Panic Attack Diaries

Tracking the oft-forgotten triggers that lead to panic disorder.

Post-Ferguson Talks

People Cleaning After Ferguson QuikTrip Fire

Community members help to clean up Ferguson QuikTrip. Courtesy of stlouis.cbslocal.com.

Over the past week, I’ve attended two different types of post-Ferguson events: one formal for business leaders, and one informal for community members.  The stark contrast doesn’t need to be explained, but I did find some takeaways that I felt were exemplary of the growth we’ve gone through as a society:

  • At the business-focused one: The question of “should we talk about this as it has nothing to do with work” was asked, and addressed.  The answer? Yes.  Overwhelmingly, yes.  This is an issue that effects the minds and hearts of people in the surrounding area.  Trying to pretend that it didn’t happen will only make people feel isolated and delay work activity. The event was held in a conference room of an office building during traditional office hours.
  • At the community-focused one: The small gathering of about 30 heard every viewpoint under the sun about what the problem was with the people of Ferguson, the St. Louis metro community, and the county divisions.  We “heard” each other.  We didn’t argue, fist fight, or cut each other off… we listened.  And everyone got a chance to speak.  The event was held in a local bakeshop after hours and offered baked goods for a donation.

Despite the differences of the two events, both focused mainly on the task at hand: How do we cope with what is happening, and how do we fix it? For some, it’s learning how to appropriately facilitate a discussion and avoid shying away from any difficult subjects.  For others, it’s getting out there and making sure that community members not only vote, but also have the means to attend the polls when the time comes.

We talked about leaders, methods of communication, how to deal with those who are emotional and angry, ways to prevent an uprising when the final verdict is heard, and in both events, the community’s desire to help, provide, and be supportive is what stood out the most.  I am proud to be part of a city that has taken the time to not only address an issue as it as happening, but also to try to find multiple methods to keep it from happening again in a healthy light.  Some protested, some painted, some talked, some made mobile apps, some recorded every instance, and some were just there in spirit.

Every aspect of anything that can be done must and was considered.  I am glad to have had a chance to be a small part of history.  When someone asks what I did during this time, I want to sit down and tell them the story of Ferguson, and how its beginning reaches all the way back to Africa.  I want to tell them how we fought, sacrificed, and prayed until we accomplished something that was worth our and our children’s lives.  This will be the new story of America: One where we were divided, and working to heal the lines that had been so heavily drawn.

 

{DISCLAIMER: I was never at any of the Ferguson protests.  I never drove near Ferguson.  And for me, the reason is much more personal.  I decided, instead, to be there when the cleanup and healing began.  That’s my strong point and I’d rather give Ferguson my real strength rather than a pretended one.

I’m originally from Illinois, right across the border, and when I hear about riots and unjust practices, all I can see is my own neighboring city being torn to pieces.  People have always associated my place of growth with violence and unruliness, so I don’t really feel the need to tell people anything otherwise, most times.  It often feels too overwhelming and like climbing up a hill that was designed to make you fail.

So instead, I’ll tell you the story of Ferguson… “a” story of Ferguson.  One perspective and one view of an entire movement that changed a region and shifted the consciousness of a nation.}

Different Kinds of Honest, Or, How to Lose Friends Fast

lmlewis517:

Brutal honesty is not what everyone *needs*. You are only hurting a person as sensitive as I am. This lost does a great job of looking at it from someone who has a sensitive person in their life.

Originally posted on So Tuachair:

I recently noticed someone saying that they felt they were losing their friends because they were too honest.

I have a similar issue, but I know now that the problem was actually with brutal honesty. But, where’s the difference? Where’s the line? As a certain musical number points out, there’s a fine, fine line.

No - but it is your fault that you're brutal.

No – but it is your fault that you’re brutal.

Brutal honesty is when you’re harsh with your delivery of news. Say a friend asks you if a pair of jeans makes her butt look big. Do you answer:

a. DAMN GIRL, YES THEY DO
b. Let’s try some others and see what works best.
c. Take those jeans off right now, your ass is the size of Montana.
d. No….No. Not at all.

