So, I’m the type of mom that prides myself on looking put together. But here’s a fun fact about me: I have Anxiety. With a capital A. The kind doctors treat, not the kind you get when you have to speak in public. Another fun fact: for whatever reason, the way my body handles too much Anxiety is by going into a full panic attack mode and this results in me sweating through my clothes, puking my guts out and eliminating everything in my digestive tract. FUN, RIGHT?
A couple of years ago, this was happening to me every couple of months. When I was 9 weeks pregnant it happened during a volunteering shift at the Ronald McDonald house. I became so overwhelmed I momentarily passed out and threw up all over the floor of the bathroom because I couldn’t physically lift my head to the toilet. They called an ambulance. The specialists I saw after that and various ultrasounds of my innards determined that there was nothing “wrong” with me, except that I probably have a serotonin imbalance. Which basically felt like they were saying, good news! You’re not sick, you’re crazy!
So why am I telling you this now? Today I had one of these episodes at my daughter’s new school. I was there for the preschool Valentine’s party and I brought little goodie bags for the kids and a bouquet I’d arranged for the teacher. As soon as I got inside I recognized the signs of imminent doom. For some reason whenever I feel sick I automatically need to be on the floor. As I felt the waves of panic washing over me I knew I had to get to the bathroom, so I ran to the teachers’ restroom and started vomiting loudly. I didn’t even have time to close the door. I tried to put on a brave face and go into the classroom for the party. The moms were so beautiful and so put together and I really wish I would have met even just a single one of them before because I would have collapsed into any of their arms for a hug and a cry at that moment. I had to leave the room again when I felt another wave of nausea and that time I didn’t get off the bathroom floor, where I was discovered by the school secretary. I awkwardly tried to explain my condition to this lovely, horrified woman who was putting on a tight smile and clearly, for my benefit, pretending that this situation was totally normal.
I don’t know how many people have this problem, but I do know what it feels like to try to explain to someone why you are violently ill, but not really “sick.” It’s awkward for both of us if you’ve never experienced it.
Things I want you to know when I have an anxiety attack:
1. I’m not reacting to anything specific, I’m having a reaction based on the chemicals in my brain going haywire. My brain makes my body physically sick and even when my brain feels better, my body takes time to catch up. From the time I realize it’s going to happen to the time I’m ill is approximately 5 minutes but it feels like 25 minutes of choking.
2. I’m not pregnant, so your awkward jokes about that being the reason I’m vomiting are not appreciated.
3. A cold bathroom floor is the only place that doesn’t make me feel trapped and restless. I don’t want to move. I would not be more comfortable anywhere else so don’t try to get me to move.
4. I don’t have the flu. I have lots of different prescriptions in an attempt to eliminate these attacks: anti-anxiety, anti-nausea, anti-spasm, anti-depressants…my purse looks like it belongs to Collette Reardon from SNL. Usually they work, but once in a while my body overrides them.
5. I can see how crazy I look by the expression on your face. I’m so sorry for scaring you. I’m scared too. I’m going to be okay, just not at this moment.
If this happens to you, I want you to know you’re not alone. Anxiety: I get it.