Jul 24, 2012

On Anxiety and Panic


Having just shot, I took my turn launching the targets. The shooting stations were constructed of wood with lattice on the top and two sides that at some point had been painted green.


I pressed the button. As I stood there, I looked more closely at the upright box I was standing in. In the top corners I noticed thick spider webs. I immediately look to the bottom corners to find the same.


I looked quickly to find that the lattice surrounding me was obviously some type of arachnid preservation. My heart pounded and my lungs felt shallow.


My shoulders tensed as I looked around and forced a deep breath. Upon guarded inspection in fear of what I was going to see if I looked too carefully, I found nothing in the webs.


Mostly relaxed, I launched the final targets and stepped out of the station. What I felt in there could have escalated into a panic attack, but I managed to keep my wits about me and think realistically. My fear of spiders is irrational and because I know so, I was able to keep my panic in check. This isn't always the case, however. Sometimes panic comes without an obvious stressor, and when that happens, it's difficult to manage.

"Sorry for the heat," my director informed us, "The air conditioner wouldn't come on." 

The normally cool theater was hot and stuffy for rehearsal, but I thought nothing of it. If I can take an hour spin class without air conditioning, I can survive rehearsal in the heat. We began Act II and a few pages in, I was beginning my song. I had just run the song a few times at home earlier in the day and was feeling confident and ready to knock it out. 

It didn't start out well, but I was going to shake it off for the next verse. When I move into the second verse, I find that I'm having trouble pushing it out. 

"I'm sorry, I'm out of breath," I panted as the piano continued.
"That's okay, it's hot. Just keep going," my director, well, directed.

I make my cross to continue, but only manage to push out half of the words. I gasp and put my hands on my knees. "I can't breathe," I gasp a few times and sit on the edge of the low stage, my chest feeling like it was wrapped 100 times with Ace bandaging, "I'm panicking."

Before grabbing some water and taking it with me outside for some air, I was met with reassuring gestures of  "You're doing great, don't panic!" but it wasn't that. This panic attack was seemingly out of the blue and because I didn't know what was causing it, I couldn't slow it down. It's bad enough to buckle under pressure, but halting rehearsal because I had a panic attack in the middle of my song is just embarrassing.

It took a couple years before Jamie was really understanding of how my panic and anxiety works, so dealing with it in front of people who don't know about it makes me feel weak. It doesn't help the situation when following my musical director saying "Take as much time as you need," a cast mate said, under her breath to him, "Easy for you to say. You don't have kids to go home to."

After what was probably still less than five minutes, I pushed myself to go on. I wasn't ready, but I can't bring waste everyone's time because of something so seemingly silly. Continuing the scene while trying to regulate my breathing and get my heart to stop racing was difficult, but within a half hour I was feeling better.

Anxiety and panic attacks are tricky to manage. When my anxiety first began to have an effect on my life 5 or 6 years ago, I went on medication. It was a low dose of Celexa that proved effective in eliminating my work and driving anxieties, but I yawned constantly. When I say "constantly", I'm not exaggerating. So while I felt better, my doctor advised me that once I got to a place where I was feeling normal, I could ween myself off of the pills. I did just that after about 4 or 5 months, and since then have had less general anxiety. (However, this can also be attributed to changes in workplace since then.)

Where I used to have more general anxiety, lately I've had more pop-up panic attacks, both explained and unexplained. My surprise panic at rehearsal has me considering a return to medication, but hopefully just for short term management. As described above at the shooting range, there are a lot of situations where I can control my own anxiety and keep panic attacks at bay, but that might not be good enough right now. As much as I'd like to stay off medication, it might be necessary in order to keep my situation from affecting others as it did that night at rehearsal.

Anxiety and panic are such overwhelming sensations that when left unmanaged can, over time, build and grow to where it will weigh over everything in life. If I don't keep my anxiety under control, I'll lose control over everything else in my life and that is unacceptable. Though, even on medication, it's likely that I still won't enjoy standing in a box full of spider webs. I'll just be able to breathe comfortably while doing it.

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