A sudden trepidatious and debilitating feeling of loss of control of body and mind is what’s seared deeply in my memory as it pertains to my first panic attack. I’d never experienced anything like it and frankly felt like I wasn’t supposed to be; a physical reaction to an inexplicable rush of immense and quasi-fear? I found myself in the back of an ambulance breathing through an oxygen mask when my senses began to stabilize. The bright LED lights were coming into focus as I descended from a mental spiral, my fingers were no longer seized, the intense tingling in my face subsided and the restrictive feeling around my chest had loosened. As an EMT walked me through a breathing exercise I began to calm down but I was profusely damp with sweat and brimming with confusion.
I wouldn’t experience another panic attack for nearly 10 years. There was the same debilitating sense of loss of control; the only difference was the second time I knew what was happening but could still do nothing to control it. Knowing what was happening as opposed to understanding why it was happening is what led me to the hospital. CT scans and X-rays provided no prognosis, neither did bloodwork. After nurses and doctors, and not for a lack of effort, ruled out drug abuse as a diagnoses to my symptoms I had to come to terms with a new reality. I wanted answers; I needed to be able to understand and explain what was going on.
I began by educating myself and becoming comfortable discussing the subjects of mental health and self care. Instead of disregarding the discharge papers from my uncomfortable ER visit, I perused through them and this is where my understanding of what was going on with my mental began to develop. My self care journey has been one of constant evolution and gradual progress because educating myself and putting into practice mindfulness and breathing techniques have led to lifestyle changes that better reflect the level of mental health I want to attain. In addition to the profusion of new behaviors to learn and implement there were equally, if not more, behaviors to unlearn. Daunting but not impossible and encouraged learning they wouldn’t solely be for my own benefit. I’ve been able to strengthen and foster purposeful relationships with friends and I have been mentally present for my family as a result of making my mental health a priority. I learned that life is about how you make people feel. While this is true, it is possible to go along prioritizing everyone around you failing to make the necessary deposits to yourself.
The overall feeling of self control since prioritizing my mental health has been the most rewarding benefit. It requires a daily, concerted effort to maintain but I start each day with meditation. Possessing the ability to clear your mind and sit quietly with yourself takes incredible discipline. Breathing exercises help me to maintain my heart rate. Mindfulness and mental reflection to reflect on moments, interactions-mental wins and losses allow me to construct smart goals that are actionable and measurable and throughout my day I take small mental breaks. I avoid overextending myself in my work and one of my greatest allies in conquering my mental health has been journaling. Journaling creates a mental release or creative outlet and I use it as a tool to measure progress. By consistently following the routine I’ve built for myself I have noticeably improved my quality of life.