My first panic attack

During a conversation at my work holiday party this year, this slipped out: “I’m great at masking”….which I immediately regretted and proceeded to laugh off. My conversation was with an occupational therapist (OT) coworker and if you know OTs, they can see through all forms of coping.

Masking can be a behavior individuals adopt subconsciously as coping mechanisms or a trauma responses, or it can be a conscious behavior an individual adopts to fit in within perceived societal norms. Masking is interconnected with maintaining performative behavior within social structures and cultures.

– Wikipedia

I can blame my slip up on the white wine that brought down my inhibitions. But even for someone who’s not ‘fully qualified’ to analyze this, it’s clear that I’ve reached my capacity. Yet I continued to ignore it.

I then had my first anxiety/panic experience.

I’ve been masking like it’s my superpower since my mom’s passing in 2013. Then 6 years later, my dad passed away and it was like starting over tenfold. The bad days started to flood into the good. And that scared me.

When my therapist gently suggested that I spend time on grief after a year of seeing her, I said, “sure” and then stopped sessions for 7 months, telling myself it was for financial reasons and that “I was fine” (I was not).

When the anxiety/panic attack happened, it felt like I was running around in a locked room with no finish line in sight.

Before that day, any feelings of grief or sadness could be simply ignored or suppressed by some forced happy thoughts.

But that day, my heartbeat pounded deeply in my chest. Its cadence like popcorn near the end of its popping cycle.

I wanted earplugs to block the sound.

It almost hurt but not a painful sort of hurt, like a bubbling that wants to be released and yet my body was desperately trying to keep it from showing itself.

I don’t recall how the conversation at my work holiday party ended. My brain likes to protect itself like that.

I know have so much to unpack. So many years of undoing and healing ahead of me.

It’s overwhelming but in the words of Taylor Swift, “yeah, you can face this”.

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