I've been having anxiety attacks since childhood. I can't remember the exact moment they began, and can't aways tell when they're about to happen. Since becoming a mother, they're even harder to manage. With growing demands (and children), the stress comes in waves of a different magnitude. They're disruptive and frustrating to experience, let alone witness, and that's only a few things moms who have anxiety attacks won't tell you.
Even though I've experienced multiple anxiety attacks throughout the course of my life, I sometimes miss the warning signs or put off addressing them entirely. My hope to calm myself and bypass an attack entirely, convinces me to ignore the red flags that would otherwise alert me to an impending attack. I can feel perfectly fine one minute, and struggling to breathe the next. If I'm having a particularly hard day, where I've been obsessing over world news or all the bad things that can happen, the attack is a gradual full-body takeover. I may find myself pacing, unable to concentrate, or even missing things my kids have said, all because I've already fallen in the center of the inevitable tornado. The thing is, once I'm there, I can't pull back until it's over.
Despite my best efforts to do away with anxiety attacks completely, as a parent I'm acutely aware of how these sudden fits might skew my children's perception of their strong, confident mom. I hate that. With that, here are some other things moms with anxiety won't tell you. While the following is difficult to admit to, they're also everything you really do need to know.
When an anxiety attack is on the verge of explosion, I feel it. The sensation is similar to a tightness in my chest. My breaths shorten and I'm suddenly very aware of my surroundings or how confined I feel. My thoughts are overrun with fear of anything it can conjure — usually with things that would never happen — to bring me to the panicked state it wants. When this happens in public, I'm horrified at myself.
So, honestly, staring at me or watching the situation unfold without an ounce of intervention or an offer to help, does nothing but lengthen the entire attack. When we have anxiety attacks, you might be intrigued or feel the need to whisper, but we're embarrassed. Do more than just watch.
We Can't Always Control Our Anxiety
My anxiety often peaks at unusual times. I can't always predict what will trigger it and, as a result, can't always prepare myself to combat the attack itself. I've had more of these happen in the comfort of my own home, but I can't anticipate a public trigger, either. The truth is, the world is scary, so all this anxiety that's been building is ready to burst.
We've Tried All The Methods
Listen, I've been through the gamut. With various therapies, medications, exercises, breathing techniques, you name it. I still have anxiety attacks.
While I appreciate a well-meaning piece of advice to "help," I've probably already tried it with little to no success. If there has been success, it's not constant, and I have to work at it (and sometimes, I don't feel like working at it). What works for you may not work for me. Basically, unless you are me, and you've tried everything imaginable (but still carry anxiety like a second skin), save your advice.
We Need Compassion, Not Judgment
I realize how absurd I look when I'm in the middle of an anxiety attack. I also understand you may not know how to help. My husband didn't for a long time. He'd stand in front of me, confused, unsure of how to react in any way that may be beneficial. Honestly, it's taken many years for him to empathize.
When my mind is racing with terrifying, intrusive thoughts, and I'm struggling to settle myself, the best thing he (or anyone else) can do is hold me close, listen, and comfort me. The times I've experienced judgment from those who simply don't get what it feels like, do not help. In fact, it makes everything worth. The bottom line is, a little compassion goes a long way.
We're Aware Of How We're Perceived
When you think of someone having a panic or anxiety attack, you probably think of a dramatic display, like something you might watch on television. While it can look that way for a lot of people, I've also had minor attacks where I'm temporarily catatonic as my worried thoughts literally take over. The most common circumstance of my attacks aren't a grand display, but a quiet, internal meltdown.
Usually, I experience these attacks when I'm trying to choose between two cereal boxes at the grocery store. On the outside, you might see a woman in deep thought, but on the inside, I'm stuck. I've been known to stand in one spot for 20 minutes, or more, just paralyzed by anxiety and indecision. So, while I know most assume the attacks have to be these big, obvious things, sometimes they're much more discreet (but no less awful).
We're Bothered By Things That Probably Don't Bother You
Maybe the decision of which cereal to buy might not be a big deal to you, or perhaps you don't get overwhelmed by world tragedies to the point of insomnia. I do, though. Those things bother me. All the time. I can't change who I am as a person (and wouldn't want to) so I've learned to accept I'm a human who feels deeply. Sometimes the consequence of that ability is an anxiety attack. Just be aware that your shortcomings and triggers may not be mine, and vice versa.
We Wish They Didn't Happen
I don't love being at the mercy of my anxiety, and I wish I'd never have to experience an attack ever again. I'm sorry to anyone who's ever been witness to the destruction of my insides, or felt uncomfortable as a result. However, please know that when it's all over and I'm cowering and ashamed of my behavior, I'm still me.
Also, I probably need a hug.