If you chose A or C, you might be too harsh. I won’t lie – there are always going to be people who are…

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I am racist, and so are you.

lmlewis517:

She gets it…

Originally posted on Being Shadoan:

And the sooner we both acknowledge this, the sooner we can begin to address the problem. So let’s talk.

“Wait just a minute here, Rachel. You’re like, the least racist person I know. You’re always sharing stuff about race and racism. You couldn’t possibly be racist.”

Here’s the deal. Racism isn’t just guys in white robes and Paula Deen shouting racial slurs. Racism is subtle, racism is insidious, and our culture is so deeply steeped in it that it’s impossible to grow up in the US and not be racist. It’s a kind of brainwashing: a set of default configuration files that come with the culture. It’s a filter, built up from birth, that alters our perception of the world. (Literally–racial bias makes people see weapons that aren’t there.) Racism isn’t just conscious actions; it’s judgements that happen so fast that we may not even be aware of…

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Michael Brown, Depression, and how they’re related.

I haven’t talked much about the Michael Brown situation sans a commentary I left on my Facebook.  The reason I stopped short of saying my two cents is because we’re still a racially-divided country with each segment only understanding what they grew up with.  A lot of that stuff was wrong and based on adults who didn’t know how to teach their children right from wrong because they didn’t know it themselves, either.

On the one hand, we’ve got this young child that was on his way to college.  I’m sure he did stupid and crazy things, but made the right decision with a major factor of his life.  That’s pretty much all you can ask for from a late-teen boy.

Then we’ve got Robin Williams, a consummate actor/performer/legend, who suffered from a horrible disease that took his life.  No, he didn’t kill himself.  He was suffering from a disease.  The disease ALLOWS it to be easier to kill yourself.  There’s a stark difference.

The last paragraph is why I am afraid to go back to work.  A lot of people don’t understand depression.  They think that I just make these decisions on my own accord.  It hurts me to say to so many people that I can control it only so much, and that I have to take a break from society every now and then to get myself together.  That’s all I needed was a break.

With Michael Brown, he grew up in a community where depression was rampant.  Look at the events that have unfolded.  They are all telltale signs of a society being oppressed.  And with oppression comes depression.  But the main problem is that the people doing the oppressing can’t see that… and since depression is already discounted as “stubborn sadness”, no one is really going to listen.

One of the ideas I had was telling people how depression can lead to violence, but I think people aren’t advanced enough to open themselves up to understand.  Don’t get me wrong, some people do know the difference, but that’s few and far between.  The issue comes in that when we try to explain to people what’s going on, they hide behind their religion, angst, and non-personal experience of what’s going on.

Take for instance some of the psychologists that I know.  People who have studied the human mind, behavior, and full-well know what depression is and how being privileged, they cannot possibly understand what its like to be black, male-looking, teenage-looking, and living in a city that’s mostly black and having many white people who feel that black people are over-exaggerating the issue.  I walk outside fitting the former criteria most days not to offset someone but because that’s just the way I dress and look.  My pants aren’t sagging to the ground and I love wearing t-shirts that display my fandoms.  I don’t like wearing makeup and I prefer the more comfortable shoes that are typical to most butch-esque lesbians.  I’m not doing it to make a statement to anyone else, just out of regularity.

The first thing I get is a look.  A lot of people look at me to determine my gender and age.  That’s okay… it’s been over ten years and I’m kind of adjusted to them doing it, now.  It still disturbs me every now and then and sometimes I wished they were taught not to stare at people, but I digress.  I get to the point where I’m going to wherever my planned destination is and sometimes I’m called out asking if I’m a man or a woman… other times, I’m called out to ask what high school I go to.  It doesn’t happen as much anymore, but that’s something that’s always irked me.  And then since most people don’t get it, they assume I must have been doing something to “ask for it”.  That’s called victim blaming and there’s a link there in case you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about.

So we talked about me… now I need to talk about how this comes into play with Michael Brown.  Do I think he had depression?  I don’t know for sure, but I’m telling you based off his surroundings, I wouldn’t doubt it if he had a mild version of it.  The stereotype, if you didn’t know, of black young men is that they are dangerous.  That they want to rape, kill/murder, take, and take, and take, and take, and take what’s yours.  Oooooo… scary!!!

