“I am not my panic attacks”

Project Description:

Morning. Alarm sounds. I fumble for my phone, eyes still closed: dismiss. Lips turn up at the corners, a whisper of a smile. Arms reach overhead, a turn at the hips, toes point down away from the heart in spinal twist. Lids flutter, a slow peak at the day.

Then, a surge of energy from the belly to the throat grips at my esophagus. Brows furrow, lips turn down. Words race between my ears: laundry forty-five minutes there and back oil stained dress shirts make for a near impossible job then grocery shopping on an empty bank account more credit more credit more credit soars better budgeting next month plus that birthday club night surrounded by loud-mouthed men eyes glazed and grabby hands if only I had more time—time for yoga and a square meal but for now just shower.

With water pouring over my body, anxiety defies gravity like fireworks shooting into my chest. On the walk to work I inhale deep through my mouth, gasping for air. In the train, tears prick my eyes. At work I sit, foot tapping furiously as I stare at the blank computer screen, words somersaulting in my headspace: uninspired useless waste of time how do I get out of here notice me notice me hard work no reward…I walk the long hallway to the bathroom, chest heaving. Click lock the stall door and release: long, deep sobs.

This time last year, my every morning the above scene played out. I felt like a puppet in a show, on display and out of control. The physical symptoms of the panic attacks were awesomely exhausting. But I came to welcome the numbness that is sister to fatigue.

The emotional punishment was far worse and long-lasting. After developing coping mechanisms that enabled me to stifle the physical manifestations of anxiety, my thoughts remained haunted…
How could someone once so content and in control have gotten here?
If you bail on another social event they’ll never forgive you.
Feeling like dead-weight at work? Well you’re stuck.
Maybe you’d be happier if your boyfriend loved you better. Maybe you’re boyfriend’d love you better if you did anything worth loving.

Until one day, he said: can we just be happy? For once? I hated him for holding spotlight to my behavior. I vowed to shut him out. But in shutting him out I shut his words in and they began to take root. Can we just be happy?

One year later, I’ve stopped trying to mask my anxiety and force my happiness. I strive instead for conscious contentment. Some days are good and some days are bad; but I find reprieve in the fact that my anxiety will never solely define me. It is a state that I experience; it comes and goes. Just as the verb “to be” is active, in constant flux so is what I identify as. I have the power to decide What I Be. In the words of sister India Arie…

You never know where life is gonna take you
And you can’t change where you been
But today I have the opportunity to Choose