so sad today

This Week in Panic

They say a good way to get over panic attacks is to "welcome the panic," so I recorded every anxious sensation I had for a week.

by So Sad Today
Feb 5 2015, 5:00am

Illustrations by Joel Benjamin

I've been going hard on panic attacks recently. Harder than usual, ever since I had a bad one a few weeks ago, brought on by vertigo. What came first, the vertigo or the panic attack? In this case it was the vertigo, accompanied by nausea. I started feeling sick while having lunch with a creative collaborator. As in most social situations, I was scared to be honest about how I felt.

The sudden onset of nausea and vertigo led to a thought sequence that went: Oh my God. Something's wrong. Am I dying? Stand up. Don't stand up. Tell Brett. Don't tell Brett. I'm dying. This is it.

Eventually I told Brett what was happening by saying, "I feel weird." It's rare for me to break the fourth wall of anxiety. I prefer to appear as though I have no human needs. Even if I am planning my funeral internally, I try to save the anxiety card for the future. Like, it's OK to terminate lunch once due to "feeling weird." But now I have used up my anxiety card with Brett. And because I have used up my anxiety card, I will have panic attacks every time I see him.

Once I've had a major panic attack, particularly one where I break the fourth wall of anxiety, I begin to fear more panic attacks. I fear fear. And since fear is a catalyst for fear, this leads to more panic attacks.

Historically, I've had some success stopping the cycle using an e-book called Panic Away. There's a part of the book that tells you to "welcome the panic"—like, tell it you are glad it is here and even ask for more. The idea is that when you genuinely welcome the feelings, you are not feeding fear with fear. But first you have to acknowledge the sensations you are feeling and not run from them.

Panic-attack symptoms suck. They include: shortness of breath, suffocating feelings, choking sensations, rapid heartbeat, blurred vision, tingling in arms and legs, butterflies in stomach, lightheadedness, shaking, sweating, and, my least favorite, dissociation. For those of you who have experienced these symptoms and thought you were dying, welcome to the club.

In an effort to "welcome the panic" I decided to write down every anxious sensation I experienced for a week. Since I knew I was doing this for public consumption, it's almost like I was begging to give myself an attack. My hope was that I would get performance anxiety and then not have any, thereby breaking the cycle.

Friday, January 23

8:20 PM: About to eat dinner at home. Feelings of dread. Tightness in chest. I said the words "salad" and "microwave burrito" out loud and got scared. Then I wrote this down and the feelings went away. Does this liveblog give me a purpose, a distraction from the existential? Patient, heal thyself!

10:03 PM: Thought about getting into bed with a pint of diet ice cream with popcorn mixed into it and experienced a choking sensation and vague feeling of dread. Unsure what the connection is between anxiety and food, other than a lifetime of disordered eating, body dysmorphia, and an inability to make peace with my appetite.

10:06 PM: Felt a strange ringing in my ears. Thought it was the end.

10:41 PM: Heard the name of the old baseball stadium from the city where I grew up and thought Dad. Felt a wave of anxiety in my chest. Realized it was sadness.

Saturday, January 24

5:47 AM: Woke abruptly from a dream involving Vitamin Water Zero and couldn't breathe. Realized I must be breathing since I was still alive. Didn't go back to sleep.

7:12 AM: Somehow ended up in an internet vortex of Johnny Depp. Now I'm reading Johnny Depp quotes on Goodreads. Johnny says, "If you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn't have fallen for the second." Suffocating.

11:42: AM: Exhausted. Felt a tightness in my chest when I saw the name of a city where someone who I used to love currently lives. Clutching chest. Feel like it will kill me. Also, why did I let Johnny Depp make me feel bad? Like, why am I doubting myself based on love advice from Johnny Depp? Also, what if the second person you love doesn't love you?

12:31 PM: At a gathering of women, listening to a woman speak. I was late getting here, and the only seat left was in the front row. I feel like they are watching me. If something happens and I have to get up it will be weird. Is the room spinning? I feel like the room has a heartbeat. I don't want to feel anything.

12:39 PM: Scared that I'm not going to be OK or be able to function in the world.

11:22 PM: Watching The Eric Andre Show, thinking about what it would mean to have a nervous breakdown. Worrying about hospitalization.

Sunday, January 25

10:15 AM: Woke up overwhelmed by everything. I can't do it.

