Nothing to Fear but Phobias

 Looking back, I realize when my anxiety flared to it’s worst I began to develop more and more phobias. Sure, in the past I’d  had a mild aversion to worms and slimy looking things but that mild aversion didn’t cripple me to the point of inaction. 

Disturbingly the phobias that began to plague me seemed to develop out of nowhere. I decided to seek therapy after a particularly frightening incident. 

Roughly 9 years ago I had closed down the restaurant where I worked. I checked and rechecked to see I’d locked the gate properly and finally managed to accept it was locked and got into my car. I then fought the urge to start all over by checking and rechecking I’d not forgotten anything inside the restaurant.

I managed to drive roughly half a block before turning around to go back and check the restaurant hadn’t caught fire. I turned back one more time before finally convincing myself to go home.

Later,in bed, my eyes snapped open at 3am and I was compelled to go back and check on the restaurant. I breathed a sigh of relief after driving half way across the city to find the building safe and sound.

I turned back twice more before finally heading home where I cried myself to sleep. I couldn’t understand why my conscientious streak had turned into paralyzing paranoia.

In the coming years I battled with a gripping fear of driving. I was terrified of handling any bend in the road above a speed of approximately 50kmh. This made navigating any stretch of highway frightening for myself but also damn dangerous for anyone sharing the road with me.

My friends and family could not understand my new aversion to driving. I felt horrible for not being able to explain and not understanding it myself. I hated the highway, handling curves and corners, passing, being passed, and, the ever-dreaded (by me only it seems),vanishing horizon. 

Seeing the crest of a hill and not being able to see beyond set my pulse pounding and my breathing shallow and ragged. I felt there would be no road to catch me should I cross that invisible horizon line. And, like a puppy chasing sun rays, as soon as I safely crested one horizon I’d begin to fear safe passage o’er the next.

I also developed a fear of flying even though I’d happily travelled on planes quite frequently since infancy. I feared forgetting to shut off the stove top, the oven, the coffee maker, or the curling iron thus burning my house to the ground. 

I feared losing my keys, locking myself out, running out of medication, losing my job, being robbed, the death of a loved one, and my own death. I feared all these things and more to varying degrees and for varying lengths of time until one day the fears became just a little quieter. Currently my fears are tamped down to little more than a whisper. 

I’m not sure what it is that finally exercised the demon of fear. Perhaps the medication did it, or therapy, or reading the right book, or doing enough fucking cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) work sheets,  just the passing of time, or a combination thereof.

I still have spells where fear creeps in and possesses my body and mind but, for now at least, I am able to quell the beast with relative ease.


My Experience With Panic Attacks

I find it difficult to talk about my mental illness without crying and struggling for air between jagged sobs. This is because there is no simple solution and it’s very easy to feel trapped and isolated.


For the past 10 years I have struggled to; just take it easy, calm down, cheer the fuck up, not worry, be grounded, find my centre, or whatever the hell else people who haven’t experienced mental illness think is the magic bullet.

So, here’s how panic attacks feel to me. Often, I awaken too early with a sense of impending doom. It feels sort of like losing car keys at first. That, “holy shit, what am I going to do?” feeling.

Then building tension coiled deep in my belly grows spreads like wildfire and I am suddenly dripping with sweat. I struggle to identify the source of my panic but usually, there’s no obvious trigger…this ambiguity leads to more anxiety until all hell breaks loose; not just in my head but my entire body.

As my breathing rockets towards hyperventilation, I feel compelled to pace. Perhaps trying to outrun these unnecessary bodily sensations. Often I won’t be able to stop crying, I feel like a caged animal headed for the slaughterhouse.

There’s no reasoning with me, I am a slave to fighting or flighting (yes flighting – it’s my blog, I do what I want!). Often the grand finale is working myself into such a state I end up vomiting repeatedly. Pure glamour, no?

What helps? Sometimes time and patience, or a call to the Calgary Distress Center, or medication, or playing some mental games (like naming all the Canadian capital cities), or painting, or listening to music, or recalling I’ve never had an attack not end eventually, or some combination thereof.

Honestly, I wouldn’t wish a panic attack on anyone. Ever. Sadly, I know there are many others out there suffering from similar afflictions.

I hope by sharing my experience I might help another person feel less alone with their illness and/or help loved ones understand a little bit more about panic attacks.