Ask any white woman in the region if there was a friend, family member, or news story about how dangerous black men are in an indirect or direct manner and I’m pretty sure they’ll tell you yes but “they didn’t pay attention to it”.  As a result, white men feel its their duty to protect people from the dangerous black men… and the black women that let them attack due to their weak disposition against them.

You think I’m joking.

That, right there, is what many of them really feel.  They’ll do anything to take this thing off the subject of black people.  They’ll concentrate on the cops.  They’ll concentrate on their own white family members who are “accepting”.  They’ll say that they don’t feel the same way but think that some of those “are to blame”… and they won’t say “black people” but they’ll mean it.

I see through their disguises and the best thing for them to do is to say, “I’m white and I don’t know what it is to feel what you all must be going through… and by ‘you all’ I mean black people.”

Stop deflecting.  Stop being a d*ck.  Stop putting your white privilege out for display.  Sit down, shut up, and understand that you are ignorant in this situation.

{Disclaimer: As of this posting, no one knows exactly what went on with the Michael Brown case.  No official release has been made with all applicable information included, so we’re all ignorant in this mess.}

For the idiots who say stupid things about depression, this is for you.

Finger Pointing image

Courtesy of Wikipedia

There have been a lot of idiots saying stupid stuff online since Robin Williams’ death.  As more information pours in from the coroner’s office, I expect for things to get worse from people who’s parental figures didn’t address them when they said demeaning things. If you don’t have depression, you have no right to say anything devastating about a person who has it.  You have no right. You have no right. You have no right.

I say the same thing about being black, female, disabled (hidden or not), short, gay, or any other “minority” group member.  Unless you’re a part of that group and/or you know what the hell you’re talking about, shut up.  No one wants to hear your crap.

I wake up sometimes in the midst of having a panic attack.  I have to wait for it to be over.  This can be an hour.  And no, I can’t fricking do anything to keep it from happening, especially if ALL I DID WAS WAKE UP!  The other parts of my brain aren’t even functioning well at that point.

After the panic attack is over with, I go to the bathroom and try to not look in the mirror or else I could see a pimple, acne scars, a particular look on my face, or notice something about me that I don’t like and that can start it.  Why?  Trigger.  My face… my own fricking face… is a trigger to send me into a panic attack.  Wrap that one around your cranium.  But it doesn’t stop there.

I have a variety of triggers that I have to either try to avoid or brace myself for.  Each one possibly causing a panic attack, and when one happens, a load of them can… so instead of one hour, it can be upwards of three or four or an entire day:

  • Family – Talking about certain family events can cause me to go into a mental spiral.  I have no idea why.  That’s why I’m in counseling.
  • Friends – Talking or simply thinking about friends can cause me to go into a panic attack.  Again, no solid idea of why, that’s why I’m in counseling.
  • Money/Finances – This one is a lot simpler: I grew up in poverty.  Now, I’m obsessed over counting every penny in my bank account.

Those are the Big Three F’s, I call them.  I have trouble getting myself together some days because I spend a boatload of it trying to handle the feelings coming from inside of me… rather, my brain.  Remember, I cannot stop these feelings from overwhelming me or happening at all.  Just that, in itself, is enough to make me depressed.  Medicine does not keep it from happening… it just keeps me from caring.

The others are (in no particular order): abandonment, anger (towards me), aches and pains, tiredness or lack of ability to focus or concentrate on something, general failure, the perception of letting people down, being confronted with a problem that I think I cannot possibly resolve or help make “less worse”, and there are others that I’m probably not even thinking about right now.  These are minor ones that I can usually calm myself down from after about 30 minutes.

