I remember in grade school when we were all expected to give a timed speech in front of our classes. For those who were gifted with their story telling, the audience would grow. I always went up with those little cue cards that Mom used for her recipes, completely detached from whatever I was rambling on about and trying so desperately to not end up with my head between my knees hyperventilating into a paper bag. I guess looking back, those presentations were probably my first remembered experience of what a panic attack was going to feel like…down the road. Oh, the irony.
The first time I came out with my story; sharing this journey “out loud” didn’t feel much different. The difference being that I now know how to breathe through it. I know I’m not going to die, I’m not having a heart attack, not going to instantly cease to exist…it actually makes me laugh now. Yes, I still get nervous every single time I speak. I still feel the panic attack coming on, often walking in just in time to speak as to avoid the pre speech foreplay of people watching me, wondering what I have to say, maybe able to see that I’m breathing like I just ran a marathon. I confidently walk out onto the stage and promptly sit! No I’m not being rude, I’m not trying to appear lazy or complacent, it’s just a lot easier for me to control my breathing when I’m sitting, you won’t be able to see my anxiety attacks! I keep a bottle of water next to me at all times so I have a built in excuse to pause when needed to get a few deep breaths in! It’s all a very strategic process for me.
There are days that my story is too real even for me. Spending the time reliving some of the worst moments in my life on days that my anxiety is begging me to just stay home, or my depression is suggesting it could be a movie day…well, it’s a challenge. But I have a learned perspective. You can be my therapist on those days. On the days that I used to want to just be alone, I now know that I’m stronger with support. I’m stronger if I let people in and remind myself that I’m never alone. So whether you like it or not, I’ve learned to use you for that. I will be gentle with myself as I share my journey with you, and I will accept that if I cry, if I struggle, it’s the choice I made. I chose to share this journey so the world can learn how real it is for so many, most importantly because I want you to see “ME”. I want people to see that yes I can still have bad days, but there are so many that are so good! And even with the challenges I face, it’s so possible to take a deep breathe, laugh in amazement and wonder at the power of my mind and body, revel in my ability to work with myself to take it in stride, and just continue on my journey.
I have figured out the worst that could happen would be a presentation that includes a full blown panic attack, perhaps a few tears in front of a bunch of strangers that came to hear me share my journey about living with anxiety, panic and depression; so frankly, there is the potential of a very visual presentation and perhaps greater understanding of what I go through…not a horrible alternative. And the best part, there’s usually a medical professional, a shrink, a doctor, a social worker or some alternative in the audience, and I I’ve spent enough time paying for it that I’ll take my free sessions when needed!