Coping Mechanisms

I don’t know if I’m going to post this. It’s definitely an overshare, but the conclusion has been reached that I need to find a coping mechanism for my anxiety, so I’m going to write it all down and maybe I’ll share it with the approximately six people who might read it.

I had a panic attack at work today. Full-on, choking sobs, I can’t really breathe meltdown panic attack. They’re horrible, and I thankfully have them very rarely, but when they hit they leave me drained emotionally and often also physically. And with a throbbing tension headache that I still have. Which is not ideal in the middle of the day at my place of employment.

The one colleague that caught me in the very beginning of crumbling and swiftly herded me into the empty meeting room handled my dramatics remarkably well, despite the mild panic clear in his eyes. Which I completely understand, because when faced with someone who’s crying and shaking too hard to speak or breathe, it’s tricky to know how to react if you’re not used to it.

Trouble is, I don’t really know what’s brought it on. Okay, yes, I had a lot to do at work today and I wasn’t fully confident doing all of it and I think maybe it was that final New Project email that tipped me over the edge, but I’ve had days like that before that have not led to me being gently but firmly kicked out of the office to go for a walk and pull myself together. So I’m not sure what’s triggered it exactly, which means I’m not sure how to try to remedy it.

Low-level anxiety has been a fun lil friend of mine for a long time. It’s usually not a problem, and mostly only kicks in and tightens up my lungs in situations involving phone calls or rooms full of strangers. Public speaking is also pretty much a no-go zone. But that’s not uncommon, many, many people have similar reactions to these things. It’s been a while since I’ve been unable to get my panic response under control, and that frightens me.

There’s a good chance that this is due to the medication that I’m on for my acne, which is known to have side effects including depression and heightened emotions. If that’s the problem, and my increased lack of control is Accutane-based, I have a whole new problem. I can’t tell the doctor that the medication is causing emotional problems, because they’ll take me off it, and my skin won’t improve, which in turn will cause emotional problems. Can’t really win.

If I know that the extra anxiety is caused by the Accutane, to an extent I can keep a better handle on it because I know it’s coming. But what happens when the course of medication stops, and I still have anxiety? What happens when I still freak out over phone calls, what happens when I can’t put myself in uncomfortable but ultimately beneficial situations, what happens when I don’t have control over my own emotions?

See, I think that the problem, at its core, is my insecurity about what other people think of me. Once I’d calmed down today, my first strong reaction was embarrassment that my colleague had seen me like that. Embarrassment that I’d had to call my mum and blubber down the phone about how overwhelmed I felt. Embarrassment that at the age of 23 I couldn’t hold back the tears in a place where I was supposed to be professional and capable. Because I’m worried about how people’s perception of me might change for the worse if they think I’m too pathetic to cope. I have anxiety about my anxiety.

It’s hard to let people help, sometimes, because there’s an undercurrent of ‘how annoying are you being right now, that your poor friend has to waste so much of their day putting up with you. You’re not entitled to sympathy. You don’t deserve people to care about your problems, they’re not problems, you’re just weak‘. Anxiety’s a pervasive little bastard, sitting in the corner of every room you’re in telling you that everyone else in that room is thinking negative things about you. On a normal day, the rational side of my brain can tell these insidious thoughts to shove it. I keep a tightly locked, bolted and padlocked lid on the box in my brain that houses these thoughts, but sometimes, just sometimes, someone takes a bolt cutter to the rationality box and it all comes flooding out in hysteria.

It’s interesting to me, however, that small things can trigger it but in much the same way, small things can help. Having wandered around a park for a while and called my mum to just blurt it all out and then compose myself, I popped into a coffee shop to buy myself a hot chocolate, because sometimes anxiety needs a hug and sometimes it needs breathing techniques and sometimes you need to punch something, but sometimes it just needs sugar. I ordered, and paid for, a small, but when the barista handed it to me his accompanying words were ‘oh, oops, look at that, I’ve made a large’. Fragile and covered in thousands of delicate spidery cracks as my composure was, I almost lost it again at that small kindness, but it also boosted my mood no end even without the extra sugar.

I don’t really know where I go from here. There’s not really a quick fix for insecurities and an inability to cope when overwhelmed. It’s probably a good thing that people at work know, despite me being a bit ashamed of it, because this way maybe I don’t have to bottle it up anymore, and maybe the sheer thought that I have the freedom to have a panic attack will in fact prevent any future spectacular meltdowns. I hope.

There wasn’t much point to this blog post, and if you’ve made it this far I’m very impressed, but writing everything down has helped. I feel better at the end of writing this than I did at the start, although there’s still a slight feeling that if you’re reading this, you’re reading it with derision at how ridiculous I am. But that’s okay, you’re allowed to think that. Just maybe don’t tell me, hm?

Until next time, K

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