It starts when my chest gets tight. It feels like all the muscles surrounding my rib cage close in around my sternum. The world gets a little fuzzy – my thoughts are cloudy and indiscernible, and words people around me are speaking stop making sense. Sometimes that’s as far as it goes. Other times it doesn’t stop until my throat snaps shut and I’m shaking so hard that I can’t hold myself up anymore. Drowning on dry land, for lack of a better metaphor. But eventually it passes. It always does, even when it feels like it will never end. Then it becomes a wait-and-worry game. Will it happen again today? Tomorrow? Next week? What if next time it doesn’t stop? What if someone sees me fall apart?
Most of the time, I do my best not to give away what’s going on in my head during a bad spell. I don’t want to drag people I care about down into the mess that is my own head. It’s absolutely exhausting. I spend more time than I want worrying about everything – literally, everything – so I tend to assume, usually incorrectly, that everyone worries about everything as much as I do. I don’t want to give other people, especially people I care about, something else to worry over. Most of the time, I feel like I’m not worth the brain space. But once in a while, I start wishing someone would be able to read my thoughts and see that I’m in trouble. My thoughts are screaming, and it’s all I hear. Why can’t anyone else hear it?
I’m learning every day that nobody is a mindreader. If I need help, I need to ask for it. I I’m getting better at asking, and I’m getting better at controlling my stress. My anxiety used to consume me. It’s not gone; I don’t think it will ever be completely gone. But I’ve learned how to live with it. I know how to handle it. And I’m reminded every day that I have people that I can turn to for help when the handle I’m holding starts to get slippery.