So, what’s involved in my panic attacks?  Since everyone’s different, I HAVE TO tell you what a panic attack is like for me.  You can’t get this in a book (unless I wrote it):

My mind starts racing.  I can’t even hold on to one thought long enough to see what it is that is making me feel this way and stop it.  My heart starts racing.  My blood starts pumping hard and I feel the adrenaline start to surge up through my body.  I want to slam things.  I want to beat the fear out of me.  I try to leave wherever I am, if I can.  If I can’t, I try to find a room, corner, or closet to go into with no light and very little sound and cover my head to try to stop any input.  Why? Everything is loud: TV, radio, people talking.  The lights get unbearably bright. I’m super sensitive to touch and everything hurts.  I can barely breathe and I cannot think rationally at all.  Ask me to add two plus five and I can’t even give you an answer.  It sounds like a trick question to me and I get angry and I want to slam things, instead.

If I’m lucky, this only happens three times a day.

If it’s not bad, I can stay at work, at home, and hold a conversation while this is all going on.  I have to.  Some people don’t understand me having to say, “Excuse me, a panic attack just started.  I don’t know why, exactly.  Just in case it gets worse, I think I need to go to a virtual sanctuary while I wait it out.”  So, I say, “Excuse me, I really have to go to the restroom, but I’d love to continue this conversation.” I jet to the nearest safe space where it’s taboo for anyone to disturb me and I stay put.  Since being in the bathroom for half an hour to a full hour will get me looks, I try to wait until I can at least fake it through, which is about 15 minutes.

I get told on a regular basis that everything’s in my head and that I could easily just stop being so selfish, worried, depressed, sad, introverted, or pathetic (in so many words).  The worst is when I get called desperate or that I’m seeking attention.  I don’t think I’d care much about attention when I’m dead, nor attaining whatever fantasy thing I think I can get from being desperate, so what’s their point?

If you’re just so fricking lost that you don’t know what to actually say or do that’s even appropriate for a depressed person, or if you don’t know why the crap you’re saying isn’t actually working, then read this article on health.com.  It pretty much tells you what you need to know in short, sweet sentences that get to the point (after the longer foreword).

Stop being stupid.  There are too many resources out there.  Your ignorance is only hurting someone.

{NOTE: For those of you wondering, I am currently in therapy.  So, unlike many people, I am getting help.  Call or visit a person suffering from depression.  Shut up and listen to them speak.  Don’t interrupt… they need you to hear them.}

This thing is everyone’s fault (a.k.a. This post may probably get me to lose people, and I’ll brace myself for the impact.)

Today, I avoided the phone like the plague.  I didn’t want to see what was going on in North St. Louis because: 1) I’m actually from Illinois and I don’t know much about that region, and 2) I’m black so I know I was going to be stereotyped into explaining the origins of what was happening and why.  I can’t effectively do the latter because of the former.  However, some people still assume that blackness relates to knowledge about the motives of other blacks.

I heard about everything that happened with the atrocity in North county.  I am deeply saddened, like everyone else.  I kept seeing all these Facebook newsfeed posts about who is doing what and why.  One brave soul said that they are not black, so there’s no way that they could totally understand what their feelings would be.

Right now, there’s a thousand things going through my mind.  And the one that stuck out is that people were trying to figure out who to blame for what was going on.  In essence, people were segregating themselves into us/them categories.  And that’s how this whole thing starts anyway, but that’s for another time.

Here’s my main point: What happened and what is happening is everyone’s fault.

I could go on preaching about the village and the family and blah, blah, blah, but the truth is that everyone that is in this area, that has a computer, that has a means of communication could have done something in some way to prevent whatever was happening to get to this point.  So stop asking why… and who.

So, what am I doing?  I’m sitting here typing and I didn’t get in my car and drive to Ferguson.  So what am I really doing to help all this other than relaxing on a couch with a laptop on a throw pillow?

I’m not doing anything.  I could justify why what I’m doing is the best for me, but that has nothing to do with what’s going on so it doesn’t really matter at this point.  However, I relent to the fact that I’m choosing to not do anything other than this.  I accept that I’m to blame and I’m not doing anything.

What ticks me off is those people who think other people should be doing something, but don’t include themselves and what they could be doing.  They think that they’re doing the right thing.  To me, typing this blogpost is not the right thing to do.  I should be in a car driving to the county… or on a bus.  I should be going out there and talking to people.  However, get this, FOR MY OWN REASONS I have chosen not to do this, although I know it’s not the most helpful thing to do.

