Fight or Flight

It’s crazy to think that it’s been almost a year since I’ve published a blog post. As they (the infamous they) say, life comes at you fast. And I can attest to the last 10 months speeding by. I was definitely one of those people who thought that the pandemic didn’t really affect me in any way, aside from not being able to travel or see friends or family (that’s what Zoom is for!). I did get pretty sick in March with what was a terrible cough, severe congestion, and body aches, but like the soldier I am, I used some home remedies, got over it after a month or so and got back to life. After that, everything seemed like it was pretty much back to normal. In the middle of a pandemic, we were able to buy a beautiful home – in California, no less – I received a well deserved promotion at work, my oldest started college at the best HBCU in the country (if I didn’t say that my husband would divorce me), and life seemed perfect. There was nothing more that I could want for, and there honestly still isn’t anything I want for, but it seems as if my brain thought that lack of want and apparent peace was the ripe soil for psychological turmoil. In November, it all came to a head, and my spirit had had enough. I suffered my first debilitating panic attack.

If you’re a control freak like I am, you understand how awful it feels when you don’t have control over something you’ve always had control over. In my case, it was my body, and more specifically, my fight or flight response. It suddenly became broken, and couldn’t determine the difference between real, perceived, or imagined danger. The rush of adrenaline could and would come at any time. The first time it happened, I woke up in the middle of the night with a terrible headache, and the overwhelming sense that I was on the brink of death. Understand, I seriously thought I was literally in the throes of death, and made my husband call 911. The paramedics arrived, determined I was fine, and left our home, with me shaken and confused. The headache stayed, and I began to think that maybe they were wrong, and something in my head was going to explode (Spoiler alert: nothing in my brain is going to explode). The next day, aside from a new daily headache, I felt fine. I spoke to many doctors, had CT scans, and was given migraine medication that I never took. I eventually went about my normal schedule, worked hard at work, worked harder working out, and worked hard at being a wife and mother. I just took Motrin when the headaches became too bad, and kept it moving, because culturally, that’s what we do. We don’t complain, we don’t share our pain, because to do so would illustrate our weaknesses. And dammit, I am NOT weak.

Fast forward to Christmas Day. A wonderful day, filled with love, good cheer, and fun. I remember enjoying watching the children open gifts, and suddenly, my heart began racing, chest pain ensued, and my arm went numb. Again, I was convinced that a heart attack was imminent. I’ll back up momentarily to share that prior to all of this, I was in pretty good shape, great cardiovascular health. I was typically running 15-18 miles a week, and doing body weight and free weight exercises. I say this to say that there should have been no reason I would think that I would be having a heart attack. So anyway, after the onset of symptoms, I made my husband bring me to the ER. They ran a battery of tests, and before the visit was over, I felt fine. The ER doctor put a name on what I’d been experiencing, calling it a panic attack. I went home, convinced that something was physically wrong with me, that the doctors were wrong, because panic attacks and anxiety were for weak people. From that day, I went on to experience panic attacks daily, sometimes multiple times a day, for months. And they were HARD. This isn’t, oh, I’m feeling a little anxious. This is your body thinking that it’s in danger, and sending hormones shooting through your body to try and shut down different systems so you can survive. It’s you being afraid to go to sleep because you don’t think you’re going to wake up.

Finally, in February, it seemed as if I would get a reprieve. I remember the day I woke up feeling fine, and went to bed without a panic attack. I thought to myself, yes! I’ve beaten this! I’m finally fine! And for a couple of months, I was. I went back to working out, which I had stopped doing, because seeing my heart rate increase would make me think I would “break” my heart. The joy and calm seemed to be coming back into my life, and I thanked God for getting me through the storm. What I didn’t realize though is that this isn’t a once and done storm. I didn’t know that it would be something that I might always have to deal with for the rest of my life. April came, and like the old children’s rhyme, the showers came with it. I was back to never feeling relaxed, being on edge, and praying for relief. As I type this, I’m still dealing with the overpowering anxiety that I experience on a daily basis, whether it’s small or large. I’ve talked to professionals, and they’ve given me some non-medicinal tips to dealing with these issues, because I am extremely averse to taking any sort of drugs. They aren’t perfect, but they get me through the days, and help me to stay as focused as my brain will let me.

I sometimes think back to being sick the way I was in March 2020 through April 2020, and I wonder if I had COVID. In all honestly, I had all of the symptoms, but never had it confirmed. In talking to others who’ve had it, they too are dealing with a sudden onset of anxiety and panic disorders that have seemed to come out of nowhere. I believe the term that is being used is “long-haulers”. Or, I could be wrong, and trauma from my childhood may have finally caught up with me. Either way, I’m learning that my struggle isn’t singular, and if you’re dealing with this, I hope you understand that neither is yours. In the past, most of us dealt with these issues by stuffing them down, self-medicating, or acting out in toxic ways. It’s not healthy, and it needs to be said that it isn’t, and needs to be handled in a way that wont be detrimental in the long run. If you are experiencing any of this, I urge you to talk to someone. Getting help isn’t weakness, it’s actually a marker of strength. Get strong.

2 thoughts on “Fight or Flight

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  1. I hope that you get better and go back to your happy, healthy self. And thank you for sharing this. I am sure it will encourage many to seek help when they need it.

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