I had my first anxiety attack when I was around ten years of age. I didn’t know that was it was at the time. I woke very early in the morning out of a dead sleep. It was summer, the sun was up but it was still only 5:30-ish in the morning. I wondered why I couldn’t fall back to sleep, since I had never had a problem with that before. My heart began to race and I became inexplicably… scared! I remember going upstairs, opening the front door and sitting on the front step where I proceeded to calm myself. I distinctly remember the warm, morning sun on my face… paired with utter confusion as to what had just happened to me.
It wasn’t until years later and several hundred anxiety attacks later, that I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder.
I’m 49 years old and am happy to say that I haven’t had a full blown anxiety attack for about eight years.
But the truth is that, anxiety never forgets. It never really leaves you alone.
This week, I traveled to Malta (small island in the Mediterranean) to visit my sister who lives here. It takes anywhere from 13 to 18 hours to get from Ontario, Canada to Malta but I’ve made the trip a few times before. We lived in Malta when I was little (between the ages 6 and 9), went again in 2007, 2011 and in January 2014. My point, I suppose, is that I was used to the trip, the jet lag, the fatigue and the excitement. What I wasn’t prepared for was the anxiety attack I had a few hours after I arrived.
My anxiety attacks have presented themselves in several different forms throughout my life. More recently (8-ish years ago), my anxiety presented itself as a burning fire beginning deep inside me and traveling throughout my body to the very tips of my fingers and toes.
Standing in my sister’s guest bathroom, organizing my toiletries, I felt the familiar and most unwelcome fire in my core. My heart began to race, my breathing quickened. I knew exactly what was happening but couldn’t fathom why! I had to remind myself that anxiety never forgets. I had to dig deep to find some of the coping skills that I’d happily buried over the years that I’ve been anxiety attack free.
The attack passed within a few minutes, blessedly. But, since that first attack, I’ve had a few smaller attacks. It this the start of another phase of my anxiety? While I know it is related to brain chemistry (fight or flight chemicals), I still have to wonder, why?
Why, after all these years, did my brain chemistry misfire?
Who bloody well knows?
I’ve said it several times during this blog. Anxiety never forgets. Anxiety may sit dormant, as it did for me. But what is most important, what I learned about myself, is that the coping skills never go away. I remembered them. I recognized the anxiety as it was starting and was able to kick start my coping skills right away.
Some of these anxiety coping skills are:
- Breathe; slow and deep. Do not hyperventilate.
- Positive self-talk; remember this is an illness. Brain chemistry can misfire at any time.
- Stay calm; there is a thin line between anxiety and panic. Try to distract yourself.
I still have ten days on the island of Malta. I’ve had one major and two minor anxiety attacks. While I hope this isn’t the start of several anxiety-riddled years, I know that I can cope, no matter what.