3 Things My Panic Attacks Taught Me About Happiness
Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder was not something I had on my bucket list. My idea of adventure was jet skiing in the south of France or snorkeling in Hawaii, not battling distrust within my mind.
Since being diagnosed a few years ago, my anxiety and panic disorder has become the main source of fear and distress in my life. It would often leave me questioning my ability to overcome the power of my thoughts. Even today, as I advance my healing, I still can't control when I have an attack, nor do I have the ability to turn it off once it starts.
There's no shortage of difficulty in trying to maintaining a normal existence when your mind becomes your worst enemy. However, only through weakness can we build strength. After surviving an accidental overdose and overcoming a life-altering drug addiction, I learned to find peace in uncertainty.
So when things get rough, this is what I remind myself.
1. Pain is a part of the process.
While lying on a hospital bed in the emergency room at 3pm, I found myself in a severe state of panic. The doctor on call had just informed me that my left lung was on the verge of collapse and that I needed to make a lifestyle change immediately if I planned to see my 30th birthday.
For years I had abused my body, and it was finally catching up to me. I was in agonizing pain both mentally and physically. I could hardly breathe, and my chest felt like an elephant was sitting on it. It was in that moment I found opportunity.
The pain I was experiencing gave me a new perspective. It provided me with a chance to become better. It was in my discomfort that I was forced to challenge my weaknesses by not accepting my circumstances.
During that time of my life my vulnerability came in many forms, with cigarettes, pills and alcohol at the forefront. It was cigarettes that led me to the hospital that day, which wound up being my last day as a smoker. Thanks to that experience, though, I learned not to let pain overshadow the process of change, as it only places us one step closer to purification.
2. Life is hard sometimes and it’s OK.
My anxiety disorder reminds me of the unpredictability each day brings. Every morning I wake up and claim victory, even if by the end of the day I feel defeated.
After enduring the physical and mental anguish of withdrawal, I quickly realized that not every day will live up to my standards, no matter how hard I try. We're faced with challenges daily, some of which we can control, some of which we can't. I’ve learned that it’s OK to be human.
In addition to my daily efforts to prevent the onset of an anxiety or panic attack, I can never allow myself to forget that I will always be a recovering addict. Every day I am faced with the fear and possibility of relapse.
As a keepsake, I still own the last bottle of anti-anxiety pills I picked up from the pharmacy years ago. The same medicine that almost cost me my life. I look at it every day as a reminder of what I had to experience and how far I’ve come.
Nonetheless, the urge to go back to that escape still comes up during my rough days. If I don't allow myself the freedom to have a bad day (or two), the impulse to go back to medication increases drastically.
It’s my acceptance of my imperfections that keeps me drug free. There's nothing I need to escape from once I’ve accepted my infirmities.
3. I don’t have to feel better until I’m ready to.
For years my anxiety had me living in solitude. I was afraid of people not understanding what I was going through. During my recovery I finally came to grips with my disorder and my addiction.
I was tired of people telling me to calm down and relax. I was done being made to feel like I was wrong for not turning off my fears and emotions in the time other people thought was suitable. I decided that I was no longer going to live for others as I had for most of my life. It was time to live for myself.
After all, I was a survivor. I made it through a battle that countless others lost. I survived an overdose, overcame an addiction to nicotine and anti-anxiety medication, all within a year. I was victorious! No one else had to go through what I did, therefore they didn’t have the right to tell me how to feel or how long to feel it.
There’s a difference between immersing yourself in your problems and allowing yourself time to get through them. We can all find happiness in every aspect of life, as long as we allow moments of stillness and clarity. Happiness exists all around us. It’s up to us to claim it as our own!