on my sanity.
I look down at my feet, and I see a rope lying across the shattered ice.
A rope I know leads to safety.
And to a way out.
As I reach down and grab ahold of the rope, I look ahead and focus on taking those first few steps towards that beautiful voice that pulled me out of my darkest place.
Tears stream down my face with each step, for as I get closer, I can clearly see the figure standing along the shore of the lake, and I realize that all along, the voice belonged to me.
This is my anxiety.
Originally published on the author’s Facebook page