You and your family are invited to an annual BBQ. You have attended in previous years and always have a great time with great people. This year, you did not want to go.
You have no real reason why you do not want to go; you just feel in your stomach that you cannot go. You try to pump yourself up and get excited about going, and that may work but only for a short time. The morning of, you have his feeling inside. A crippling feeling that today may be a day where you get up and must carry through on something that makes you physically feel sick. It is not a nervousness feeling as you get when you face a new challenge or visit the dentist. No, this is anxiety running its course. This sick feeling is not because you do not want to see these people, which by the way are the nicest group of people you know. No, this is anxiety running its course.
You go throughout the day carrying this feeling around, trying not to let anyone notice. The time comes to get ready to leave. You get ready. You shave, shower, and get dressed. Good to go…or are you good to go? That sick feeling is now accompanied with a tight chest. A tight chest that also comes with this feeling that your throat is slowly closing. Anxiety, running its course. You gather up the courage (is that what it is?) to mention to your significant other that you do not think you can go to the BBQ today. They suspect that is the case based on your behavior all day. You tried to hold the anxiety in all day, but it finds a way to manifest itself. She tells you that it is fine, but you do not feel it is fine. Your mind now tells you that she is mad and upset that you are not going. The thought that she is mad coupled with the fact it is now time to walk out the door quickly builds the anxiety. As anxiety continues to run its course, you now stand there trying to decide if you are going or not. Your throat now feels completely closed and at the same time, you feel like vomiting any second. She tells you once again that it is okay to stay home. You stand there trying to process everything as they are ready to walk out the door and you freeze. You kiss them goodbye, come back inside and watch through the window as they pull out of the driveway. You stand there frozen, thinking about what just happened. Why are you staying home? What are you going to do? What will she tell people when they ask where you are? What will they think? Do you make the right decision to stay home? Would this feeling go away if you just “sucked it up”, and went to the BBQ? Does it ever? These are a few of the questions that you find asking yourself as you stand there. Frozen. The van is now fully out of sight and they are probably half way there by now…
…should I have just gone?
This is a situation I recently experienced (thirty minutes prior to writing this). Ever since I have been trying to write out what I have felt, in hopes that I can learn from it. Writing/documenting my thoughts and feelings as I was experiencing anxiety running its course, could help me share a glimpse of what it feels like when you are in the moment of an anxiety attack. Also, I know I am not alone. Many people experience this and if this sounds like something you have experienced, it is okay to talk about it. Anxiety runs its course and at times there is a need to just surrender in the moment, rest and recuperate. Then get back up with the mindset that it was okay that you stayed home. If any other illness gave you chest pains and made you feel physically sick, you would likely stay home too. No one would tell you to “suck it up” if those symptoms were caused from any other sickness. There will always be another BBQ or party you can attend next time. Follow your gut. That’s what I did…how did it make me feel and how did it work out?
My wife and kids were gone for a few hours. While they were gone, I worked to get my anxiety attack under control then read what I had written while in the moment. This was just one example of how it feels before, during and after an anxiety attack. This can differ from day to day and from person to person. When I became calm, I thought back for a reason why I feel bad for bailing on a friend’s BBQ and having my wife and kids go without me. But I could not find one, then I thought…why do I need one? I do not need one. I would hope anyone experiencing these feelings would surely do the same. Why? You deserve it. Mental illness is real. You battle all day, every day. If you need to rest, take care of yourself.
When the family arrived home, they were excited to tell me stories about all the fun they had. My wife walked up, said hello, smiled and gave me a kiss. Okay, when she told me it was fine to stay home, maybe it was really…fine?
What do you know, it was fine. Remember, even when anxiety is running its course, you are not alone.