Sunday, July 24, 2011

Anxiety attacks suck.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of watching a friend of mine have an anxiety attack.  We were at work, probably schleppin’ potato salad and complaining about Russian accents when all of a sudden her eyes grew wide and she started freaking out.

“What is wrong with me?  I feel like I’m dying,” she repeated over and over as she paced around and asked anybody and everybody what the hell was happening and how to make it better.  Eventually I had to punch out and take her home where she could continue losing her mind while not being in public.

“Shit, I don’t know.  Slam a bunch of water and try to take a nap or something,” was all I could tell her when asked what she should do.  I had no idea what was happening.  It just looked like she was freaking out and those two things basically fix everything (including cancer) so I figured that’d be the way to go.  However, I failed to realize that what she was going through was a mental thing and not a physical thing.

Also, my roommate is afraid of heights.  I always assumed this just meant that he’s a big ol’ pussy and have taken every opportunity to mock him mercilessly whenever bouts of vertigo overtake him while we find our seats in the top tier of Turner Field.

Now, however, both of these things have become illuminated by the wonderful light of experience.  Today, for some reason, my mind short-circuited and I came the closest I have ever come to completely losing my mind. 

There could be many factors for this (drinking coffee and five-hour energy drinks right beforehand, high levels of stress due to dangerous driving conditions, an oppressive lack of sleep, an alcohol-soaked hungover body, etc.) but nothing is certain except for the inciting moment which is something that should merit nothing more than a comment to somebody right next to you at the time it happens.  It’s definitely not an experience you would recall at a later point and fill somebody in on the details.

We were driving through the mountains in Tennessee when the trees lining the road cleared for a moment and the horizon became clear.  A mountain range sat below a setting sun with a few clouds strewn about the sky.  A sharp drop-off could be seen next to the highway after a sturdy guardrail and a brief section of trees.  It was a beautiful view, but not anything crazy, out of the ordinary, or new.  But for some reason, when the trees cleared for that two second window and I saw all of this, my entire view of myself, the world, and physical properties such as gravity and simply which way was up got thrown right out of the window.

My heart stopped like a cop had just busted me selling black tar heroin to a six-year-old handicapped child on Christmas.  My head spun like Bo Jackson blasted my internal equilibrium with a baseball bat.  My heart then started to race and my breathing became heavier.  But the mental repercussions of viewing the sunset were far worse than any physical change I was experiencing.  I’ve been dizzy and scared before.  I can deal with that.  But what really freaked me out was fifteen minutes later, when I finally got my vision and balance under control and I became afraid of everything around me.

I was completely overwhelmed by nature and the outside world.  There were too many billboards.  The mountains where too big.  There were too many trees.  Nothing made sense to me.  I was convinced we would be falling off the side of the highway at any minute and shortly afterwards an explosion would incinerate me and my roommate.  For sure.  That was definitely going to happen.  I realized that I wasn’t thinking rationally but had no control over it.  I couldn’t just say, “Hey Josh, that’s crazy.  Start thinking normal again.”  It was more like, “Uh-oh Josh, that’s crazy.  I hope one day you’ll be able to think normal again.”

I thought I was going to puke.  I thought my body was going to stop working.  I envisioned scenarios where I would never be able to leave the house again because if the world continued to look to me the way it currently did, I would never be able to go outside ever again.  The world was horrifying.  Everything about everything scared the living shit out of me.

I was in the middle of having my first anxiety attack, and it was the most awful feeling I’ve ever experienced.  It was all triggered by a forgettable, albeit picturesque, view which was followed by a hit of vertigo before becoming a mind-paralyzing, body-melting couple of hours.

Now that I’m able to look back on the experience with an objective, reality-based viewpoint, it really blows my mind.  Not as much as a sun hanging out over a mountain, I guess, but still pretty amazing.  I’ve never lost touch with reality that much before.  I was completely humbled to the world, fully realizing my insignificance next to a mountain.  I’m just a speck of nothing in an inconsequential period of time in one tiny section of the universe.  Nothing I do will ever actually matter.  Nothing any of us do will actually change the course of the world, and even if it did it still wouldn’t matter to the universe.  This realization all came in one instant and it basically popped my brain.  I came as close as you can get to literally blowing my mind besides stuffing dynamite into my ear and lighting the wick. 

I spent the following couple hours or so trying to piece my life back together and convince myself that the imposing outside world is nothing to be afraid of.  The fear that is turning your insides into ice is irrational and should be ignored.  Sure, those mountains all around you are big, but they’re not going to hurt you.  They can’t.  Neither will the clouds above them, the dirt beneath you, or anything else besides the cigarettes in your pocket.  So just grab one of those and chill the fuck out.

It’s been a little over five hours since my little dance with insanity and I still don’t feel completely normal.  I’m hoping a solid night of sleep will knock the rest of this weirdness out of me.  Now when I think of Ted saying there’s no way he’ll go to the top of a hotel and look out the window or Katrine saying she tries her best not to drink coffee because it might make her body freak out again, I have a completely new perspective.  If I had known then what I know now, I would have handled each situation in a completely different manner.  I guess that kind of goes without saying, but I feel like if I don’t learn anything from this experience it would really be a terrible way to waste time.  And now I have a brand new thing to worry about and try to figure out how to never do ever again.


  1. I have had anxiety and panic attacks for over 8 months now. It all started when I watched my partner have a seizure. Like everyone else I felt like I was going to die. I haven't had a panic attack for over 2 months now which is great, but still suffer with the physical side of anxiety like muscle spasms, aches and pains and irritable bowel syndrome. I refused to take any medication for my anxiety, so I tried acupuncture. It really works but takes time. From taking this route I don't get panic attacks anymore and I hope to be symptom free soon. Literally helps to think positive and don't let it over power you.

    Cenaida Uribe

  2. Many sufferers of anxiety seek out panic attack relief. Luckily, some great tips and remedies show you how you can lessen the effects of panic attacks