Back in the old days, before my second pregnancy, I had loads of anxiety attacks. If you’ve never experienced one, you’re really missing out. I know that mine were never as severe as some other people’s I’ve spoken to, so I’ll keep my complaints to a minimum. In my case, the symptoms were typically these:
1) Racing heart. And by racing, I mean it feels like your heart is pounding faster and faster and will eventually explode inside your chest.
2) Rapid breathing and shortness of breath. This has often caused people to say, “You sound out of breath” as if they’re waiting for an explanation – as if I’m supposed to reply, “I was running laps around the house, just before taking your call.” But what can I say? “Well, I was just curled up in my bed anticipating my demise.” It doesn’t sound like the sort of activity that would leave you winded, but it does. It really does.
3) The shakes. I live with a tremor even when I’m not contending with anxiety attacks. It’s heredity and mostly just a nuisance. I take medication to control the tremor and cut down on the number of drinks I spill. I still spill a lot, though. When I’m having an anxiety attack, medicine or no medicine, the shakes come back with a vengeance. The simple act of holding my head steady can take a monumental effort. I feel, in the midst of an anxiety of attack, that if I don’t concentrate very hard on keeping my body still, it will pull apart and shoot off in a thousand different directions. I didn’t say this was a rational sensation, but it’s mine.
4) Sweating. And that’s all I have to say about that.
5) A sense of impending doom. This is the worst thing about an anxiety attack, really. When I’m in the midst of one I feel like something terrible is about to happen, but it’s completely undefined. It’s my adult version of the monster in the closet. The sense of dread makes me want to run, but where? And from what?
As I said, I used to experience anxiety attacks regularly before my last pregnancy. I’m not using that event just as a marker on my life’s timeline: I’m sure there was a connection. My crazy mood swings (which I had in addition to the anxiety attacks, lucky me) subsided, the anxiety attacks disappeared – even my eyesight improved. Little Bee was the gift that just kept on giving.
After a few years my eyesight started to deteriorate again. That’s aging for you. And this morning I had a real pain-in-the-neck anxiety attack. It kicked in as I was rehearsing the music for church and by the time practice was over I was soaked in sweat – I mean, seriously, soaked. I’d worn a new blouse today, pencil skirt, jewelry – but it is hard to feel ladylike when the sweat is pouring off your body.
In Sunday school I asked my class to pray that I would chill out. When I mentioned that I was having an anxiety attack one of my friends reached over and gently scooted my coffee cup away from me. “That’s not going to help you,” she said. This is like telling a smoker that his cigarette is not really calming him. You may have all the facts on your side, but I’m telling you: the coffee helps.
The anxiety was receding but not gone by the time I went into the morning service. I was in charge of giving the announcements today, and although I got through them, I did it at auctioneer speed. I also had a bit of a crisis during a solo I was singing. The wrong words came up on the projection screen and when I looked down at the music stand in front of me, I realized I couldn’t read the sheet music without my glasses. Darn my deteriorating eyesight! I did a little lyrical improvising, but I guess it wasn’t the end of the world.
I believe my anxiety issues are fundamentally physiological in nature, rather than spiritual or emotional. That knowledge doesn’t help much when I’m feeling the approach of some horrific catastrophe. But at least I can say to myself (and I do), “This isn’t my fault. It’s just something my body is doing to me. This monster is not real. It will go away.”