I don't remember my first Anxiety attack. I've had them several times a month and sometimes, several times a week for as far back as I can remember. Many members of my family battle with Anxiety in varying degrees. Every day dealings with Anxiety are more often than not, a nag of sadness, that punches through the mundane chores, like washing dishes, or pangs of worry in the middle of playing with my kids. Those are not attacks, but simply a symptom of the deeper condition of Chronic Anxiety that I live with every day. Usually, because of the Anti-Anxiety medication that I have taken since my early 20's, attacks are quick and can be curbed quickly with Vitamin B, a funny movie, taking a walk, or conversing with someone and just voicing that what I am feeling IS Anxiety and not necessarily rooted in cause and effect.
Other times, less often, but occasionally, attacks can last days.
As I've grown along in life, I've learned to distinguish some of my triggers and keep my distance from them. A negative person, who can't seem to find the bright side in anything, will set me off every time. Other obvious triggers include unfinished projects or missed deadlines, Mud Season, checking my bank account balance, a messy house, or fighting children. These are obvious, rectifiable triggers that can be minimized (although mud season and the bank account are kind of tough to avoid) by staying ahead of the game and well organized. If things become unorganized however, forget it. I'm a basket case.
The worst attacks however, occur out of nowhere. Just last week, while nursing the baby, the monster reared its ugly head, and while damn near hyper-ventilating, I had to call my husband home from work. That kind of attack is rare, but it does happen. Twice, once in my early 20's, and once during a Senior year choral concert, being taped for cable television, I simply passed out. I brushed it off to my friends as being too hot under the camera lights. But the truth was too embarrassing to explain. My nickname in high-school was MANIC! I did not was any more stigma attached to me.
The most physical manifestations were late in high school and throughout college, when I suffered through fetal position level stomach cramps. In fact, on three different occasions, I visited the E.R. in distress, convinced that my appendix was rupturing. Finally a Dr. explained that, because the extreme level of mental stress that I placed on myself, my upper and lower intestines were actually stretching and contracting. The pain I was feeling was actually the release of pressure from my intestines on my stomache and other internal organs. He prescribed mild medication and holistic therapy (Meditation, herbs like St. John's Wort, Vitamin B complex,) and over time, the attacks, in this form anyway, ceased. Increases and decreases in medication dosage, and alternative methods of therapy have helped me to deal with the periodic depression that can arise with Chronic Anxiety. Whether this is a disease of the mind or body, I don't particularly care. I'll let the experts debate that one. However, I have come to accept that it IS a disease, a VERY REAL CONDITION, which I will deal with for life. I can choose to either let it cripple me, or do what I can on my end to push through the attacks and live in the sun as much as possible, despite the clouds that occasionally loom on the horizon. It's not always easy. In fact, at times, it's next to impossible. But like any illness, you make adjustments for your condition and the most of your situation. Nowadays I embrace my Manic nickname as an old friend, even using it occasionally as an alias. ;-)
It is extremely irritating, those who brush this illness off as an attention-seeking ploy for drama. Until you HAVE an attack, it's easy to make fun of it. Understand, that truly, I am not a sad person. Especially in my support of others, I'm an Optimist, and work very hard to keep above the depression. The hard part for some seems to be mustering compassion and understanding that everything is not quite so black and white. Everyone does not come in cookie cutter shapes and sizes, and that goes for the mind as well. I would give anything in the world to live a life free from the pallor of constant worry. Those days that I DO wake up without the cloud over my head truly feels like the best day of my life! While I do understand that some people do allow it to cripple them and expect people to simply take cater to their handicap, I know that is not me. That is not a lot of us. Like any other disease, there needs to be a certain level of understanding and patience. I am a strong human being, but I battle a strong illness. You wouldn't fault a person with high cholesterol for needing Lipitor, don't fault me for needing Zoloft. I hope that I have brought better understanding to those of you who've had the great luxury of never experiencing an Anxiety attack and DO want to understand. I suppose I could say that I wish you could experience it, just to understand what one is like, but I wouldn't wish an attack on anyone.