12:23 PM: Going to the beach. Am scared of the beach, the quiet and openness. Stopped at a market to get sandwiches and saw a sad teen boy getting weird General Tso's chicken, or something, from the hot bar. Asphyxiating. How do people survive?

1:09 PM: At the beach. Took four shells and held them in my palms and said the words anxiety, worry, fear, depression and threw them into the ocean. Didn't want to let them go.

1:37 PM: And then what?

7:12 PM: Noticed I am getting a couple of chin zits. Got excited for a second that I would have something on which to focus my free-floating anxiety.

9:26 PM: Eating Cheesecake Factory Skinnylicious Mexican tortilla salad to go and thinking about the suffering in the world. Like, not individual suffering but a big cloudy mass. I am suffering. Please don't leave me alone with all these feelings. Please leave me alone.

Monday, January 26

2:53 PM: Haven't had to see any other human beings today and am sort of OK.

Tuesday, January 27

3:39 AM: Felt anxious. Decided I would feel better if I masturbated. I do feel better now, but spent three hours "browsing" Pornhub before I came. Will be tired tomorrow. Exhaustion is an anxiety trigger. Seriously have no idea how to take care of myself. Or, like, I do have an idea but don't want to.

12:17 PM: Just got out of therapy. Experienced the sensation of smothering to death and also that my vision was blurry during session. Didn't have a full attack. Managed to hold on. Was actually talking about prior panic attacks, and possible underlying feelings beneath prior panic attacks, while I was having this pre-attack. Didn't tell therapist I was having pre-attack, because I didn't want her to judge me or feel like she was giving me the attack. Is this counterintuitive?

7:05 PM: In a group of people. Scared, exhausted, pronounced heartbeat, dissociation, shortness of breath, butterflies in tummy, tingles in limbs. Scared to talk. Like it's too much effort for me to handle. Feel like I can't sit still but also like I shouldn't move.

7:07 PM: It's hard to believe that these are just feelings and not THE END. How could it just be feelings? The hardest thing I have ever had to face is feelings. The hardest thing I have ever had to face is me.

Wednesday, January 28

2:07 PM: Out with a Canadian musician getting coffee. Thought we would be in a group with him and his friends and that would have been better, because it is easier to slip out of groups than one on one. But it turned out to be one on one. Now I am talking to him about his ex-girlfriend's anxiety problems and my anxiety problems, while simultaneously not addressing the anxiety I am having right now. Like, it's as though the anxiety we are talking about and the anxiety I am experiencing are two different things.

2: 55 PM: Sometimes I think I've had sex with people just so they would stop talking.

9:54 PM: Note to self: I don't like going places, only escaping from them.

Thursday, January 29

5:38 PM: On my way to meet with Brett and another creative collaborator. Feel like I am leaving my body. What if I just decide not to identify with the feeling? Like, what if I dissociate from the dissociation?

6:57 PM: Heavy face, head buzzing, dissociation, butterflies in tummy, shortness of breath, exhausted, room blurry. But like, can it be OK that I feel this way? It's uncomfortable as fuck, but maybe I can just watch the feelings happening to me. Like, my body is happening to me but there is a me it isn't happening to. There is an untouched part.


Thus ends my week in panic. I didn't have any full-blown panic attacks during the week, only brushes with full-blown attacks. Like, the words I'm dying didn't come into my mind. That's progress, maybe.

On the Friday night following my week in panic, I had sex. Prior to intercourse, I made myself come with my vibrator while my partner's face basically hung out "near the area." When I came I kind of wailed, and the wailing, I felt, was like me calling out to God or the universe or whatev about my anxiety. Just like, take this shit already.

Then we had intercourse, post-me coming and wailing, and I continued to cry the whole time. I don't like using up the crying-during-sex card. But I was glad to be with a partner with whom I felt comfortable crying and with whom I have cried during sex before. I've actually cried with this person during sex so many times that he maybe thinks it's because the sex isn't good.

But the sex is good. And the crying is good.

I cannot say exactly what I am crying about—just, like, this ineffable heaviness of being alive and knowing you are going to die one day, for real. It's a lot for a human being to handle.

Sometimes when I start crying I am scared that I will never stop. But I am scared of everything.

So Sad Today is a never-ending existential crisis played out in 140 characters or less. Its anonymous author has struggled with consciousness since long before the creation of the Twitter feed in 2012, and has finally decided the time has come to project her anxieties on a larger screen, in the form of a biweekly column on this website. Read the first and second installments here and here.

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