I figured that as an individual particularly gifted with words, and also incidentally a sufferer of some sort of anxiety, that I might try to describe what I feel when I’m having issues. Please note beforehand that I know almost nothing about my condition or anxiety in general. I’m just starting to learn about all this sort of stuff.
I guess the place to start would probably be the only incident in my life that may have created post-traumatic stress disorder for me. Now originally I thought this first occurrence would have been when I was 10 years old, seeing my father in the hospital a few months before he passed away from uncontrolled skin cancer. I recall that without warning I fainted while visiting him. I didn’t really understand what was going on, so it must have been a subconscious stressor. I fainted a few times after that as well, but generally haven’t since. I realized though that it wasn’t particularly traumatic. Yes it sucked to see my father in a vulnerable state shortly before seeing him for the last time, but I think that event would contribute more to any feelings of depression I may stay have lingering in the back of my head.
No, I think the place to start would be my only car crash. Thankfully the crash itself wasn’t very serious, no one was hurt, and the vehicles sustained only minor damage. I was driving down the major freeway in Austin with some friends, heading to a concert. Now, if you’ve ever visited Austin, you know the traffic is horrendous. This was a Saturday afternoon and early evening, so I figured the traffic wouldn’t be very bad. I was cruising along at about 60, coming up on a dip in the freeway where it splits to two upper decks and two lower decks. I decided to take the lower deck. Since the road dipped ahead, I couldn’t see ahead very well. Add on to this, that it was dusk and I was talking quite passionately to my friends in the car, and you get the recipe for disaster that I drove into.
The traffic was stopped ahead at the dip, and I noticed this too late and saw the brake lights on the car in front of me on brightly. I of course hit the brakes as hard as I could uttering various curses. Thankfully the skid was minimal and when I actually hit the car in front of me, I was only going about 15 mph. All the specifics afterward aren’t really that important. In that moment I felt myself starting to black out. I think my body figured I might be dying soon, so it started to black out my vision and thoughts so that I didn’t have to deal with it. As we glided toward our future state of rest, I felt flung further and further back in my mind, as if I was abstracting from my body. As soon as we made contact, the crunch and the momentum flinging me forward against my seatbelt rubber-banded me from my calm, ignorant introspection back to the reality of the situation.
For almost a straight minute, I couldn’t say anything. My passengers were asking if everyone was alright. I just sat there with my hands gripped on the steering wheel, not knowing what to do. Eventually I was snapped out of it by my friends and we continued on with the required insurance proceedings.
For a long time, I thought that it hadn’t affected me. As men are often conditioned to do, I just buried the whole experience subconsciously and forgot about it. In retrospect now, I wish I hadn’t buried it. I wish I had processed it very specifically, and dealt with the feelings that ended up surfacing over the last 3 years. Perhaps I wouldn’t be the way I am now. Who knows.
The feeling and the fear resurfaced a couple of months ago while I was driving to pick up a friend. Almost the exact same situation happened. The road was different, the state and traffic were different, but the near crash was the same except I managed to brake hard enough to not hit. But as soon as I slid to a stop behind the car I almost hit, my hands were shaking, my eyes were twitching around the road, trying to determine if anyone had seen me. I couldn’t think, or talk, and I could only barely breath. I should have pulled over on the freeway and stood up, gotten some fresh air, and walked a bit. Instead I kept on with my drive and only gave my self a chance to actually regain my breath while I was waiting for my friend to arrive.
Now, I know the traditional definition of a panic attack and it doesn’t fit what happened to me, but I had some sort of anxiety episode there. Ever since (and I realized at this point, as mentioned before, that this had happened for the last couple of years randomly) I would occasionally get this tight feeling in my chest. I’ve actually felt this sensation for well over a decade, I just never knew what it was. I think a certain amount is healthy, but when it becomes a near daily occurrence, and it happens without any logical stimuli, there might be a problem.
I think the easiest way to describe it, is that there is hand that grips my emotional core (which is what I loosely call the center of my chest where I feel sadness, happiness, and other feelings) and just fucking tugs. Whenever I have this tight feeling, which I’ve come to learn is anxiety, it just feels like the hand is gripping very tightly, and pulling down and down and down.
The feeling I get when I have a panic/anxiety episode (or whatever it is), is like the hand suddenly and abruptly yanking. If you imagine that someone’s emotional core connects physically to the top of your neck, there is only a limited amount of length that can be taut before it starts stretching past where it should be, kind of like a rope tied to a post. The abrupt yanks feel like pushing beyond the limit of what should be possible when pulling that short distance of tied rope.
Some days, there is no yanking and no feeling of the hand. Sometimes I can feel the hand but it’s not tugging or pulling, just idly hanging on as you would a leash attached to a calm dog.
If you have anxiety of any sort, or panic attacks, please share how and what you feel. I’m interested in how other people define the issue they have. For instance I’ve seen the description of depression as a dog that varies in size and follows you around, sitting on you sometimes.