I'll never forget the first time it happened.
At the time, I didn't even know what it was. I just remember I felt suffocated, like I was unable to breathe, buried alive, and I just had to run, to get away, to the widest open space I could find. My first panic attack. Out of all the 'firsts' I experienced in college, this was by far one of the most difficult.
I was going to school full time, maintaining two jobs, working for my school's football team, involved with several school programs, dealing with not-so-great-relationships and, let's be honest, partying far too much for my own good. I was being highly irresponsible, and before I knew it, I felt incredibly overwhelmed. I had no idea what to do or how to handle it, so I did some even more unresponsible things that I'm ashamed to admit and regret to this day (like quitting one of my jobs via phone two hours before I was supposed to be there, or skipping out on more classes than I want to admit).
While I had no idea what I was dealing with at the time, I've now become as familiar with anxiety, and consequently panic attacks, as I am with the lines on the palms of my hand. Anxiety has followed me around like a bad ex-boyfriend, sometimes creeping from a distance, sometimes harassing me non-stop, always there, somehow, some way.
In fact, upon reflecting, I realized I've dealt with mental struggles (anxiety mostly and some depression) for much of my life. But for as long as I've dealt with it, is as long as I've kept it secret, buried away, like some box in a dark basement corner, the one you know is there, the one you know you need to go through and clean out, but the one that you don't.
New York made it worse. Getting older made it worse. Adulting made it terrible. There have been months where I've had panic attacks daily. There have been days that have passed by in a blur because I was too busy gasping for air, buried under the anxiety mountain my mind had built up. I skipped dinners and events, made excuses to friends, stayed in instead of going out, missed deadlines and emails, never really saying why, only apologizing with small lies. Meanwhile, I acted like everything was fine.
When I started having meltdowns in the middle of busy sidewalks, or having to leave a store because it felt like it was caving in on me, and my heart and chest physically began to be in pain, I recognized that it had gotten unfathomably out-of-control. When you're dealing with mental struggles, I think you get so good at pretending everything is alright, that it takes a lot for you to finally realize and accept things are not, in fact, alright. Having to leave a Target because I couldn't breath and everything was spinning, closing in on me, was that moment for me.
I know I'm not alone in all of this. But for the longest time I thought I was. Anxiety/depression/mental health issues are usually a one-person show (but like a horror show, not a fun show). It's a lonely place to be, inside your head, trying to process how to deal with something so debilitating, when, to the rest of the world, you look totally "normal and fine" on the outside. Which is exactly why I wanted to write this post. To help anyone who feels alone, feel a little less alone.
Mental health is such a taboo subject to discuss, making it even more isolating to deal with. But why? For anyone else who ever suffered a severe panic attack, you know it's far more debilitating than a simple cold. Yet if you called out of work sick for a panic attack or a mental health day, your boss might call BS on you. If you said you couldn't make to an event, someone might accuse you of just being lazy or wanting to stay in bed. We can talk at nauseum about how terrible the flu is one season, but if you bring it up having trouble breathing because of a panic attack everyone just thinks you're plain old crazy. The fact of the matter is, though, you need a lot more rest and help to deal with a mental health issue than you do a common cold. Especially in today's society, where we have more pressures and less time, and bonus, the world seems to be going crazy. This is a subject we should all be talking more, not less, about, because I think we're going to need more solutions and assistance in this area than ever before.
I should note, the previous paragraph is where this post was supposed to end. In fact, I wrote this post over 2 weeks ago, along with plans for follow-up posts, planned accordingly so everything would be live for Mental Health Awareness Month. And then my own mental health issues got in the way. If you follow me on Instagram you probably saw me mention dealing with some health issues. While those are separate issues, what I have been dealing with and how it's been making me feel has really put my anxiety, panic attacks and depression into over-drive.
So, while Mental Health Awareness Month may be about over, mental health issues are far from over, so the last thing we should be doing is only addressing these issues in a month labeled as such. I'll be continuing this conversation well past the month of May, starting next week with a post on some of the things I've found that have helped me cope.
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts and have you join the conversation (below or on social media), and thank you oh so much for reading and being a part of this community!