Experiencing an entire day without a mild level of anxiety has become a rare occurrence. Ignited by the slightest thought—whether I’m comparing my success to someone else’s, or simply checking the time as I rush off to work in a hurry—somehow, something always manages to creep in and take over.
I can pinpoint the moment when my anxiety transitioned from a “normal” level (background noise) to what it is today (a swarm of bees that never quit buzzing around my head).
On the morning of December 27, 2004, my entire family woke up and ate breakfast together. We were all going to spend the day with my grandfather refurbishing the basement; it was going to be a new room for me.
After several hours of mounting studs, hanging sheetrock and preparing the walls for painting, my grandfather turned to me and asked if I was hungry, and wanted to take a break for lunch. I uttered a simple “sure” and we started for the stairs. We parted ways at the top, I went to the bathroom and he went to the computer to play solitaire before we ate.
When I exited the bathroom, I knew something was wrong. The energy in the house felt shifted and skewed. Consumed by a lightheadedness, I staggered toward the living room. Everything resembled a funhouse, my vision and movements slowing to a crawl. My father and aunt were kneeling next to a human-shaped mass. No matter how much I tensed my body and wished the scene before me away, I couldn’t alter the reality that my grandfather had, in fact, died.
From that moment on, I began to experience a flare in my mood and stability. A darkness hovered nearly everyday, but I attempted to mask it with wisecracks and sarcasm. This emotional barrier provided a temporary fix lasting long enough to get to the end of the year…until I lost my aunt and then a best friend soon after.
It was late December, my band was set to perform at 7 P.M. at the Hamilton Street Cafe, —the only venue that didn’t charge us to perform or attend. Earlier that afternoon I had been “let go” from my job, and was looking forward to the distraction of performing. In the hours before, as we watched the other bands play, a low thunder rumbled beneath my surface; I attempted to brush it off as pre-show jitters.
As we struck the final chords of our set, and the last lyric closed out, a heat washed over me unlike anything I had ever experienced. Then came a dizziness that was similar to being stuck in the center of a tornado before it vanishes, leaving nothing but destruction and devastation in its path. I attempted to stabilize myself by placing my hands onto my half stack. My throat threatened to close, so I grabbed a bottle of water, flicked the cap off and poured it into my mouth—a final effort to slow what I thought would be the silent ending to my life.
I swallowed the water down in tiny increments, stopping to check that the bottle was actually filled with water and not gravel because of how difficult it was to swallow. I looked over at my friend, the lead singer, and made motions for him to take my equipment home with him. I moved to step down from the stage, and suddenly another tornado of fierce nausea whipped through. With intense haste, I apologized and excused myself before sneaking out an exit door. The cool air outside of the venue brought relief to my smoldering skin, and soon, I was able to take deeper breaths—magically avoiding what felt like dying.
It took several more times of experiencing this—one time where I momentarily blacked out—before realizing that I was having anxiety attacks. Unsure of how to proceed, and not wanting to alarm my family, I sought out the help of a therapist. It wasn’t as though I could put a band-aid on as I would with a cut, or take a pill to relieve the symptoms of a cold. This was uncharted territory. The only option I could think of was to seek out a therapist and hope that they might be able to provide a solution to my crippling problem.
With some research, I found a woman well versed in meditation and metaphysical healing. For the next few months, I learned about breathing techniques, methods to clear my mind, and how to put a daily meditation into practice. It was with these tools that I’d finally be able to suppress the impact of my anxiety, and actually go back to enjoying life and not living in fear of this terrible, yet invisible beast rearing its wrath.
So to those finding themselves shellshocked by an unexpected bout of anxiety, know that it does not have to stay this way. You do not have to cower in fear. You do not have to continue living in anticipation and worry of when and where the next panic attack might strike. You are capable of helping yourself with the aid of others. Whether it’s through medication or meditation, you can find a way to breathe easier.