Experiencing a Full-Blown Anxiety Attack in Public

It has been a while since I’ve experienced an anxiety attack. I’ve utilized various coping skills, such as grounding, to regulate my emotions and anxiety, which has worked wonderfully… until this past week.

I was catching up with an old co-worker about general life updates while in a cafe, and something just sort of snapped during our conversation. I suddenly realized that my life looks absolutely nothing like what I imagined for myself even five years ago. That one thought led to a spider web of decisions I’ve made that have led me away from where I imagined myself going… and that’s when anxiety won. I began to feel that familiar tightness in my chest and throat as I struggled to take full, deep breaths. My body began to feel hot, as my heart felt as though it was pounding against a wooden door. I attempted to ground myself by gripping my chair and placing both feet on the floor of this little cafe. I tried telling myself where I was in this moment as a way to remind myself that everything was alright, regardless of where my anxious thoughts had taken me. It wasn’t enough this time. I dissociated for just a few seconds at most, although it felt like minutes at the time. My usual grounding methods were not working in this moment. I struggled to regulate and de-escalate my anxiety and it rose to a full-blown attack as I began to hyperventilate. I placed my right hand on my chest to feel the rate of my heartbeat, as my co-worker began to realize what was happening. I’ve never really spoken with her about my struggle with anxiety, but she was able to recognize what was happening and quickly got out of her chair, walked over to me, and gently put her arm around mine to lift me up out of my seat. She quickly walked me outside of the cafe so I could get some fresh air. It was a very humid, hot day in Texas, so while being outside did not necessarily help me calm down, it did help me feel like I wasn’t being gawked at in a public setting.

The second we made it outside, I began to cry. I recall apologizing to my co-worker, to which she asked me, “what are you apologizing for?” I didn’t even know. Was I apologizing for being an inconvenience? For not remaining emotionally stable? For possibly embarrassing her? No. When I said, “I’m sorry”, I think I was apologizing to myself in that moment. When I realized that I was not going to be able to calm myself down, I immediately let my anxiety win and overpower me. I hated that feeling. I hated feeling like I was weak against mental illness. It’s been some time since I’ve felt that way and the moment it hit me, I just fell apart.

It’s difficult to remind ourselves in these moments that we are allowed to be unstable at times. We are simply human and cannot always control every emotion our body, mind, and spirit throw our way. I am thankful for this experience though because it was a humble reminder that just because I am a mental health professional does not mean that I have to have my shit together all of the time. Nobody has to live up to that unrealistic standard. One day at a time is all we can ask of ourselves. ❤️

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