When Panic Attacks

I have to share something:

Last weekend, as every morning, my alarm went off at 9 AM and woke me. Most days, as I am unemployed (for the moment) and not a student thanks to a (bitter, fight-to-the-end) legal battle, I turn it off and sleep in another few hours. That morning was not like other mornings. I decided to get up and put on a pot of coffee. I lay back down in bed while the coffee was percolating and I couldn’t get up. I was hit by a mild, yet scary, panic attack.

My breathing got short, my thoughts got quick, I could feel my heart beating rapidly in my throat. I felt drenched in this sense that everything in my life is simply wrong. I felt wrong in my skin. I felt wrong down to my very being.

They say some of the most traumatic events in life involve the death of a loved one, divorce, moving dwellings, a major illness, and job loss. To give you some perspective in the last ten years I have broken up with my high school sweetheart, lost my mother, moved 8 times (excluding a 9 month period spent between hospital and a women’s shelter when I did not have a permanent address), battled against leukemia and an ever-evolving mental health disorder, and had 6 jobs, 1 of which I lost against my will and 3 that I had to leave for physical or mental health reasons.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not at all saying I am the victim here. Don’t go throwing me a pity party just yet — but I have to put these things in perspective and remind myself what I have been through in order to forgive myself for not being where I wanted to be by this age. It is the only way I can accept myself for feeling largely like a failure.

And I do feel like a failure in many ways. I have lost beautiful apartments and now live in government-subsidized community housing which I hate. I had to sell two successive cars both at a loss and now can’t visit family who live out of the city at my own discretion which is inconvenient. I have lost dream jobs with health insurance and other benefits and now have to work in a government-supported work program part-time until I feel well enough in my own being to work independently full-time and this terrifies me.

I am starting work in a couple of weeks. I am looking for a new home. These changes may seem minor but they are terrifying for me. What if it all collapses again? What if my life is doomed to be a cycle of top-of-the-world-have-it-all euphoria and pits-in-my-stomach-so-ashamed despair?

It’s a struggle, forsure. After winning prestigious awards of excellence, bursaries and graduating high school with honours I thought I was headed for a bright future. I had at 15 met who I thought was the love of my life and had prospects full of promise.

But I am here. I don’t want to diminish the appreciation for the strides I have taken in my recovery, or the gratitude for all the support I have received and continue to receive today, but my mind is full of what ifs.

The truth is we’ll never know what if. But are we wrong to dream? Are we wrong to analyze what went awry and try to correct our sails for the future? Or is it maybe wrong to hold on to what was, sometimes to the extent of hindering our future?

I don’t know the answers. I’m guessing the answer is acceptance and moving forward. There isn’t much choice otherwise, it seems. I’m stuck on the idea that as we age our pasts get messy and the reality that we sometimes live with lifelong regret. History is indeed a messy place, and we are all guilty of naiveté and poor decisions.

For me at least, it’s hard to accept the path untraveled and give up on what could have been. I live in constant comparison of this ‘ideal’, this seemingly perfect parallel universe where if even just one thing were different I would be vastly better off but who’s to say this is the case? We navigate our ships to the best of our ability, never having true control over the strength or the direction of the winds.

But I refuse, rebuke, and reject the idea that this was my ‘fate’. That some almighty God had this plan for me for some greater purpose. That this was somehow ‘meant to be’ my ‘destiny’ or any other ill-advised cliché that I am intended to be in this situation. And I will not be forced by reason of no-other-choice-but-to-move-forward acceptance.

Things in life go terribly, terribly wrong and they are rarely if ever what we planned — this I can accept — a grand plan gone utterly wrong, but not that in the grand scheme of things this despair, this hopelessness and often helplessness, was part of the plan.

I will revolt and declare that this was not the life meant for me, and I will try three times as hard to rebuild my life for the third time. I will be a relentless dreamer and meet fear, despair, and discouragement with hope. Don’t you dare be optimistic with me. The last thing I need is a pat on the back and the pacification that “everything will be okay”, because it might not. So be real. Have hope, and a healthy sense of cynicism with your uplifting message. This is the healthy balance we all need.



2 thoughts on “When Panic Attacks

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  1. This part that you wrote that I will copy paste
    “What if it all collapses again? What if my life is doomed to be a cycle of top-of-the-world-have-it-all euphoria and pits-in-my-stomach-so-ashamed despair?”

    Pardon my language, it scares the shit out of me. I am 43 or 42 and I have restarted way more times then 3 not that it makes a difference.

    I would like to add that every time I fall, I have so far gotten back up. Yet every time I often feel it gets harder to believe myself and in myself that I will really get it right one day and it will stay that way. Should I just say fuck it and stop trying. Can we really change our core. How many times do I have to learn the same lessons before they stick in my head. Is it all chemical in the end and not changeable no matter how hard I keep trying and trying and trying. Or is it just so deeply en grained in me that I should just accept that I’m always gonna fall no matter what.

    If often feels like quitting smoking when on has tried like 15 times. Has succeeded for a year, another time you months, a year again then 3 months. Everytime I try to quit now , deep down I often don’t really believe myself that I can do it when it start to think of all the times it have failed in my past.

    There is always a point where I manage to really convince myself that this is it!! This is THE time I get it all right in my life. This time I am not gonna fuck up. So far I have always fallen back down. Was it just all a bipolar high? Am I doomed to be stuck in this cycle forever and how does one know. How much therapy does one need and the thoughts keep accumulating with more and more questions with what seems like less and less answers and it can get very draining and tiring.

    Thanks for sharing xxxx


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