Maplewood May flowers. Photo by Jennifer Willis.

and sometimes you have a panic attack

I woke up already having a panic attack this morning.

I’ve not blogged about my health in a while. I still have the daily headaches and dysautonomia, but it hasn’t been as bad lately, which has allowed me to get quite a bit more work done. I also don’t want my life (or my blog) to become solely about chronic illness and pain, because that’s no fun and there are a great many other ways I’d prefer to invest my time.

I’ve been making good headway on rebranding and relaunching the Rune Witch urban fantasy series, including just yesterday scheduling a pre-order for the fifth book and making notes for a from-scratch rewrite on the sixth and final book in the series. I was also enjoying the process of using these last two books in the Rune Witch series to set up the next series, to take place in the same fictional universe but in a seaside community and with (mostly) new characters. It felt good to be in the flow and making constructive progress.

But sometimes a flare-up gets triggered. Sometimes I can see it coming; sometimes I can’t.

In April, it took a week for me to recover from my trip to Utah for the Futurescapes Writers’ Workshop. The workshop itself was great, though the aftermath was discouraging. I was dealing mostly with body pain (bursitis) and heavy fatigue, with milder versions of the other usual suspects thrown in. But this kind of thing happens, and I was able to get back to work after some time and some rest.

A panic attack can be somewhat more debilitating. It can be nearly (or even completely) invisible from the outside, largely because over the decades I’ve gotten very good at masking how I’m feeling. Right now, I feel the familiar squeeze in my chest. I both feel and hear my heart pounding. My breath is short; I’m not panting or hyperventilating, though some breaths are more difficult than others. Sounds and smells are sharper, and often unpleasant—same with light (though sound/light sensitivity is a daily occurrence with the headaches). My head hurts, but my head pretty much always hurts. As I type this, I feel mildly nauseated and pretty much constantly on the verge of tears.

My mind is calm. I am not having a “freak out”—as panic attacks are so often depicted on-screen—though my body is locked in this process until it resolves itself. However, exposing myself to anything upsetting (like news of the latest school shooting, just this morning) can and will exacerbate and prolong the experience. A panic attack is uncomfortable and even painful. It is worrying, because having a panic attack means it’s more likely that I’ll have another panic attack in the near future. And it makes it damned difficult to get any real work done.

I woke up with this, which is unusual but not unprecedented. And I still left the house and ran errands, because I had to. I kept my interactions with other people deliberately brief.

I’m blogging about this because I know I’m not the only person who is dealing with this, and I wanted to describe what a panic attack feels like—at least, what it feels like to me. There is never a convenient time for a panic attack.

This one wasn’t set off by any particular external or internal event, as far as I can tell. Things have been more stressful lately, and widespread anxiety is an unfortunate companion that way too many of us are living with daily thanks to the current state of the world and what can feel like minute-by-minute breaking shitstorms of news. From that perspective, I’m kind of surprised I’m not having multiple panic attacks every week.

For me, a panic attack lasts anywhere from a couple of hours to most of a day. I’m at just over six hours and counting right now. The aftereffects—increased fatigue, dizziness/vertigo, worsened headache, and a susceptibility to more anxiety and panic—will last for several days, up to a week.

So I’m drinking tea and water, and I’m distracting myself with otter videos and feel-good stories unrelated to current events. I am keeping the lights low and have some soothing music playing. I’m trying to not just surrender and go to bed, though that’s sometimes what’s required.

But I am okay. This is temporary, and it will pass.

I will get back to work. I will get these books and stories out to you. Sometimes that takes a little (or a lot) longer than planned, and this is one of the reasons why. In the meantime, take care of yourselves and be excellent to each other, eh?

Posted in thoughts from the spiral.

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