Ooooh Lord, y’all. Writing about my panic attacks makes me weepy. I’ve always been okay with being vulnerable but when it comes to discussing something so incredibly raw and fresh, well…it’s hard. But here I am. I’m not sure if you remember but around Spring of 2018, I talked about experiencing panic attacks for the very first time. Okay, maybe not the first time. When I look back at it, I’ve had mini ones before. However, the ones that jolted me in 2018 were body altering, debilitating and terrifying. They were awful.
If you missed the video where I talked about them…BOOM
They forced me to get more sleep.
Before these panic attacks, my sleep was trash. Neither one of my kids were stellar sleepers. Between that and dealing with work, solo parenting it with my husband mostly being out of town and not having any help, my sleep suffered. I was always running on fumes and walking in a zombie-like state. I was a full functioning mess. I was like this for YEARS. No one knew and I didn’t bother telling anyone because well…no one cares. We’re ALL tired. My fatigue was crippling and the stresses brought on by panic attacks made me even more fatigued. And so my body forced me to sleep. For the first time in years, I made attempts to shut it all off by a certain hour and be in bed by a certain hour. Gradually, I got more and more sleep.
Also, my youngest stopped waking up at 3am, too. FINALLY!
They forced me to find ways to get out of my head.
Prior to the panic attacks, my negative thoughts ran my life. You know that whole mindfulness thing people talk about these days? I was the opposite of that. My thoughts were scary and debilitating. Journaling didn’t help. Talking about my thoughts to others didn’t help (I haaaated the pity) but you know what did help? Gardening. Hiking. Getting away from the internet. Gardening is truly the biggest healer for me because for the first time, I was able to think about something that wasn’t…”scary”. There was no worry in gardening. It was just me, the dirt, greenery and the sun. I didn’t have time to think thoughts like “What if I have a panic attack right here?” when I was harvesting tomatoes and picking herbs for breakfast. Gardening allowed me to exist without thinking and doing. This was the first time in my adult life that I ever consciously did that.
Also, can we talk about how I panic attack’ed my way through the Grand Canyon??? Dayuuuum! I can’t believe I did that!
They forced me to talk about mental health.
Talking about mental health ain’t easy. Especially if you’re a Black girl. A lot of Black folx come from a “pray to God and be strong” kind of background. Many of us have been taught to tuck our feelings away and to pray. To be stoic and emotion-less. To not talk about our worries. We are taught this as young kids. So many of us grow up to be adults with mental health issues and we struggle to even admit this AND get help. My panic attacks allowed me to open the door for these heavy conversations. Turns out…I wasn’t so alone. In my healing, I was sent emails and messages from others letting them know that that they began to get help – all because I shared my story.
They forced me to slow down.
I’m a reformed workaholic. I’ve been this way for all of my life. I went into overdrive when I became a working mother because when you have work demand and home demands, you don’t have time to slow down. Leisure activities such as reading and sitting down to watch a show resulted in me falling asleep within minutes. I was either in OVERDRIVE or asleep. These panic attacks forced me to take less work. To say NO. I couldn’t do it all anymore. So I stopped trying. I read more and did a whole lot of nothing. I got over the thoughts that told me I was being useless and sat down anyway.
They forced me to FEEL.
Lemme tell, y’all. I can be a bit cold. Like most folks, I like to blame most of my character flaws on my zodiac sign or if I’m on my period (HA!), but I kid you not, being weepy is not in my DNA. Those panic attacks punched me in the emotional gut. They didn’t give a darn about my ice cold demeanor. They made me sad, mad, resentful, frustrated and confused. Simply put, I felt ALL the feelings. And I haaaaaaated it.
Until I didn’t. Turns out, it’s okay to be pissed. It’s okay to not be happy with your life or to question if motherhood was the right decision. It’s okay to wonder where your marriage is going and how you will move in your career. It’s OKAY to have not so good thoughts. Panic attacks let me feel those feelings for a while. I’ve even learned to be okay with crying. Which is new for me.
How am I now? Like most of us, I take each day, day by day. Sometimes I have great days and some days I struggle. But if I am completely honest, I am soooooo glad to be where I am. This year has been so hard for me mentally and emotionally but I am GRATEFUL to have learned tools to help me deal with panic attacks. They may never go away but at least now I know they won’t kill me.
Also, therapy is EVERYTHING.
I’ll never stop talking about mental health problems. This is real life for so many of us.