My O’Sensei always said, “The brain learns it first. Then the body knows it, and then your heart.” I heard this so many times when I was first starting out. It never really clicked until my anxiety became bad. It seems to me that’s how I experience my depression and anxiety. Brain, Body, and Heart are three separate beings making up the whole me.
That distinction was a little hard to come to, but once I did, once I was able to separate me from the things happening to me, it became vastly easier to cope. It’s awkward to talk about, but it goes a little something like this:
Brain: Do you see that random shadow over there?
Body and Heart: Yeah!
Brain: It’s trying to kill you.
Heart: Don’t be silly, Brain. It’s only a shadow.
Body: A THREAT!!! WE MUST VANGUISH IT!!!
Heart: No, no, NO, Body! That’s not what’s happening. That shadow can’t hurt us. It literally can’t.
Body: Brain, what do you think?
Brain: No, it definitely wants to murder you.
Body: I KNEW IT!!! Heart, Brain says it, so it must be so!
Heart: I don’t think that’s how it works.
Brain and Body: It is.
Heart: No… Well… I don’t know…
Body: A THREAT!!! ALL SYSTEMS ARE GO!!!
Brain: Let’s get down to business!
Body: To defeat the THREAT!!!
Heart: Huns, Body, Huns, and yeah, okay, maybe it is looking a little odd.
Brain and Body: A THREAT!!! MURDER!!! MAYHEM!!! DISTRUCTION!!!
Heart: Yes… it’s definitely a suspicious shadow.
Brain: BLOOD! MURDER! DISTRUCTION!
Body: PROTECT THE SOFT TISSUES!!!
Heart: OH MY GOD, I’M GOING TO DIE!!!
And that’s pretty much what an anxiety/panic attack look like in me. And don’t get me started if Body is convinced that a spider is on something or if something looks like a spider. No amount of knowing or logic can convince me otherwise. I spent 20 minutes in a stare down with the doorknob to my bathroom before I could sit down or walk anywhere near it. It was HOURS later before I was finally able to go to bed.
The only thing for me to do is wait it out. A typical panic attack takes about 15 minutes. I’ve had some that are shorter and some that are longer. Panic attacks usually take me by surprise. It starts out in my nose as a numb tingling sensation. Then it quickly moves to my extremities. I start shaking. I start hyperventilating, and all reason shuts off. I get very spacey. I can’t be still. My heart pounds.
I can make this keening sound. I usually don’t realize it’s happening. I pace back and forth. I’m frantic. I can’t talk, and when I do, I’m stuttering. I don’t make any sense. It’s better to just back off and let me do my thing. Don’t touch me. Touching results in violence. It’s reactive, and I cannot stop it.
As it wears off I slow down. The pacing will stop. The shaking stops. My breathing returns to normal. I can think again. Once it’s over, I tend to crash hard. I’ll curl up and sleep. I almost always have to spend a couple of days in bed. It takes the better part of a week for the emotional exhaustion to wear off, about four or five days.
Anxiety attacks are a little better. Those are usually more mental than physical. It takes less time to recover from them, but they aren’t pleasant. None of it is pleasant.