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Last summer, in the midst of a terrible bout of panic attacks, a friend (and fellow sufferer) loaned me a self-help book on dealing with anxiety. I read it, took some parts to heart and dismissed others. One thing that stood out to me was this: that confidence has something to do with anxiety. The connection didn’t become clear to me until recently.

Something interesting happened in the midst of panic, and in a public place. I was standing in a check-out line, fumbling to get money out of my bag, when I came across an old school photo ID. The ID was from a community college where I adjunct as an English teacher. It’s a nice photo: while not glamorous in any way, it looks like me on a day when I felt good about myself. And not just how I looked, but my life in general. It was a moment of shock, revelation, but mostly of recognition. It was me, myself, looking confident.

I know this girl: I know who she is and what she is made of. This photo did for me what no amount of positive self-talk has done lately: it gave me a moment of confidence. It grounded me. I had no idea something so simple would have such a powerful effect.

This moment wasn’t about looks or vanity but simply one of self identity. Anxiety has a way of making you feel as if you don’t know who you are, or where you are. At the worst point in a panic attack, you may not even recognize your surroundings. It can feel as if you are separated from yourself and your life. It can be terrifying. In these moments, you need something to hold on to, something to ground you. It might just be your self that you turn to.

The crisis of confidence, of self, is clear to me now. You doubt yourself, you are afraid you will ‘lose it’ in public, or have a panic attack in front of others. You fear the unknown; you fear fear.

My moment of self identity passed quickly. But there is hope in this, too: anxiety can be dealt with, and I will start with that.

I should just call this post Anxiety for the Anxious, honestly.

During my terribly exciting trip to the ER a month ago, the doctor asked if I was feeling anxious about anything. My reply was yes– I’m feeling anxious about what’s happening to me right now! Hyperventilating, shaking uncontrollably… Who wouldn’t feel anxious? Dumb question.

And then I tried to go back to life as it was, and found that not exactly possible. Or easy. Everything seemed to set off an anxiety attack: normal, everyday actions and events suddenly seemed overwhelming. When you are experiencing this kind of anxiety, everything is dangerous.

It’s hard to be in this world and not be scared, considering the amount of hate and spite that runs rampant around us. It’s also really hard to be happy when you are afraid of everything.

A particular quote from an Arthur Miller play keeps popping into my head: in “All My Sons”the son asks the father, “Don’t you live in the world?”

Different context, obviously, but my answer to this question is always ambiguous in my head. Part of trying to live in this world involves a certain amount of denial about what it really means to be human. There is also the need to know things, and knowing things is hard. And knowing things and seeing things and experiencing things brings anxiety.

So I guess if anyone ever asks me if I live in the world, my answer will be ‘sometimes.’ And always with a certain amount of help.

Another aging milestone: the dreaded and oft-maligned mid-life crisis.

A few nights ago, I had an anxiety attack that lasted three hours and felt like the end of the world. My boyfriend called the ER to ask for advice and described me as a ‘middle-aged woman.’ As if uncontrollable shaking, hyperventilating and feeling faint weren’t enough. Middle-fucking-aged? Internally, I was screaming ‘go fuck yourself.’

As soon as we got to the ER, the first woman I spoke to asked if I was having a panic attack. No, of course not, I said. I’ve had anxiety all my life (literally, before I was ten years of age), and I’ve never had an attack like this. She rolled her eyes. I scoffed and filled out paperwork.

No one in the ER seemed to act as if anything major was happening to me. Where was the oxygen? Where was the IV? Aren’t you going to suck out my blood like every Dr. wants to? Vital signs were taken, a few questions asked. The female doc came back and asked: are you feeling anxious about anything? Yes. I’m feeling anxious about the way I’m currently feeling. I can’t breathe! You’re having an anxiety attack, she tells me. I argue with her. Are you sure? Is there anything else this can be? No, she said. And I speak from experience.

Uncontrollable shaking comes from the huge amounts of adrenaline coursing through your body. You feel faint because you are hyperventilating. When will this stop, I ask? When you tell yourself that you are ok. Or when your body gets worn out from the shaking. Or, you can take this Ativan.

So, once again, my mind is fucking with me. Playing tricks on me. I felt like laughing and crying when the doctor told me what was going on. I know I have anxiety, so how did it get to be this bad? Why don’t I take care of myself like I should? Why am I so stressed out?

Most importantly, how did I get to be this age, this point in my life, without anyone ever telling me that this was anxiety and that there are drugs to keep it at bay?

So. I’m officially labeling this my mid-life crisis. Time to examine what’s really going on in my life and make some changes. This may or may not include more xanax. But it WILL include me taking better care of myself and getting rid of the unhealthy things in my life.

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