Anatomy of an Anxiety Attack

I had an anxiety attack today.  My first in many months.  One of only a few I’ve had since my son was born.

After my daughter’s birth, they were a regular occurrence.  I was treated for postpartum anxiety and depression and felt the walls closing in on me on a regular basis.  It’s not a great feeling.

But this time around, my disposition has been pretty great overall.  No major mood swings or blue spells.  I’ve been optimistic despite our constant financial troubles, and haven’t really let too much get to me.  I’ve been in a good place.

So today came out of left field.  I wasn’t prepared for it and didn’t handle it well.  I ended up on my parents’ doorstep, sobbing hysterically and begging for help with the kids.  The entire time I’d been driving over there, I hadn’t been able to stay on top of my breathing.  It was like being in labor.  That feeling you have when your contractions are overwhelming you and you cannot catch your breath.

My vision kept shifting from clear to tunnel.  My hands and face felt numb.  I kept repeating the same thing over and over again, screaming “What?  What?”  I wasn’t asking anybody a question.  It was just something that came out.  It terrified my poor toddler, and I’m sure the infant was freaked out, too.

Life is just a little overwhelming right now.  We have a lot of big changes going on and I feel as though the weight of it rests entirely on my shoulders.  All of the decisions that have led to this point have been mine.  It was my decision to leave my job; my decision to leave our house so that I could stay at home to raise our children.  I am 99% satisfied with the choices that I’ve made, but that one percent of me tickles my brain from time to time, asking, “Did I really do the right thing?”

Whether or not I did the right thing was the star of today’s anxiety-riddled sideshow.  I was pondering this very question while sitting on a park bench at the playground, my toddler climbing a slide slick with last night’s rainfall nearby.  And, of course, she slipped and fell, hitting her head and screaming in pain for several minutes.

Image

Typically, my daughter is a master of playground equipment. Here she is on a different, sunnier day (in more ways than one) than today.

I knew I shouldn’t have taken her to a wet playground.  I knew better than that.  I should have been wearing the baby in the Ergo so that I could have supervised her more closely with two free hands, ready to help her.  But I wasn’t.  I wasn’t there.  I made a bad decision and it resulted in her getting hurt.

And suddenly, the knot on the back of my little girl’s head was a metaphor for my whole life.  Look at all these bad decisions I make.  Look how I screw everything up. 

The next thing I knew, I was crawling along at 25 mph in a 40 mph zone, terrified of giving the gas pedal any more pressure for fear that we’d veer off the road.  Drivers behind me honked and waved their hands in frustration while my heart raced and my skin went clammy.  There was nothing I could do to stop it.  I had to just let it run its course, run through me, and eventually run out of me.

Why am I sharing this?  Honestly, I don’t really know.  Maybe because writing about it is cathartic for me.  Maybe so that if you, too, suffer from a postpartum mood disorder then you’ll know that you’re not alone.  All I know is that feels good to put it on paper.  And I’m not afraid of it.

I’ve been through this before, and it was a hundred times worse than this the first time.  I know what to do, I know what changes I need to make in my life.  I’ve worked with an immeasurably helpful postpartum therapist in the past and I intend to implement the same measures that worked then, now.  Among these include:

  • Eliminate caffeine.  Caffeine is an upper, and can trigger or aggravate anxiety.
  • Eliminate processed foods and refined sugars.  I try so hard to do this already, but have slipped lately.  It’s an ongoing battle that I don’t think I’ll ever conquer.  But for right now, I know that my body needs more whole foods and less junk.  It always, always, always makes me feel better emotionally to feed myself healthy, nutrient-rich foods.
  • Exercise more.  This almost goes without saying.  Endorphins are mood-busters.  Exercise is nearly always the answer – or part of the answer – to any problem.
  • Supplement with Vitamin B12, Omega-3 Fatty Acids (preferably cod liver oil), and herbal remedies as needed.  Passionflower is great for anxiety, as is skullcap, catnip, and lavender.
  • Get 15 minutes of direct sunlight each day.  This should be no problem if I can get a handle on exercising.
  • Take a break.  Ask for help.  Hand the kids over to the husband or to the grandparents and go into a room, shut the door, and read a book.  Or nap.  Or knit.  Or watch a TV show on Hulu.  You get the idea.  Just take some time away from Motherhood.  It’ll still be there when I get back.

These are the tips that have worked for me in the past, though they might not work for everyone (and they are NOT intended to be medical advice).  Some people may do best with prescription medication, or with meditation.  I know myself Imagepretty well and I know that I suck at meditating and that I can’t tolerate the side effects of pharmaceuticals.  So this is the plan of action I intend to take for me and for my circumstances.

The silver lining about having a postpartum mood disorder the second time around is that you know what to expect, and you know how to treat it.  I’m not suggesting that I have postpartum anxiety again – I suspect that mine is more of a case of situational anxiety due to some of the huge life changes that are happening right now.  But it gives me peace and optimism to have a game plan, to know that I can survive it again if I have to.

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