Bad habits and breaking points.
*I originally wrote this post on July 31st, 2017, at the height of what was the worst anxiety I've ever experienced.
Like millions of other people, I struggle with anxiety. We know how crippling it can be, often keeping us from enjoying the simplest things in life. Menial tasks like eating or sleeping can quickly become a thing to fear. While in the midst of that anxiety, those irrational fears are very real, often manifesting in damaging habits, actions, or ways of thinking. I am guilty of all those things. Being controlled and manipulated by sleepless nights, insecurities, poor eating habits, irrational fears, and a propensity for enjoying alcohol had led me to the hospital. Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) was my reminder that thoughts weren't the only thing that was racing. I woke one morning to my heart rate at nearly 200 bpm. Fingers tingly and light-headed, I drove to the hospital where I calmly walked in and announced, "I can't get my heart to slow down.'
My heart rate fluctuated between 140-170 bpm for the next four hours, often escalating every time a nurse or doctor came in to check on me. Being attached to wires and tubes while being poked at by several people wasn't doing my anxiety any favors. I just wanted to be left alone. Unfortunately, when I was left alone, I was stuck with my own thoughts, which were throwing me rogue fragments of unreality. It took me another four hours and some Ativan to calm down enough for them to release me from the hospital.
Over the next few months, my anxiety was a constant co-pilot. I had lived with it most of my life, and suddenly, it was unbearable, uncontrollable. Perhaps the hospital visit had me face to face with my own mortality, or maybe the decision to quit drinking had made me feel alone in the ocean with no raft. Whatever it was, I was decidedly at the will of my worries and overthinking.
I wasn't eating. I wasn't sleeping. I was struggling to do drawings for my job. My friends were calling to see if I was ok. I wasn't, but I certainly wouldn't admit it. That felt too much like defeat. An unfounded pride was the only illusion of control I had, and I wasn't about to ask for help.
Heart palpitations were becoming so prevalent that I was in constant state of panic. I felt urgent, as if I was always running from something and I was exhausted. But of course I couldn't sleep because my thoughts were like the kamikaze pilots of WWII. I had reached a breaking point.
A breaking point doesn't always have to be a bad thing. It just means you're ready to try something new.
Late one night had been working intently on a personal project. The hours dissolved away, and I was calm, lulled by music and the beautiful monotony of creation. My thoughts drifted lazily inside of my head, a rarity for me. But one idea stuck: What would happen if I faced anxiety in the best way I knew how, by retreating to my natural proclivity to make art? Ridiculous as it sounds, I had never tried doing that before, even with all my years of anxiety and panic attacks.
I had created bad habits by running from the anxiety, when what I should've been doing was harnessing the feelings and turning them into something positive.Something tangible and real. After all, anxiety was more often than not a fear of the unseen. Which meant that I had to make it real to face it.
Art is more than just creating for me; it's a way out. It's a new perspective and a way to retreat to something positive rather than my usual damaging habits. But it's more than that too: it's a way to connect with others who struggle with anxiety by sharing stories and insights. By creating a community, we don't have to be alone with our thoughts and feelings. Other people with like minds can act as a safety net when you're too close to the edge.
No one is alone in this. So please, share your stories, especially when the anxiety or panic hits. There are millions of us that are here to listen.