Anxiety, Boundaries, Recovery, Self-Care

Panic Attacks and Failure

Remember that day that I was bragging about my accomplishments and my dedication to my commitment?

I was so proud.

And like I said in that post, pride is one of those seven deadly sins. And probably for a good reason.

Maybe I put out a bad vibe in the world. Maybe I was too focused on how great I was doing and how amazing I was feeling that I wasn’t paying attention to the budding stress lurking in the corner. I didn’t recognize the signs that danger was looming.

Because the very next day … actually. Scratch that. A mere THREE HOURS after that blog post went live, I was crippled with back pain and overwhelming sadness. I had already walked that morning – Day 40, so I did a few stretches learned in physical therapy, and powered through my day.

I continued to ignore the signs.

I felt great, I lied to myself.

But it hurt to breathe.

Keep moving, Melendez. There is no time to slow down.

But I couldn’t keep moving. I could no longer ignore the signs.

And as I pushed my arm through my sweater sleeve, the levy broke.

The tears wouldn’t stop. I cried as I made our morning coffee. I cried as I drove to work. I cried in the bathroom at work. I cried during date night. I cried on the way home.

And the next morning, I cried.

Day 41.

It was a run day.

As I attempted to roll over, the sharp twinge in my mid-back reminded me that I actually couldn’t breathe – that taking a deep breath was nearly impossible.

I tried to convince myself that I’ve run through that pain before.

But that day was different. That day, I didn’t want to get out of bed. And I knew it didn’t have much to do with my back.

“You’re allowed to give yourself a break,” Tyler chimed in from the other side of the bed. “Perhaps you’re trying to do too much and you shouldn’t push it with a run.”

“I’m not trying to do too much,” I hissed.

Wow. Rather snippy this morning, Melendez.

I knew I should apologize. I knew I should explain my shortness.

“You would think that perhaps you’d take advice from the one person in the room who knows back pain and knows when you might be overdoing it,” he responded, rolling over, turning his back to me.

Way to go. Way to start the day.

But the day wasn’t going to go any other way – just as the day before didn’t go any differently.

I was suffocating under life’s pressure. I was overwhelmed. And I just wanted to hide away from the world.

The tears just wouldn’t stop.

They didn’t stop as I picked a fight with Tyler. They didn’t stop as I argued about nothing and anything. They didn’t stop as we pieced back together what I was tearing apart. And they didn’t stop as I drove to work.

By 2:00 in the afternoon, I still hadn’t run, and the pain in my back told me I shouldn’t run. But I could walk.

You should walk.

So between clients, I got out of my car and started walking.

The tears still wouldn’t let up. A step, a tear. Another step. Another tear. Construction workers and other passer-by’s looked at me with concern. My pain was visible – I just couldn’t pull myself together.

15-minutes into my walk, I gave up. I sat down on the curb and cried.

I cried because of the pain in my back. I cried because I so desperately wanted to take a deep breath. I cried because I felt I was failing myself.

After a few minutes of sobbing like a madwoman on the curb of a prestigious neighborhood outside of DC, I thought it best that I make my way back to my car. That day, I clocked in a 20-minute walk, if you could call it that. It may have been more like a slow crawl. But it was better than nothing.

By the time I got home that night, I had given up. I convinced myself I couldn’t possibly do another day at work. I decided that the rest of the week was cancelled, that I wouldn’t be leaving my bed.

I was done.

But life doesn’t let me give up that easily. I don’t get to decide that. I still had to drive N to school in the city the next morning, and bills still need to be paid. So, I begrudgingly decided to move forward with my workday. I intended to force myself to walk that day.

It will clear your head.

And 30 minutes into my first session with a client, my body gave up. I couldn’t fight the pain in my back. I couldn’t take even the shallowest of breaths. Calculus review kept me (painfully) distracted, and as the session ended, I made my way to the bathroom where I collapsed.

I tried to take a breath slightly deeper than my body would allow and my body revolted. My lungs twinged and got stuck. For what felt like a minute, I couldn’t release the too-big-of-a-breath that I forced my body to take.

I am going to suffocate in the coffee shop bathroom. This is how it ends.

I was in a panic, hunched over, hands on my knees, trying desperately to exhale. Sweat beads formed on my eyebrows. My muscles shook.

I grabbed the edge of the sink and forced myself to stand up straight, and only when I was fully upright was I able to release my lungs and let go. I gasped for air as tears streamed down my face.

You need to go home.

I couldn’t go on. I had pushed myself too far beyond my limits. This was so much more than just maintaining 100 Days of walking/running. This was beyond pushing myself through a workday.

My mental health was at stake.

But I still felt like a failure. I still felt like I was letting my family down. I still felt that I was letting myself down.

But those feelings of failure, of letdown – those suddenly came second. There was suddenly a giant billboard, complete with flashing lights, bells, and sirens, screaming at me, telling me I needed to pay attention.

It was OK that I missed a day of walking or running. It was OK that I called out of work. It was OK for me to go home and take care of myself. I needed to take care of myself.

The last week has been a challenge. I still feel like I gave up on myself and my commitment to improving my health through walking or running. I still feel like I am merely making excuses when I choose not to walk – my back is not yet strong enough for a run – but I recognize that I am still very committed to improving my health. But some days, my mental health needs to come before my physical health. I am learning to accept that my back pain wasn’t just a pulled muscle in my back. My back pain was a symptom of the overwhelming stress I was putting myself under – not the walking or running, but the emotional stress, the dissatisfaction with my career, the feeling that I need to do it all, and the result of ignoring all of the signs.

About three years ago, I was awakened in the middle of the night with back pain similar to what I just experienced. As I walked to the kitchen to get Ibuprofen to help ease the pain, I passed out. I smacked my head on my granite countertop and was knocked unconscious. It was the morning I was to return back to the classroom after two months of emergency medical leave. As I regained consciousness on my cold kitchen floor, completely alone and scared, I realized that I needed to make a change.

Today is no different.

It didn’t take getting knocked unconscious for me to recognize that change is necessary.

But it did take a panic attack in a coffee shop bathroom.

I am not certain of what those changes will be. I am not certain how I will make those changes.

But I know I will make those changes.

Until then, it is one day at a time. One foot in front of the other. Until then, it is about self-love, self-compassion, and patience.

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