By Joye Epps
Panic has been described as a sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly, unthinking behavior. Anxiety has been characterized as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Although different, people often use these terms interchangeably due to them being mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, I have had the misfortune to be a sufferer of both.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been somewhat of a worry wart. I am innately nurturing and protective, which has caused me to unofficially sign up to bear the burden of concern for those whom I love. My mind is often consumed with thoughts of everything and anything that could ever go wrong. I constantly go over scenarios in my head (that have not occurred) trying to come up with possible solutions all in attempts to prepare myself for an event that may or may not happen.
As a young child, I can recall experiencing many bouts of nausea, sweaty palms and horrible shakes each time I started a new school year or every time I transferred to a new school. I learned to anticipate a general feeling of being unwell for the first few days of class and then those awful feelings would soon dissipate as the weeks progressed. When I was younger, I didn’t think much of it and didn’t quite know how to label it. But, I do remember wishing that I could approach new beginnings with ease and comfort the way in which my brother seemed to.
As I matured, I was hopeful that these symptoms of what I now know to be anxiety would lessen as I settled into adulthood. Often times, anxiety sufferers are those individuals who have an extreme fear of being out of control. If they are not the ones actually steering the wheel- they will almost always feel like they are sailing in troubled waters. Anxiety, panic and worry can also steer from fear of the unknown. Both of the aforementioned is what typically kicks my anxiety and panic into high gear.
Aside from the mental discomfort and distress that these disorders can bring, they are also incredibly debilitating. It is a well-known fact that nothing happens in the body that doesn’t happen in the mind first. In saying such, those uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts soon manifest into physical symptoms as well. From shortness of breath to chest tightness to numb tingling arms; I frequently feel as if I am having a heart attack several days out of the month.
I am at my wits end and am swiftly approaching the end of my rapidly fraying rope. I have literally tried everything to combat these dreadful thoughts and mental anguish all in efforts to get off of this emotional roller coaster that I call my life. There always seems to be a war going on inside of my head battling between what I know to be true and thoughts of horrible things that might possibly come true.
I have always had the propensity to jump to conclusions, thinking of the worst case scenario anytime a life event occurred. I figured that by doing this I could somehow brace myself in the event of receiving earth shattering or devastating news. Living with fear and anxiety is like taking a deep breath in and never exhaling. It is a highly uncomfortable feeling that can also be very discouraging. Many who suffer from anxiety are often afraid to face the next day out of fear that those unwanted feelings will flare up as they attempt to be productive.
Fortunately, my anxiety was never too intense where it interfered with tasks that I’d planned to execute the next day. That is, until my fears were realized when I lost my mother suddenly to cancer in 2014. Experiencing a traumatic life event of that magnitude catapulted my fear, panic, worry and anxiety to new heights. Since that point, my anxiety has been at an all-time high and I do find great difficulty in facing the days ahead. Not only am I worried that those horrible feelings of anxiety and dread are going to make their daily debut, but I am also anxious for what could possibly be lurking around the corner.
The prevalence of worry, panic and anxiety are significant; but they are not well understood. Individuals who are ignorant to these disorders believe that controlling your thoughts and emotions is as simple as flipping an on/off switch. Before I was able to properly identify and label what I experience to be anxiety, I too believed that the aforementioned was an easy and reasonable task. Sadly, living this type of existence is anything but reasonable. There are also many individuals (specifically in the black community) who suffer in silence. There is insignificant mental health awareness and a huge stigma placed upon those who struggle through these setbacks.
For many years now, I have been in search of what I like to call a panic room (safe room). It is so important for those who suffer from panic and anxiety to have a sanctuary to openly express and face their fears. I have tried counseling and therapy and I personally did not find these tools to be the most helpful. Many therapists that I have spoken to always try to prescribe me pills such as Xanax and Paxil. Although slightly effective, I often view measures like medication as being a temporary fix. It is my belief that if you really want to overcome fear and anxiety- one must discover the cause and pluck it up by the root. Medication is only useful at smothering the symptoms that accompany these disorders.
However, if you are an individual who finds the use of medication therapy beneficial, I encourage you to continue. But these days, I find my peace and sanctuary through prayer and meditation. I am a highly spiritual person and find much solace and relief through the power of prayer. My war room has literally become my panic room and I battle against the grappling chains of fear and anxiety daily. Since faith requires you to speak things as though they were, I am confident in saying that this war has already been won. And, even though it is still a constant fight in the physical realm, my spirit triumphs in the victory that is soon to come.
To anyone who is suffering from anxiety, you do not have to suffer alone. It is okay to say it, see it, and then seek help for it. The essence of worry stems from obsessing about the past and being fearful about the future. Life is not designed for us to walk through it holding our breath. So I encourage you to be hopeful, stay present, and just BREATHE. You really can conquer anything.