I’m often stuck somewhere in between being an introvert and an extrovert. It’s complicated to describe, but there are occasions where I’m comfortable leading a table with entertaining stories and laughing as though I’m experiencing the best life imaginable. Then the next moment, I’m retreating to the back of the room hoping to be unnoticed. At parties, the bartender is always my best friend. I discover a spot at the bar and only interact when necessary.
Shortly after landing in New Orleans for my favorite conference of the year, Dad 2.0, I ran into friends I see rarely and we headed out for lunch and drinks. I was in an extroverted mood and having a great time. As the day continued, we met up with others and attended the Dad 2.0 opening night celebration. This was when I first felt the pull back into my introverted self. But I put on a smile and hung out with my friends. After the party, we wandered down Bourbon Street and entered a bar. The guys were laughing and trading stories over drinks, but I became uneasy. I overheard one of my friends say he was heading back to the hotel and so I joined him on the walk.
Back in my room, I slipped out of my clothes, put on shorts and a t-shirt, and turned on the television hoping it would calm me. But it didn’t. Knowing hundreds of my friends were in the lobby or on Bourbon Street enjoying themselves annoyed me – or more accurately, I was annoyed that I couldn’t force myself to join them. It was as though I was stuck inside my room without options.
When I was about 7-years-old, I was at a playground that had a tunnel slide. The slide curved before shooting you out at the bottom. One day, as I began my descent down the tube, a group of boys climbed up. As I turned to scale my way out, another group of kids playing tag jumped into the tunnel. I was stuck in the middle, with nowhere to move. One group of children were demanding to go up, while another fought to go down. My innards were pushed together and they scrunched my shoulders into my collar. I freaked out and shoved everyone around me, which made matters worse. It was a frantic rush with children climbing over one another to get out, until finally, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Wiping tears from my eyes and snot from my nose, I gently shuffled to a bench and sat while struggling to catch my breath.
The walls inside my hotel room closed in. I was once again that 7-year-old caught in a tunnel. My heart raced and my insides turned around and around. Every bad situation imaginable ran through my head. It was overwhelming. I’ve never understood anxiety attacks until that moment. My hands shook and my body was cold. I turned up the heat, but it didn’t help. I took a shower, hoping to loosen up, to no avail. Thinking about all the “what ifs,” all the ways things could go wrong, left me incapacitated. All the while, my friends were just feet away, enjoying themselves.
Realizing I needed support, I looked up a local hotline on the internet and found a number. I called and spoke with someone and described what was going on. The first question she asked was, “Are you in danger of injuring yourself?” I thought for a second and asked, “Are you wondering if I will kill myself?” “Yes,” was the reply. I hesitated and answered, “no, I would never do that to my family.” After speaking those words, I wondered if they were all I had to live for. And did they really even need me? I spoke with the stranger on the other end of the line for about 30 minutes, and then after assuring her that I was okay and was not in danger of hurting myself, I hung up. I sat on the floor and wondered, “What the hell just happened?”
Growing up, we never talked about mental health. Looking back, I see that family members wrestled with mental health demons, but it likely never occurred to them to seek help. And they never spoke about their struggles. We never spoke about it. Whatever I had just experienced was unfamiliar territory for me.
The next morning, I was sluggish and spoke to some friends about things that were weighing on my mind. My heart was still heavy, but speaking through things helped me realize that what my mind was telling me wasn’t necessarily true. There may have been roots of truth, but my brain was producing rotten fruit.
Now I’m on anxiety medication and it has changed my world. My outlook is better and when I experience an attack, I can recognize it for what it is. I can analyse it and prepare myself. My walls don’t close in. In fact, the world seems open with positive possibilities. These days, I’m not focusing on the negative, but on a future full of hope and happiness. For those struggling with anxiety or depression, there’s support out there. Just reach out – to a friend, a family member, or even a stranger on the other end of the phone.
9 Tips for Anxiety Relief from WebMD