You just do

I am particularly practiced at pushing aside stress. Well, it's less pushing it aside than it is shoving it in a box with all the other stress and anxiety I have, taping up that box, and compressing it into as small a thing as possible. Damn, is it dense, with how packed that little box is. All that stress sits right between my ribs. I call it The Void.

For the most part, I can ignore The Void until a more appropriate time. Meaning that, in the moment, that terrible thing will be put away until I have time to unpack it and deal with it. Put it in the box, figure out how to handle it later when I have the time, or a clearer head, or am not in public, whatever. The problem is, when I finally get around to opening The Void, it's sort of a Pandora's box situation. I am not able to take out only one thing to analyze at a time. Everything sort of...spills out. And when that box is overpacked, I usually don't have a say in when it's open because it will just explode. What a mess that is.

This week was a lot, for a lot of reasons, but chiefly among them are the increased hours at work, a busier personal life, and missing my family. The perfect storm for The Void to grow large enough for me to lose that control I practice so hard to maintain. And guess what happened? The box opened. Exploded. It made a mess, and not at an optimal time.

Thursday at work, I had a panic attack. It was of the lowkey, quiet variety where customers (or coworkers) wouldn't notice, but it was a bad one. Really bad. The thing is, I've been lucky. I haven't had many panic attacks at work (four, maybe?). Mostly, my bad days at work are ones where my anxiety is on constant high alert. My base line of anxiety and stress is MEGA HIGH but an inch below panic, so I tolerate it. I deal. The last panic attack I had was way back during the holiday season, where the store I work at was so busy, crowded, and hot that I couldn't calm myself down. I think I finally was able to work my way out of a panic back in December when it happened because I was sent to work in a cold part of the store in the back where I freaked out for a little and then it was over. Thank god.

So what happened Thursday? What triggered this panic attack after working for so long without the interruption? The Void. I was tired. The store was busy. I was mildly overheated. Add all this together, and I got flustered and suddenly it felt like there was something wrapped tight around my neck and I couldn't breath and HELLO PANIC ATTACK it's been a while! To make matters worse, this all began an hour into my shift. It was still going to be a while before my shift ended and I went home, and even if things got worse I couldn't leave. (You see, I have this thing where my anxiety becomes even more unbearable if I feel that I'm inconveniencing others. Leaving the store short staffed -- especially when I was to help close that night, and we were busy -- would be the epitome of inconveniencing. So that option was out.)

Thursday was awful. Yet here I am, alive. I'm okay. I didn't leave the store and run home when my panic attack begun; I knew that that would only make things worse, if it were even an option for me at that point. I knew that if I let panic stake its claim at my work, I would never be able to go back in without having major spikes of anxiety and panic. And what if I had another panic attack at work? Would I leave again? If that happened, the cycle would never end. I had to stay, I had to survive. I had to deal with it head on. And I did. I stuck it out so that by the time I left work that night, I was calmer. I had something other than panic to associate with my shift for the day.

I get a lot of people asking me things like: How do you cope with/manage your anxiety? The answer, as shitty as it is, is that you just do. You take it one minute at a time. Sometimes ten seconds, if that's all you can manage. Grit your teeth and stay where you are, no matter how loud the urge to run is screaming in your head. If you run, you let your anxiety win, and slowly your world will shrink smaller and smaller until nowhere feels safe. Don't let that happen. It's miserable, trust me.

My panic disorder will never go away. It's something I've found hard to reconcile with, but this is something that will always be with me. It is mine, and I have to own that. There will be times when it is hardly noticeable; there will be times when it's all I can see. But I won't let it dictate my life, like it used to. I'm so tired from running all the time that I'm ready to stand there and fight. Because that's what a panic attack is: fight or flight. You survive it but surviving it. You just do. Make the decision to not give up and see how strong you really are. I bet you'll impress even yourself.

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