My day. Do I dare describe it for you? Do I let you in on what most would hold as a personal secret?
Yes. I am Joy. It’s what I do.
I’ll need to begin by describing my morning. It took me a while to recognize the phenomena and call it what it was, but here’s what happened this morning: I found myself fighting anxiety that threatened to present itself as a full-blown panic attack. I had not had a panic attack in so long – probably 10 years – that it took me most of the morning to call on those emotional memory muscles and shift into coping mode.
My panic attacks present as a feeling of insatiable restlessness, then a near breathlessness that only lessens if I keep moving. Because constant movement is impossible, I attempt to stop – sit, stand, something – to prevent myself from getting lightheaded; but then, no longer moving, I start to feel achiness throughout my body. Trapped, restless energy, I guess – an uncomfortable feeling makes me want to keep moving again. Sometime during this heightened state of flight, my sensibilities kick in, and I recognize my anxiety. That’s what finally happened this morning.
Had I let my attack mature, I would have been bent over trying to catch my breath and crying large, tension-releasing tears. As it was, I found release in brief, tiny tears – tears of disappointment and a sense of failure. I hate anxiety. It means I’m not acknowledging something, and I take pride in my self-awareness.
It also means I’m not coping as well as I thought, and I take pride in how I navigate (or seem to) the uncommon demands of our family’s existence too. Today’s near anxiety attack must mean I’m not coping well. Obviously. Therefore, the next part of today was spent attempting to answer this question: What is bothering me?
I regard my anxiety as instructive. Therefore, I cannot keep moving forward until I know the answer, so imagine my helpless frustration at not knowing.
Back in my previous panic attack era, my main causes of anxiety were obvious: Stross, insurance, money. My panic attack seasons were also obvious: the first of the year (when insurance deductibles begin) and just before the start of school (when I had to prepare for another year of issues related to Stross’ special education needs).
I learned to cope by remembering to breathe, intentionally exercising and allowing myself to grieve things I believed I had lost. And I gave myself permission to do all of the above as often as necessary.
But none of my traditional causes seem to be the culprit right now, and my coping techniques are – evidently – not working. Therefore, I spent a great deal of this afternoon and evening musing about my life, wondering what to make of the sensation I have about being trapped in a paper bag that I want to punch through from the inside.
As I learned 10 years ago, this isn’t the kind of anxiety that can be prayed away, for casting of cares is not possible. My cares live within my home, personified in human beings that I love deeply. As a decade ago, the best I can hope for - should I attempt to cast cares - is to let go of control to the point of not caring. But how can I do that with loved ones?
Music provided a bit of insight this afternoon when I put on some GLEE to help me with my breathing. As Lea Michelle began singing “What I Did for Love,” I closed my eyes and got lost in the lyrics. With tears spilling from closed eyelids, I attempted to kiss today goodbye and point myself toward some type of tomorrow. I just wish I knew which direction to point or, as with that annoying paper bag, which direction to punch my way out.
I’m confident I’ll figure it out. The suffering will become perseverance, and persevering will further shape my character. My character knows the nature of hope. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I know that hope does not disappoint.
I am not hopeless. Just caught inside a metaphorical paper bag. I will eventually punch my way out. In the meantime, I’ll breathe, exercise, grieve things I feel I’ve lost … and, now, I think I'll add listening to wonderful music. That worked today. So maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow with a more specific idea of what’s bothering me.