People, Places, and Panic Attacks

So we moved. We have been in our new home 2 weeks now and while there are still many half-way unpacked boxes hanging around, our house is feeling more and more like home. It’s even starting to smell like our home, which I feel like is totally a thing (and hopefully not a bad thing).

Having moved so often in the 7.5 years of our marriage, I’ve gotten really used to the packing, organizing, bill transferring, etc… part of the move. I find comfort in crossing things off the never ending to-do list and seeing a visual of all that I’ve accomplished. Yay, productivity.

From the outside, it seems like I’ve got everything put together and that each move has been fairly seamless, but if you could hear my inner dialogue or, in the case of my husband my outer dialogue, it tells a very different story. What a lot of people don’t know is that in times of transition (whatever that transition looks like) my mind goes into full anxiety/ panic mode. Often, this also leads to depression. The last time we moved I stayed in this anxiety/depression place for 3 whole months as I tried to navigate our new home, new people, and all of the new places around me.

This time around with it being so fresh from the last move (10 months), I knew what to look for. And sure enough. About a month before moving my mind started totally losing it. Panic attacks, depression days, all of it. It’s not that I’m particularly worried about seeing new things and meeting new people, I actually really enjoy going on adventures and seeing what the world has to offer. For me, it comes from a place of being unsettled. I thrive off of expectations. When I know what to expect and things go like I expect them to, everything is good in my world. The problem is that with moving (or any major transition like birth, career change, etc…) I have no idea what to expect and it’s like my brain doesn’t know where to place its anchor so I’m left floating.

No matter what I do to preempt this struggle or try to treat it once it comes, it always comes. I always have panic attacks. I always go through the depression period. Even though every logical part of me knows that I will absolutely make it through this transition and be fine, my brain cannot deal.

Just a few days ago, I was happily hanging with my family. We were buying a new car and the 2 hour drive to the car place went smoothly. On the way home, it was just me and the kids and they actually did just fine. When we got home, though, I happened to see that my husband was still 45 minutes behind us instead of the 20 minutes or so I expected him to be and for some reason my brain completely lost it. I became irrationally frustrated and short with my kids, I couldn’t handle even the slightest misbehavior. I cursed my husband for being so late (even though my rational brain was arguing against each of these things the whole time). I suddenly felt like the worst mom in the world and everything around me gave evidence to that. It felt like my body had been taken over by some unknown force and the world was trying to attack me. By the time my husband came home I was so outside of myself that I ran upstairs and closed the door to my room so I could breath. Just seconds later, my husband asked where our puppy was and I realized that in the midst of my panic attack, I had forgotten to let her back inside and she was wondering around our un-fenced yard totally unsupervised (luckily unharmed).

Even with space to breath and a very patient, understanding husband this panic attack lasted for almost an hour and a half. I sat dazed, upset, and completely out of it though I could still hear the little voice of reason in the back of my mind saying, “You know what this is. This is anxiety. Think about what you can do to help it.” After a while, I was finally able to remember a few techniques I tell my clients to use in times like these. I went to the bathroom and splashed ice cold water on my face. I did it over and over until my brain had no choice but to center itself and feel grounded in the present. Within minutes, the panic subsided and I was out of anxiety-mode. My husband and I were even able to go on a great date that night.

Most of my blogs have a nice ending to them where I tie everything into a fulfilling little bow. I like writing stories like that. But this isn’t one of those stories because it’s likely that I’ll struggle with variations of this my whole life. I wanted to let you know that if you have anxiety, I understand. I know that it’s not you, it’s your brain. I know exactly what that feels like. I want you to know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you for struggling with this.

I know that in a couple of months, I will feel more settled and things will feel more routine. The anxiety attacks will be less frequent and I’ll be able to cope with them and the depression will subside. But for now, I know that I’ll need more support from my husband, more time for self-care for me. I’ll need to get my house unpacked as quickly as possible so I can feel at home and anchored in this new location. I’ll need a gym membership so that on hard days I have at least 2 hours of built-in babysitting whether I work out or not. I’ll stay open to the option of therapy or coaching if I feel like it’s becoming unmanageable. Just like I would manage a flair up of any chronic illness, I need to look inside myself and give my brain what it needs during this transition, even if my rational brain wants me to just ignore it or “get over it.” I owe it to myself to keep working through it. And you do, too.