Anxiety Chronicles: New Level Unlocked

I had an anxiety-fueled panic attack yesterday (I can usually tell the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack, but what I experienced yesterday was different and I still don’t know what to call it, so I settled on this).

It’s a complicated thing to take care of your mental health while also being concerned about offending others. On one hand, I’m cycling through an hour-long experience of breathing way too hard and doing this weird tapping thing I’ve never done before so my brain can fixate on something other than making tears and trying to breathe so I don’t hyperventilate and pass out and wanting my mom but not being able to call for her; and on the other hand, I’m fully conscious of everything that’s happening but unable to stop it and worried that everyone things I’m being a brat and having a temper tantrum at 34.

And then there’s the issue of trying to act like none of it happened because I’m now at a family member’s funeral and people I love are grieving but I’m still trying to recover from this major mental and physical experience and I’m exhausted and I have no room for other people’s feelings but this moment isn’t about me but because I’m not engaging “normally” people are taking my silence as rudeness and I’m trying really hard not to argue with people who are grieving so I sit in the car until the service is done because my brain hasn’t returned to default and now I can’t stop crying but also this moment isn’t about me because I’m at a freaking funeral and other people are grieving.

Anxiety is a bitch.

It started the night before. I’d “peopled” all day and was wiped out and a series of events led to an anxiety spiral that kept me up too late and woke me up too early in tears and just as I’m trying to regulate that experience by taking my morning slowly and practicing self-care in the form of brushing my teeth and getting some iced coffee, another (unexpected and uncomfortable) moment ignites the bomb that is an anxiety-fueled panic attack and I’m done for.

At what point am I allowed to say, “fuck everyone else and their feelings” and focus solely on my own painful, complicated experience that very few of the people I know understand? Unfortunately, I feel like the answer is “never” because my pain and the way I respond to it aren’t contained in a bubble.

And I oscillate between withdrawing completely from everyone I know in the real world and participating more in my relationships in an effort to be a well-functioning person.

I don’t think I ever truly feared for myself (in regard to living alone) in the past; it was more so a situation of money is funny. Now, though, living alone would mean I have absolutely no responsibility to engage with anyone outside of myself on a regular basis and (lately) I have experienced too frequently moments where I would absolutely turn off my phone and only respond to emails about business if I didn’t live with family, and particularly my mother who encourages (read: forces) me to engage with people and events outside of my corner of the house. I’d fear for myself if I were to live alone in this state.

Not engaging with others means fewer instances of situations that could trigger an anxiety spiral, a panic attack, or even just personal insecurities. It also means a limit to my opportunities for growth. I don’t want to be a recluse.

If anything, I want understanding; at the very least, I want people to honor my boundaries, and I want them to leave me alone when they see I’m not engaging as I usually would (especially, if they saw me the day before and I was in my normal, good-natured mood).

The experience yesterday was a new one. I have experienced attacks that were mentally more intense (intrusive thoughts and what not) but never as physically involved. It’s like a new level of my experience with anxiety has been unlocked just as I was overcoming the last one.

I don’t know what comes next, but I’m taking today slowly.

A Loss That Isn’t Mine

My ex died and I’m having a difficult time processing it.

We only dated a few months back in 2019. It didn’t end badly. Since then, he’d become a truck driver, gotten married, had gastric surgery, started a podcast with some of his childhood friends, made more music, did a couple travel assignments as a CNA… he seemed to be doing well.

One of his songs popped up on my Spotify back in March and I reached out to see how he was doing—we still did that on occasion. It was a short exchange on IG. He told me about his travel contracts and some news about his dad, we wished each other well, and that was it.

I was thinking about him a few weeks ago as my aunt was asking about entertainment for her sister’s surprise party but hadn’t reached out yet. Sunday, I decided to see how he was doing. Before I sent him a message, I saw that he hadn’t been on IG in months, which was unlike him since he was a singer and was constantly posting content. And I noticed the podcast page was inactive in his bio. For some reason, I felt the need to look through his wife’s page, and that’s where I found her post about losing her best friend. I then went to his best friend’s page (idk, in case I was reading plain English wrong) and his post from July confirmed my ex had died. I couldn’t find anything to tell me what he died from, but his best friend had seen him in the hospital just before he took his last breath.

I was shook. Like, walking around the house in circles not remembering what I was trying to do shook. I had been fairly happy that morning—I was headed out soon with my parents and brother to wrap up our weekend family staycation—but that news made me want to crawl back in bed and disconnect from everyone.

