Anxiety Attacks & Aftermaths

Picture by Aaron Blanco Tejedor.

Some cold callers came to my house this morning. Well, at least a week ago by the time you’re reading this. I’m still not convinced that they were legitimate. I know the sort of information you need about a person to commit fraud, and a lot of their questions were leaning that way. Things like ‘how long have you lived here’. Ostensibly they were about energy suppliers. One of them was wearing a lanyard but the ID card on it was pointedly facing away.

99.9% of the time, my instant reaction to people like this – legitimate or not – coming to the door is to immediately say I’m sorry, I’m not interested. People are always totally okay with this, I imagine because they get this sort of reaction all the time.

For some reason, today, I did not do that. I don’t know why. Perhaps I was trying to be brave, and politely get them to go rather than immediately shutting the door. My body language wasn’t exactly screaming of course, I’d love to talk to you, though. I doubt I ever convey that to people who come to the door – after all, I don’t make eye contact with them, never open the door wider than my face, and fidget the entire time.

I answer half a dozen questions – some innocuous, some that start to make me nervous. And then I start having a panic attack.

Thinking about it, it’s possible that the attack started the moment I opened the door to them. I wasn’t feeling amazing, but also wasn’t feeling terrible. It was just a day. A bit of anxiety, but nothing huge. By the time I’m on my fifth question, and they’re starting to show me pictures of my energy supplier’s logo on their phones, I am hyperventilating, and in full get me out of this mode.

I’m not entirely sure what I said, but it was something along the lines of “I’m not – look – can you just go?” accompanied with me shutting the door and locking it as loudly as I could.

Then I ran away. Up to the top of the stairs, where I sat down, likely because my legs were shaking. At this point I was properly hyperventilating, and crying, and my chest felt like someone had grabbed either side of it and pulled it really far apart.

All the way through this, of course, my thoughts are: you’re so stupid, you’re totally faking this, stop faking this, you ridiculous faker, why do you always have to be so dramatic.

It’s short, though. I start to actively calm myself down, then get abruptly distracted by Leia having a fight with a neighbouring cat. She won and got her first battle wound (a tiny cut on her lip). This jarred me out of the immediate attack – it was probably only 30 seconds in all, though it felt a lot worse, and it took me about another 10 minutes or so to properly stop crying.

In many ways, that attack is the easiest part to get through. It’s the most intense, but it’s the easiest.

Because it’s the rest of the day that sucks, and that’s the real reason I want to talk about this attack in particular. The hardest thing is the hours that follow, where it’s like the attack has firmly switched my intrusive thoughts to on.

I’m relatively sure I’ve done the right things, such as there ever are any. I take the rest of the day off, postpone my work tasks – because I won’t get them done to the standard I want when I’m like this, even if I finish them. I nap with my cat, meditate, distract myself where I can, generally do my best to go easy upon myself.

Externally, I manage this. Internally, it’s hellish – every time I manage to shut down one kind of thought (you’re failing at your job by not doing work right now) another one pops up to take its place (that food you are stress eating is going to make you fat again) and is quickly batted aside by another (you shouldn’t complain to your friends; all you ever do is complain) which then gets replaced by that first thought all over again.

It’s exhausting.

If I want you to take away one thing, from everything that you ever read here about anxiety, it is this: anxiety is exhausting. It is constant. Even when you learn to manage it, it will probably never go away.

And if you feel like that, you’re not alone.

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