Until a few weeks ago I would not have known how to answer this question. I had the idea in my head that panic attacks only happened to people who didn’t have healthy outlets for their stress or who just let it build up to much, until it finally happened to me.What happened exactly? Well after reflecting for awhile I believe it was a combination of things. In many of my posts I write about how small steps, small actions, and small decisions can how monumentally positive impacts in our lives and what became very apparent through this experience that the opposite is equally true. When we allow several small stressors to build up in our lives, we can very quickly go from, “I don’t know I’m feeling kinda stressed today,” to being on the point of a nervous breakdown.
For me I had even started to let positive things in my life turn into negatives. Instead of looking at my career search as an exciting adventure to the next step in my life, I was choosing to feel anxious and impatient that I hadn’t moved on already. Instead of being excited about all the progress my book has made and realizing that it is SO close to being published, I was focusing on the frustration that it was not yet done.
My mom’s battle with cancer is ever-present in my mind, even when I don’t realize it. Having this larger emotional challenge in my life I need to be especially aware of my feelings and emotions but it is very easy to get distracted by the day-to-day and forget about yourself. It is so easy to try to rush through today, this week, this month, to “just get there already” because we believe arriving at that point will bring us the happiness we desire.
But ultimately, as it always does, the lesson comes back. We need to have our big dreams for the future but be extra focused on enjoying the now and the current moment we have. I remember hearing this when I was younger from Buddhists and individuals practicing things like Qi Gong and thinking it was nonsense. “That’s ridiculous, we have our past, present, and future,” I would scoff. But now at this point in my life I understand what they meant.
I heard a quote recently and it was something to the effect of, “We do not live in the past or the future, we only live in the now. That is why it is so important that we learn to make the now spectacular.” This reminds me of another message that I put up on my blog quite some time ago which I found somewhere in the internet. Don’t worry about the past which we cannot change or the future which we cannot control, focus on making this moment as happy, peaceful, and wonderful as you can. Focus on making a connection with someone, even if that someone is you, right now.
To answer the question, what does a panic attack feel like? It feels like you have no control over your emotional state, like you are on the edge of an emotional cliff and you feel like the slightest push or gust of wind could send you careening over the edge. What happens when you fall off the cliff? You have no idea, and that is part of the fear. The whole time it was happening, I felt short of breath, a firm tightness in the middle of my chest, and like I needed to be hugging something the whole time I was going through it. I felt as if I just let all of my emotions come out at once I would completely lose it and need to curl up in a ball on the floor crying.
The strangest part of the experience for me was that although I had many ideas in my head of how I could help myself, I didn’t want to fix it. I just wanted to ride it out and go through it. This led to an even more interesting internal conflict where my mind was saying, “Brian you have all these methods you could use to help (exercise, meditation, praying, etc.) but you aren’t using any of them, why aren’t you just fixing this?”
While these thoughts came through something in me was reminding me, “You don’t have to fix everything Brian, sometimes you are meant to just experience a moment. Sometimes you are just meant to endure a difficult time and learn from it. You can’t fix everything all the time, sometimes life is just about the experiencing the difficult times and learning to smile when you are through them.”
This was tough for me, anyone who knows me knows that I am a very proactive, goal-oriented person. I like to constantly be “moving forward” or “getting things done”. I want to end each day feeling like I took at the very least one small step towards my bigger dreams and goals. So trying to slow down and just enjoy the moment almost seemed contrary to that in a sense.
What had happened in the past few weeks leading up to this was I had forgotten to enjoy the ride. I had stopped finding joy in each day and let both my career and my life outside of work become “work”. I felt as though I was just trying to get through each day to “get there” and when I finished each day without having arrived at my goal, I felt like I hadn’t achieved anything that day. Almost as if that day had been a waste.
I tried to just push harder convincing myself that I just, “wasn’t working hard enough,” and if I pushed a little bit more I would be able to control things and get there faster. A big lesson that has become increasingly apparent ever since my mom’s cancer diagnosis is that as much as we want to be in control all the time, many things are out of our hands. Ultimately it is all up to God, when it starts, when it ends. But in the days that we are here on this planet, we have choices, every moment of every day.
During the scariest times of the panic attack I said the same thing to myself that I said to my mom the day she got the cancer diagnosis, “I don’t understand yet why God has me going through this, but he definitely has a reason. God is having me go through this so that later in my life I will be able to help someone. Maybe tomorrow or maybe years from now but somehow, having me go through this difficult time will enable me to help others.”
When you are deep in it, when you are struggling through the really tough moments in your life, sometimes it is hard to see the “why” in everything. What I have found is that you don’t always need to have it all figured out and understand everything. Sometimes simply understanding that there is a purpose for this experience and moving on is the best thing you can do.
Sometimes the lesson from an experience won’t reveal itself for days, months, or even years. Again this is something we have to let go of, letting go of the illusion of control in our lives is liberating, not terrifying like we think it will be. Most people on this planet are making plans based on their current reality or their dreams. “If I do this, this, and this then I will get there,” but again, not everything is in our control. We don’t control the number of days we have on this planet but we can control how we choose to live all the precious moments we have.
There are lots of lessons in today’s entry and experience but I think the most important lesson is about letting go. Let go of a need to change other people (how they think, feel, act) because that is not up to you, let go of a need to control timing and learn to enjoy the ride, let go of the need to have people view you a certain way, let go of the need for approval from the people around you to unapologetically pursue your dreams. This life is about you finding your happiness and peace and sharing your light with the people you meet.
I think this was a big reminder for me that I don’t have control over everything and I need to be okay with that, to have faith that God is moving me in exactly the direction I should be moving to get to exactly where I need to be. I just need to remind myself every day that each day should be about finding happiness. When I choose to find the happiness and magic in every day of my life, the big beautiful dreams will come.
Thanks for reading and I plan to be posting much more in the coming weeks.
I love you Mom, thanks for always supporting me and even during this tough time in your life offering to be there to listen to me when I need to vent and talk about my emotions. I love you so much and hope today is the best day yet!