With the blizzard blaring outside, I wanted to share two things with you, dear reader. One: I wish I was back in Palm Beach. Obviously. And two: I have panic disorder. It’s not exactly a secret but I’ve recently started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT for short) and a big part of it is owning your experiences. So, today, I thought I’d share an essay I wrote about what a panic attack feels like for me along with another set of Palm Beach pictures – taken on a good day when my anxiety level was relatively low. I know it seems like a jarring contradiction to see smiling, happy photos with painful words but it’s actually pretty representative of who I am.
I have had anxiety my entire life. People don’t believe me when I tell them this, but I have a crystal-clear memory of my first panic attack at age 5. ‘That can’t be right,’ they say. ‘Someone must have told you about it later or maybe you had the flu and just remember being scared! What could a five-year-old have to be anxious about?” Um…everything?
Anxiety and panic have colored every part of my life. It’s hanging in the back of memories, good and bad, like an ugly painting I’ve inherited but can’t sell. It’s generally more of a visceral feeling than specific thoughts and worries. It creeks into me. It makes decisions for me. Sometimes, it decides where I go because, “What if I have a panic attack and can’t get help?” Yes, I have anxiety about anxiety! Thanks to my years of experience, I can usually tell when I’m reaching my anxiety threshold and need to change my situation before it escalates into a full -blown panic attack. That said, there are still a lot of times when I’m Regina George and my panic is that bus at the end of Mean Girls.
I’ve heard that no two panic attacks are ever alike. They look and feel differently for everyone. But unless you’ve experienced one, I think it’s impossible to truly grasp the level of fear. It’s such a tough experience to describe because when it’s happening, I can barely think. My mind suddenly, unexpectedly feels like it’s grasping at straws just to hold on to a single thought.