I have a history of struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.
I have been chronically ill most of my life and developed severe anxiety and depression with the added physical and mental stress of college. It was so bad I started passing out several times a day, which eventually led to my journey toward healing my body… and mind.
Fast forward through various official diagnoses, medications, learning to heal myself naturally, becoming more independent, stepping away from codependency (as a result losing the codependent marriage I had), setting boundaries with loved ones for my own safety that resulted in the loss of relationships I was once close to… to some of the most amazing moments of my life where I finally found the “stuff” I was made of and stepped into my own power.
Then I discovered the incredible love of not just a man of my dreams, but the man who supported my dreams… at any cost. Not realizing exactly what it would cost us, we jumped in with both feet. Someday I’ll tell that story in more detail…
Because now, now I realize I’m grieving the death of my dream, much like I grieved the emotional death of my loved ones many years ago. It’s been so long since I’ve felt this depth of loss I forgot what it was like.
I can’t control it. The grief hits when I’m not even thinking about it. The thin veil that separates my mind from my surroundings is cracking… and the tears are sneaking through those cracks. I’ve pressed through tears streaming down my cheeks, trying to see the computer screen to click the next button. I’ve dried my tears and put on a smile before walking into a store. I’ve flat-out fallen on the floor… in a public place… in a corner where I hoped nobody saw me… and sobbed. Uncontrollably. Unable to pick myself up and beating myself up for my inability to “hold it all together.”
It’s Unfamiliar. Raw. And Downright Frightening.
Two nights ago something huge happened that disrupted our evening. With my smart husband’s help, I immediately sought out a solution and the steps I needed to take to handle it. I didn’t like the solution, but legally I had no better options. At 5am the next morning, my body woke me up in a full blown panic attack.
I haven’t had an attack like that in over two years. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was pounding. I felt like my blood pressure was through the roof and my blood sugar was crashing all at the same time. The pain in my chest grew stronger. My stomach tightened in knots. I began to assess my body head to toe as I wondered if I was having a heart attack and if I should wake my slumbering husband. Realizing what it was, I tried to slow my breathing. Which was nearly impossible as quiet sobs suddenly shook through my entire body. I wondered if I should get up and go into another room where I could cry it out… whatever “it” was. Instead I quietly laid there as still as I could in my little cocoon of terror.
This morning it happened again, only this time it lasted three grueling hours. I awoke at 3am with an increased heart rate. I tried breathing, meditating, everything I could think to try to slow it down. I even got on Facebook with my phone to see if the distraction would help. Nothing. I finally fell back to sleep around 6am… from sheer exhaustion.
I Was Not Thinking About Anything When the Panic Hit.
I was sleeping! I wasn’t even dreaming. The panic and elevated heart rate woke me up. My mind didn’t wake up until some time much later. This wasn’t a recurring problem or conflict with someone or me trying to pass blame for the problem on someone else or playing a victim in the situation that became the straw that broke me. It was simply grief. Grief from all the loss, personal attacks, and shattered hopes over the past four months. Grief that I didn’t know how to handle… that showed up as anxiety and panic attacks over the course of two days.
All day yesterday I physically shook. People thought I was cold, as it looked like I was shivering. I knew better. Until this afternoon my breathing was shallow and my heart rate was elevated. Until a friend reached out, not having a clue what I was going through, and invited me out for coffee.
As I shared with her the sources of the anxiety and pain as I understood them, she helped me laugh. It completely changed the course of my day. And I write this now not with tears of anxiety streaming down my face, but tears of gratefulness. For a friend willing to listen, share her own struggles, bond, and remind me I’m not crazy (well not in “that” way…) To remind me that this is what GRIEF feels like. And that it was OK. It was OK to be human. To be me. To feel emotion. To show emotion.
Grief comes in many forms. The process is different for everyone. But running from it… hiding it… helps nobody. I could push it aside and ignore it and hope it goes away. I can put on a happy face and hide my pain. I can point-blank lie when someone who actually cares about me asks me how I’m doing and say I’m doing great. And if I did all those things to hide my pain? If I wasn’t honest? Well, then I would be hiding something important from the world and people around me. A message I’m compelled… and called… to share.
The Truth that YOU are NOT Alone in Your Grief.
We all grieve loss at some point in our lives. Maybe loss of a business or a dream isn’t that big of a deal to you. What about loss of a pet? Or a parent? Or a child?
Loss is loss. Grief is grief. It’s the same process no matter what the loss is. It’s still pain. It still has to be faced, processed, dealt with, grown through. It may take weeks, months, or even years.
You can’t put on a fake happy face forever and totally ignore the grief and expect to be OK. And you also shouldn’t grieve alone… with that ever-present temptation to wallow in it and allow it to consume you.
It’s not important what you’re grieving or even how you’re grieving it. What’s important is that as you process and grow through it; that you focus on the growing through. That means not standing still. Not sitting in that same place on the floor over and over again. Not wallowing in self-pity.
So go ahead… Be angry. Be sad. Recognize you’re an emotional human with REAL feelings. Express those feelings. Cry those tears. Lean on a friend. Hug a loved one. Scream in your car. BE HUMAN FOR F**K’S SAKE!
And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re processing… grieving… dealing with loss.
Once you’ve processed that next wave of emotion, pick yourself up, look in the mirror, know that someone cares about you, recognize you’re not alone, and do the next thing on your never-ending to-do list to the best of your ability.
Because the next wave of grief will come. It will hit, maybe when you least expect it. But this time you’ll be a little more prepared to “deal” with it. And the next time will come, and you’ll deal with that wave too. Eventually the waves will be further and further apart. The grief will begin to heal. The more you talk about it with people who care about you, the more you process it, the more healing will happen.
Time will heal all wounds… eventually. The secret is to allow yourself to take that time, and not to let anyone else dictate your grief process for you. It’s yours. It’s individual to you. As long as you’re continually growing through it and building healing layers over the pain, your healing will continue.
And as long as you’re purposefully healing, you will find your happy once again.