I am not going to sit here and blame everyone or “them” for not doing their job to fix this while keeping myself at saint-level.

Everyone is to blame.  Either suck it up and accept it like I’m doing on this couch, or get up and do something to help.

{NOTE: If you’re the praying/meditative/sending-positive-energy type and you’re doing that, then  you’re doing something.  This goes for people who are all “blah, blah, blah… I can’t see why those people would do those things” while munching on Cheetos and watching Game of Thrones or whatever it is that those people do.  Do or do not… there is no try.}

3 Things I Learned In 3 Months

Prologue

Before you can do anything, you have to be able to learn how to receive.  If you don’t, you’ll never get it.  And this change that happened to me within three months would have never come to fruition.  I would still be that person lying on the side of the road, blaming other folks for throwing me under the bus.

 

The Steps

 

#1 – No Mask

One of the things I learned was to take off that mask that I had been wearing for so long.  The mask wasn’t to hide something evil… even superheroes wear one to protect their true, vulnerable identity.  I’m talking about taking off a mask and seeing who is underneath.  That person may be damaged from years of neglect, hurt, and accusatory things from other people.  Taking off the mask gives you the right and ability to see yourself in a way that others cannot and did not for so long.  So, I took it off.  And I lived naked and carefree and learned to live with the person that I was quite sure that others would hate.

#2 – You Have To Do It

That masked I mentioned?  You have to take it off.  You have to want to take it off.  No one can take it off of you and say that you’re beautiful and have you fully and committedly believe it.  It won’t work.  You know that you’re solely relying on someone else’s opinion on who you are and what is considered admirable for you.  You cannot take their word for it because you never believed it in the first place or you would have removed the mask yourself.  I wanted to stop breathing behind the stiff and stale smells of what I noticed was going on around me.  And when you remove it, something wonderful happens: Others start to reveal to you that they, too, started to smell the stench of something bad happening.  You start to realize that people only said nothing to you because they could see that you, too, were a mask-wearer and chose to not believe the truth even if it sat right in front of you.  I told myself that I wanted to be free.  That was the first step.  The rest came naturally as soon as the mask fell.

#3 – Stay Busy

One thing I noticed more than anything was that when I took the mask off, and did it “just for me”, I pondered about it.  I kept going over and over and over again in my mind what I had done wrong and how I felt and what kind of world was I living in and who would want me now and yada yada yada.  I became unmotivated.  I became docile.  I didn’t want to do or say or be anything that would cause waves.  I just couldn’t do it without my reliable, trusty mask on my face.  Someone could ask me a question and I would just fall on all fours and beg for them to please not hurt me.  And then I stopped.  I started just doing things, not knowing if the outcome was going to be what I expected.  I started writing.  I started going to places by myself.  I started doing things that I had never, ever considered doing before and didn’t know what to expect to happen when I got there.  That was so unlike me; I’m a planner.  I’ve always planned out everything intensely and I know how to do what is expected of a great planner, but what about a not-so-great one that’s just going with the flow?  I had to learn how to be that latter one because the previous one was killing me (in the literal sense) whenever it was outside of the work area.

 

Epilogue

The truth is, there’s no easy 1-2-3 step guide to tell you how to live your life.  It’s full of rough edges and knowing exactly what to do depends on the moment.  But one thing I did take with me is that if someone doesn’t want me, I say “okay” and walk away.  I’m tired of trying to please people above and beyond what I think they expect from me.  To know me as who I am is what I’m discovering and what I’m also teaching other people on how to view me.  And if they don’t like who I am, then I know it’s best to walk away and let them be whomever and meet whomever they choose that fits their profile… or is willing to try to.  I had to discover that I am good enough.  Not in an egotistical sort of way, but in a “people will always tell you that you need to improve yourself with something when you actually don’t want to do it in the first place” frame of mind.  I got it.  I know that people want to push me and mold me into whatever they feel is best suited for their needs, but the truth is so much sweeter: Just be who you are, and the right people will come to you eventually.

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