How do you handle your thoughts going a mile a minute but you’re standing still?
What do you do when it feels like you’re fighting with your sanity? Feeling like at any minute your mind will snap and you never been the same again. I don’t know about you but this is what it feels like to have anxiety. It takes a lot for me to admit this because the world taught me strong black women don’t get anxious. We are built to handle everything that comes our way and then some, so I brushed off my first panic attack, excuse me my first four panic attacks.
It’s the middle of March 2017 and the sun is shining bright in the sky. In two days, spring break will be here, and I will be able to relax and enjoy some much needed downtime. I’m not looking forward to the weekend though, because we have to bury my niece, my sixth man off the bench. I can’t believe she’s gone and in one of the most horrific ways possible. I refuse to think about it. But I know I have to face the fact that she is no longer here when it comes time to look in the casket at an empty shell that used to be her body. I’m sitting in a line of buses, all of us are on our way back to the base from dropping off our kids. I’m singing, the song escapes me because what happened next was one of the scariest moments of my life. My heart begins to race, and suddenly I’m short of breath. I opened the window next to me to try to breathe in some air but now I’m feeling dizzy. The traffic is stopped due to a red light. I put the bus in park and stand up. “Maybe I need to just walk back and forth,” I thought. But I’m scared. I try to open another window, but I can’t get it open. I begin to panic. I get off the bus to let one of my friends know I’m not feeling right. But I can’t calm down. I’m pacing back and forth in the street and a nearby parking lot. She gets on the radio with dispatch, while I’m pacing. Dispatch asks me if I can drive back to the base. No, I can’t do it. They ask to leave the bus in a nearby parking lot and ride back with my friend. But I can’t calm down enough to ride on the bus. I have her drop me off in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen and call my son to pick me up. I don’t know what’s going on, but I feel like I am one second from passing out. I’m freaking out by the time my son arrives. He gives me a bottle of water and tells me to calm down. He takes me to a nearby hospital and I go into the emergency room. By now I’ve calmed down some. My heart is still racing but I’m no longer dizzy. They take me back and run some tests, but they couldn’t find anything.
“I think you just had a panic attack,” the doctor said. “Anything out of the ordinary happen this week?”
“No, it’s been a pretty normal week for me, I mean besides I have a funeral to go to Saturday.”
“A funeral for who, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“My niece,” I said.
I begin to explain what had been going on.
He begins to explain to me that sometimes traumatic experiences can bring on anxiety which can lead to panic attacks. He told me I needed to take it easy and sent me home.
In typical black woman fashion, I brushed it off. “Black people don’t get anxiety, we are built for stress.” I thought.
This thought process would lead me to go to the hospital at least three more times over the next three years because I couldn’t understand what was going on with me.
But in 2020, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. The covid pandemic hit and I had to confront my anxiety head-on. On March 13, 2020, we were told the school was going to be closed for a least the next two weeks. I was glad about the break. At first, people weren’t really taking Covid seriously. We were told to stay in as much as possible, wear a mask, wash our hands, and try as hard as we could not to interact with too many people. Well of course most people weren’t doing that and after about a week of being home, people started getting sick and going Facebook Live in the hospitals, my anxiety took over. It was no longer a joke, this was no longer funny. I was crying every day about dying, my heart was beating uncontrollably, my arm was numb, and I couldn’t get control of my emotions. We were told to stay out of the hospital if we could but I was convinced I was having a heart attack. My bestie and my cousin kept telling me it was a side effect of anxiety but I didn’t believe them. After a week of crying, I finally went to the emergency room.
The hospital staff was so nice, they handled me with so much care. Until….. The nurse comes back in after giving me an X-ray.
“Ma’am, I was looking at your chart and I noticed you were just here in July for a similar issue. I think you need to discuss with your doctor some long term anxiety treatments.”
I couldn’t do anything but laugh. I had been denying for the past three years about having anxiety, but I could no longer deny what was happening to me.
I talk to my doctor and she referred me to a psychiatrist. After a few meetings, she put me on a low dosage of anxiety medicine. It took a few weeks, but my heart finally stopped racing and my emotions were under control.
As I think back, I’ve had anxiety my whole life. It just manifested itself in different ways. I used to get horrible stomach aches anytime I had to speak in front of the class. Whenever I was scared, I would freak out and start to cry. I remember when I was a teenager, I had a date with this guy and our dryer was broken, so I went to the laundry mat to dry my clothes. I didn’t take my house key because my grandfather was home watching television. He left while I was gone and I couldn’t get inside to get ready. I started to panic and ended up kicking in the back door to get in the house.
Now that I’m older, my anxiety won’t allow me to ignore it. It has made itself to the forefront of my life and has forced me to deal with it. I spent a couple of years trying to manage it on my own but eventually, I realized I needed help. I decided to give therapy a try and it has been one of the best decisions I ever made. My therapist taught me what anxiety is and what it is not. She also helped me learn what triggers my anxiety.
Lack of sleep
Having too many things to do
I had to learn to step back from trying to be everything to everyone and take care of myself. My lack of boundaries was one of my biggest triggers. I was always being helpful hinny but it was rarely reciprocated. It left me empty. I realized if I had nothing to give to myself, I would have nothing to give to anyone else. I started putting myself and my needs first and letting others figure out their lives on their own. I’m making my self-care a priority and not giving myself the leftovers.
As we celebrate Woman’s History Month, it is important for us to know that self-care isn’t selfish its a requirement for our mental health.