I had panic attacks all night long, last night. Each time I fell asleep, I woke up what felt like minutes later, in absolute terror. Like, imagine that you’re on an airplane and everything seems fine, and then it suddenly drops like 1000 feet. You know how you think you’d feel? The rush of adrenaline, the certainty that you were about to die, the helplessness to do anything about it … that’s how I felt all night long (all night, yeah).
I recall four specific times this happened, because each one had some different physical sensation when I woke up. There was the hot tingling in my arms and legs, there was the sense that I was not quite awake, but awake enough to know that the terror was about to hit, and then struggling in vain to prevent it, this cold wave that started in my chest and spread out all over my whole body like ripples in a pond, and the time my heart was beating so hard, I thought I was having a heart attack. Oh, and each time I woke up, I didn’t know where I was. Once, I didn’t know who I was. So I guess that’s five times I can recall, but I know it happened more than that because I didn’t get any meaningful rest. Also, a lot of the neurochemicals that I need to function are only created in my brain when I’m sleeping, so my dumb brain, which is already sort of challenged to give me the juice I need to exist, didn’t get to do its thing. That’s been really great.
I’m lucky that I didn’t have anywhere to be today, so when I finally fell to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, around 6am after my dog asked to go outside, I slept until almost 11. I can function on five hours of sleep, but I can’t function on five hours of sleep after eight hours of intense, adrenaline-draining night terrors.
So this is a long way of saying that I really wanted to work on my rewrite today, but I am mentally exhausted the way I would be physically exhausted if I’d been forced to walk on a treadmill for hours at a time.
I honestly don’t know what to do about this. I’ve had a sleep study done, and I don’t have sleep apnea. I’ve changed my meds more than once, hoping to find one that works for my depression and anxiety when I’m awake, and also when I’m asleep, but there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between these panic attacks and one med or another. I’ve tracked my food (and I don’t drink any more, but it was nights like last night that, until I quit two years ago, drove me to drink so much that I wasn’t capable of waking up), I’ve tried meditation. I’ve tried tons of exercise. I’ve tried no exercise. I’ve tried every bullshit herbal tea pseudo science hokum whatever (and of course none of those things work because they are bullshit, but … desperate people and such). Nothing works, and these panic attacks are the most terrifying and frustrating and upsetting things that just show up without warning, and then just as suddenly go away. I really wish there was something I could do to make them stop, or at least to understand what causes them, so I could get to work on getting my sleeping life back from them.
And because it wasn’t bad enough overnight, all day today, I’ve been anxious and afraid, with a generous helping of existential dread thrown in, because fuck me, right. Go back to imagining that you’re on a plane. Now imagine that the plane is in terrible turbulence, bouncing around, shaking side to side, with a violence that makes you worry that the plane will be torn apart in midair. That’s how I’ve felt all day, like I’m in a swarm of bees. It’s totally irrational, and I know that it’s all in my head and isn’t real, but when the part of my body that is responsible for how I perceive the world and how I exist in it is fucked up, it’s challenging to separate what’s real from what’s just in my head. I’m super grateful that I’ve done so much work with so many licensed professionals over the years, so I can do my best to manage this … because I can assure you that while this is a challenge for me now, it would be close to impossible to deal with if I didn’t have that professional help (ask for and use professional help if you deal with any of the mental health issues I deal with, gang. Please. Trust me on this.)
All of these things go together to ruin my ability to be creative, which is a giant bummer, because I really love being creative. I’m having the time of my life rewriting this manuscript, and I’m so excited to finish this pass so I can give it to some early readers for their feedback. I hope that tonight goes better than last night, so that I can work on it tomorrow. And I just love it that I am having such a good time with this draft, and it’s so satisfying to work on, that I want to stay at my desk and work on the weekend.