Avital is blogging about her experience as a mother with anxiety. Read her first post here.
The first time I had an anxiety-related meltdown in public, I was shopping at our local food co-op. It was only days after I had been diagnosed with anxiety. I was still certain there was something else besides anxiety going on.
I was continuously nauseous despite not having eaten much for a couple of weeks. I was beyond weak–go figure–and the only time I was able to force myself to crawl out of bed or off the couch was to drive my son to and from school, or myself to yet another doctor’s appointment. I had started on medication, but it hadn’t kicked in yet. One of the tortuous teases of anxiety medication is that they can take anywhere from two to eight weeks to really take effect. So while I dutifully swallowed my tiny, pink pill every night, I had yet to feel any different–causing me to continuously question my diagnosis (which did nothing to quell my anxiety).
But there I was, finally out of the house attempting to do something “normal.” My sweaty palms were wrapped around the cool, green, plastic handle of the co-op’s cart, as I faced the produce section like a deer in headlights. While I had no desire to eat at all, my family still needed food, and I thought perhaps something might tempt me as I wandered through the aisles. But all that I felt in that moment, surrounded by overpriced organic avocados and 10 different varieties of leafy greens, was completely overwhelmed.
Never one to shy away from a crowd before, I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so skittish. The store wasn’t even that packed, yet I still felt the powerful urge to flee. The lights felt too bright, I shivered even though it wasn’t particularly cold, and everything seemed off. One slippery hand made its way to my heart, which suddenly felt heavy and painful in my chest. The other shakily gripped the cart like it was a lifeline. If I could feel something solid beneath my hand, it could ground me. Maybe.
And then, a break in the clouds. A friendly voice.
My friend Elanit–one of the very few who at that point knew what was happening to me–was there. Separated by a few rows of produce, she gave me a look, one that spoke volumes. How are you? Are you OK? You got this?
I shook my head, and then I crumbled.
My hand slipped into my coat pocket and I grabbed for my sunglasses, thankful that they hid almost half of my face. She walked over and led me to a nearby empty aisle and hugged me. We didn’t speak much, but her arms around me spoke volumes. And as if her hug was the permission I was seeking, I just let it all out. Surrounded by frozen food on one side, and sprouted tortilla chips on the other, I snot-sobbed on the shoulder of my dear friend. I couldn’t even get an actual sentence out. Instead, I made those heaving gasps that come when you need to cry so hard, but just remembered that you’re in a public place and it’s not really the best time for a massive meltdown.
As she walked away, Elanit made a quiet joke and I broke into laughter, something I hadn’t felt in a while. I took a few deep breaths, eager to get my shopping over and done with. I somehow managed to get it together long enough to grab a few more items before high-tailing it out of there, certain that every single shopper knew what was wrong with me.
The second time I had an anxiety-related meltdown in public was my first time back at the YMCA after becoming sick. It had been over a month, and I actually missed my regular workout routine. I used to come a few times a week for cardio and weights, and took a Zumba class every Sunday morning. It had been a couple months since I stepped foot in the gym, however. But, the meds were slowly kicking in, and while I was nowhere back to “normal,” I was no longer attached to my bed and was even able to keep some food down. Progress! So I thought I could handle it, and after all, everyone was reminding me how helpful exercise could be for anxiety. Oh, how I would quickly learn the need for baby steps.
I dropped my son off at the child watch before making my way to the cardio room. All the elliptical machines save for one were taken. As I walked to the free one I noticed that staring at all the moving machines made me dizzy, something that never happened before. I kept my gaze averted and quickly hopped on my machine. I plugged my headphones in and started walking. I was sweaty, but that was nothing new. I just wanted to get sweaty from actual exertion, not because my body was in a constant state of fight or flight. Unfortunately, after five minutes on the machine, I had to get off. Panic started to rise for no apparent reason, but that seems to be my anxiety’s speciality: undefined presence. While I have some known triggers, other times it just creeps into my body or brain and screams “PAY ATTENTION TO ME.”
I somehow made it off the machine and out of the room, as if on autopilot. Instead of picking up my son, I made my way to the Zumba room, thinking some familiarity might help. I slipped into the back and sat against the wall as I watched my friends get their sweat on. My panic started to slowly ease away. But then… class was over, and a few folks came by to ask how I was. Some gave me a once over, perhaps concerned by the dark circles under my eyes and my gaunt frame. I tried to smile. The Zumba instructor, a friend of mine, embraced me, asking me how I was doing. Out of nowhere, I just spilled. I explained to him why I hadn’t been to class in almost two months, and the tears, they just kept coming.
A week before, Elanit had actually given me permission to keep crying while smack dab in the middle of the co-op. “When was the last time you cried?” she asked, and I realized I really hadn’t since this whole thing started.
Emotions are twisty, tricky things. Much like a toddler, I had all of these feels and they had to come out right then and there, the fact that I was in public be damned! In those moments, I had a better idea of what it must be like to be a kid mid-meltdown, needing something so specific, but feeling as if you’re surrounded by all these obstacles in your way. Yet, for me, my obstacle was not a parent saying “no,” but rather my own thoughts, feelings, and hellacious anxiety.
It’s gotten better since my medication has fully kicked in, and I haven’t had a public meltdown in a while, despite the very real possibility looming on the horizon. I not only take it day by day, but hour by hour, and at times, minute by minute. I’ve since returned to both the co-op and the Y, fairly confident that nobody is still talking about that woman who completely lost it that one time. Or, if they are, much like a toddler and her public meltdowns, I realize I don’t really care. At the time I was too wrapped up in my own anxiety to be properly mortified, and now I’m deep into the recovery process that all I can do is look back and laugh.