But why? He and I weren’t particularly close after we stopped seeing each other. Everything happened so fast at the beginning. We connected quickly and then spent a lot of time together. I met his family, he met mine; I spent a lot of time down in Largo where he lived. It was good until it wasn’t, but it was never bad, it just wasn’t working out. We stayed friendly. I don’t know why I feel hurt by him not being anymore.

And it’s still difficult for me to think about—him not existing anymore. It’s weird. It feels unnatural. He was in his mid-30s.

I want to cry for him. I want to tattoo a burrito on my wrist (his nickname for me). I want to DM his wife and ask what happened to him. But he wasn’t mine. This loss, really, isn’t mine. We dated for a few months three years ago (though, let’s be honest, 2020-2022 has felt like one unending year) and he’s been dead since July. I have no rights to the story of another woman’s husband.

Although the loss may not be mine, the grief is. And I’m still unsure of the reason for my grieving. Maybe it’s because no one I’ve dated as ever died until now (that I’m aware of) and nobody tells you how to mourn the loss of someone you once cared about but no longer have a relationship with.

His death makes me sad. The fact I didn’t know until more than three months later makes me sad. The knowledge that my peers are dying (and for reasons I don’t know)…

I’ve learned through therapy to allow myself whatever grief I feel. And I’ve been feeling it. I’m still experiencing flashes of sadness and hurt and anger and disappointment from my breakup a couple weeks ago and now I’m grieving on top of my grief. But I’m letting myself feel the things instead of shoving them down.

You Wanted Girlfriends, Right?

I don’t like being challenged. I don’t like people challenging my mindset, beliefs, goals, feelings, habits, actions… you get the point. I don’t like being accountable to other people. Still, I’m the one who has been asking for better friendships, and better friendships are meant to push us past ourselves.

One of the reasons I don’t like being challenged is because I hate having to defend myself. I am an incredibly reflective person and I often need time to gather my thoughts and figure out the best way to approach a topic. Having to defend myself on the spot means there’s no time to rehearse my point of view or gather supporting sources for the information I present. I have to think “on the fly,” and that is not easy for me, so I end up stumbling over my words and seeming unsure of my position which—as someone who deals with anxiety—makes me want to retreat into myself where all the challenging voices are my own.

The thing is, I can’t continue to do that if I want my friendships to be deeper and stronger. My attempts at avoiding the discomfort of confrontation tend to translate to others as passive-aggression, and that leads to a host of other problems in the relationship, including more confrontation. I learned that over the weekend. I learned that even when I try to deal with my feelings alone, my friends are still affected, and it causes them hurt and frustration as well. I learned I can hash out an issue with a friend in a way that allows us to express ourselves, hear each other, create solutions, and move forward.

I also learned that I can be proud of things I participate in even if they don’t “look” like me.

I’ve spent a lot of my life in conservative Christianity. Not like the conservative evangelicals who are picketing outside abortion clinics and trying to destroy democracy and who are not actually a reflection of Christ at all; but the ones who believe in waiting until marriage to have sex, dressing modestly, and “guarding the avenues of your heart” by avoiding certain types of entertainment and conversations. Because of that upbringing, I have held parts of myself back for a long time and molded myself to that image when navigating public spaces.

Over the past few months, I have been enjoying a new project (a podcast) with one of my cousins and one of her friends who has quickly become one of my friends. The thing that makes it so interesting is we have had drastically different upbringings and we have very different personalities and views as well, yet we tend to come together on a lot of subjects. These women don’t navigate the world from a place of restriction the way I have been, so they are able to discuss things with much more freedom than I feel.

I find myself still concerned with the way other people will see me and the assumptions they will make about me, especially from a conservative or professional lens, and I let that affect me in that I have not been publicly sharing the podcast. And it came to a head in recent weeks after our last episode came out.

Keep in mind, I am actively evaluating and reframing perspectives that were built on religious traditions and imposed upon me, and I do not subscribe to the traditional view of “professionalism,” however, I found myself in a place of discomfort and uncertainty.

Although I have always stayed true to myself in our conversations, I am also used to having certain conversations in private and I was concerned about how I would be viewed—personally and as a professional who is trying to gain new career opportunities—by those hearing the conversation. I started to question whether or not this was something I wanted to continue participating in. But I had to realize that not everything I participate in is going to look like me. In all honesty, most things I participate in aren’t going to look like me. Heck, my religious community doesn’t even look like me.

The podcast is a reflection of us. There are three of us with very different ways of speaking and understanding and living, and so long as I stay true to my authentic self when I open my mouth (or type up a message), it should not matter if the conversation goes in a different direction than I anticipated. Because, as a whole, this podcast has forced us all to grow, to learn, and to be accountable to ourselves. It has given me girlfriends. And as challenging as that can be sometimes, I asked for it, and it’s what I needed.