As I walked to the end of the block I knew something was not right. A bead of sweat ran down my back. It was like a hot knife slicing through butter and made my nipples stick out. For some reason it was hard to catch my breath and my heart was racing. I looked down and saw a mole.


I felt like someone was watching me and when I turned around, there was no one there. Maybe it was from my recent anxiety and panic attacks that had been triggered. Or maybe I had been lying there for a few minutes under the influence of an aversive sensory anxiety-inducing external stimulus.


It was so real, and I actually knew I was not dreaming. 


“I’m not going to die,” I said out loud. “I just need to get to the corner. I need to go up the block, down the block, and get the hell out of here.” 


“Don’t be so paranoid, you’re fine.” 


“But I am not. I am going to die here!” I pulled up the hood on my jacket and continued walking. I ran up the next block and across the street.


I realized that what had happened to me was not a typical phobic panic attack. But rather a distinct anxiety-provoking event that has likely happened to thousands of people.


Like you, I sought reassurance and understanding from my friends and family. While they were comforting, and even empathetic, the events felt out of my control.


Anxious people often have a difficult time explaining why they have such an extreme reaction to a situation. Maybe it was because I did not know how to manage my anxiety so I could enjoy life, that is what happened to me.


Anxiety vs. Panic


Anxiety is a normal reaction to any perceived danger or change in our lives. Panic is a physiological, gut-wrenching response that can cause even a person with anxiety to hyperventilate. Panic can include sweating, shortness of breath, shaking, an elevated heart rate and dilation of pupils. In most cases, it is best to recognize the difference between an anxiety attack and panic.


I knew this time it was not anxiety, but pure panic because of my surroundings. The air was too calm, there was no dogs barking, and the sky had turned blood red.


I did my best to steady myself. I have always been a dreamer, a daydreamer, a person who is afraid of the dark. My fear is made of shadows and absolute darkness.


Just as I was about to fall into my dreadfully familiar spiral into a world of shadows, I heard the words, “Hey” from right beside me.


“Yeah?” I mumbled with complete bewilderment.


The world was spinning so quickly, it felt like my head was going to crack. “Wow, thanks for saving me, you are such a good guy.”


He laughed lightly. “Anytime.”


I stood up, my arms trembling, my legs weak.


“Are you OK?” He asked.


I stared at him with a stare that made my insides cringe.


“I’m, I’m fine.”


“Yeah, I was just worried about you. You are really quiet. You usually tell me everything.”


“I’m fine, just a little, uh… …distracted. I was, uh, just thinking about that, I guess we’re friends now.”


“I think so. You never shut up when I was trying to go to sleep last night, it was starting to freak me out.”


“Yeah, sorry.”


Sorry? What am I sorry about? Thinking should not be this hard. My mind was swimming through mud. Had I really done everything I could have done? I did many things wrong: I stopped looking for signs, I stopped nurturing a relationship with my children, I said things that were difficult to forget, I thought I could only afford to have one relationship, I delayed building my family until I had children, I allowed my work to be more important than being a mom and wife, I didn’t stick to a healthier plan after having children. There was so much, so many ways I could be sorry. I had so many regrets. But now I had a single thing that was so complete and so incredible that I was only sorry it hadn’t happened sooner.


I was sorry I never had the opportunity to say “I love you” to my children. I had been in denial that it was even possible. No matter what I did, when I would think of saying “I love you” to them, it would seem impossible. I never thought I could hold back my tears, and I was scared of saying “I love you” to them only to feel like it wasn’t good enough. How could I be sure it wasn’t going to hurt them if I did it?


I thought, “I can’t tell them I love them. They won’t know how to receive it. They will only remember me as a distant and harsh person.”


I had been so wrapped up in my own issues I had lost sight of what was actually best for my children. I thought it was best to have no ties to me, to be cut off from my life. I thought they would want to make my life easier by getting along with each other, but I didn’t stop to think that when two people are desperate for attention, they naturally bond with each other, no matter how harsh that bond is. And I also didn’t stop to think that the desire to bond would disappear the moment they had attention and love in their lives.


I didn’t recognize how I had been living when I met him. He was happy to find the unhappiest person he could, to jump on the difficulties of his life. He made me happy, so I was happy. He was funny, so I was funny. He was not happy, so I was still not happy. I said to myself, “At least I have this loving person to express myself with.” He was the safe one, the carefree one, the fun one, the humorous one. But when we first met, I could not look at him and think “I love you,” for so many reasons, none of which I could even identify with. It was never about him. I was not attracted to him. I did not want him in my life. I did not want him to be part of me. So when I told myself I loved him, I believed what I said, and I was so busy thinking about my own fears and my own selfishness, that I failed to be open to the possibilities I was creating.


My children, though, really did care about me. They always said, “Thank you for taking such good care of us.” They were polite. They didn’t fight. They didn’t fuss. I told myself, “They love me.” I even told them how much I loved them. I thought they were fine, despite the fact that we barely talked to each other. They did not get along. I saw that and I was in denial. I believed that if they kept the conflict to a minimum, that we would be fine. I believed that my family would grow and love me. I loved my family. I believed that was enough.


I had always imagined I would raise my children in a small village. I wanted a little house on a piece of land, a few children, and a large garden. I thought I would live in this house for the rest of my life. It was my “starter family.” It wasn’t until I met this man that I considered having a big family. I thought that if I could just keep them all happy, I would keep them safe, I would keep them close, I would keep them close enough to be there for them, but far enough to give them the independence and the space to live their lives. I thought I would be happy, and I thought I would live a simple, quiet life, raising my children, being with my children.


When I looked around my home, though, I knew there was more than I was capable of. I was not going to live in this tiny home for the rest of my life, with my husband, and no children.

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