It begins as a slight dizziness, and when I recognize that I’m dizzy, it gets worse and is followed by a tingling sensation in my stomach—almost like butterflies, but much more pronounced. Breathing becomes difficult, black dots dance in front of my eyes. Adrenalin shoots through my body, my skin gets hot and prickly. I’m afraid—terrified—and I don’t know why.
My name is Jessica, and I have panic attacks and anxiety. I can usually overcome an attack by taking deep breaths or by focusing on music. If I have my iPod and headphones close by, I pop them in and let the tunes flow through my mind. If I don’t have them near me, I start singing to myself. Anything. The first song that comes to mind. I sing it under my breath so I have to focus on the words. This usually helps alleviate the symptoms and keeps me from going over the emotional cliff.
There is no telling when an attack is going to hit me. Anything can trigger it, and I’ve had attacks waiting in line to check out at the store, at work, in the car, on a plane, and various other places.
I recently figured out part of the reason why I have these particular panic attacks: fear of losing control. I’m a control freak. I like to know exactly what’s going to happen and when. For me, the ultimate loss of control is being unable to control my own body.
Of course, I can’t control everything. I know that. I’m getting better at being okay with that and going with the flow. I’ve stopped structuring every hour of my day so that there are no surprises. I had to. It’s a silly way to live, especially with kids. There’s no telling what’s going to crop up with them, and I have to be free and flexible to deal with it.
By nature, I’m a worrier. As a mom, I’m always scared to death something is going to happen to my kids or to me and my kids will be left all alone. I’m cynical. I’m convinced the worst is always going to happen. Again, it comes down to losing control. I can’t control what happens out in the world. That’s beyond my grasp. I can’t stop my kids from getting hurt or growing up. Eventually, I will die, and there is nothing I can do to stop that. All I can do is give my kids the skills they need to cope and be there for them when they need me. Logically, I know this. Emotionally, I’m still trying to deal with it.
Panic attacks and anxiety are chemical reactions in the brain, and I’m genetically disposed to getting them. I know for a fact that my grandmother suffers from them and so does my father. I can take pills to counteract the effects, and I have Xanax with me at all times, but I don’t like how they make me feel. I’m calm and relaxed, that’s for sure, but I can’t concentrate, I can’t function. I would much rather talk myself out of an attack or recognize the signs one is coming on and avoid it at all costs. Sometimes, I just have to ride them out.
It’s really frustrating to feel like my body has betrayed me. It’s awful to think that the one thing I should be able to control—me—rebels against itself. My mind is my worst enemy when it comes to panic attacks and anxiety. I’ve always had a vivid imagination; it’s part of the reason I’m a writer. However, when I’m anxious, my imagination runs away from me. My mind convinces itself the worst-case scenarios are going to happen, and that pushes me into an attack. That’s part of the reason music works so well to calm me. It takes my focus away from the bad things and centers it. I can also channel that energy into writing, which I’ve done before. Anything that takes my mind off the “could happens” turns me away from a full blown attack and lets me regain control.
Recognizing the fact that I have panic attacks has helped me cope with them. Even though it feels like the world is going to end when I’m having one, I know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I know that I will make it through because I have before. I’ve had a lot less lately. I’m still anxious about a lot of things, and I’m sure I will always be, but I don’t let them control me anymore. I control me the best that I can.
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BIO: Jessica Robinson is an editor by day and a zombie-killer by night (at least in her books). Since the first time she watched Night of the Living Dead, she has been obsessed with zombies and often thinks of ways to survive the uprising. In addition to her nonfiction book, under the pen name Pembroke Sinclair, she has written YA novels about zombies and the tough teens who survive the apocalyptic world. She has also written nonfiction stories for Serial Killer Magazine and published a book about slasher films called Life Lessons from Slasher Films. You can learn more about Jessica by visiting her at her blog here