How the F*** Did Happiness Trigger an Anxiety Attack?!
(Excuse my Aussie tongue)
The start of this story actually comes from the start of another. While reading a heartfelt personal tale by a Boomcast app user who serendipitously popped into my life recently, I saw these words:
“This wonderful girl recently told me, ‘practice what you preach.’”
Well, that “wonderful girl” was me.
I like to personally thank engaged Boomcast users via a video call, it’s one of my biggest joys. I want to understand how they found the app, what they are looking to gain from it, and what their story is. I was quickly drawn to this user’s words of wisdom she shared on the app, they were particularly special. I felt I had to meet her. We video Skyped for about an hour and she shared some very personal experiences with me. It was one of those conversations that felt as if it was meant to happen, we were meant to talk. Afterwards, I asked if she had ever considered sharing her remarkable story with others. She said that she had tried but needed the extra push. I encouraged her to write it out and to open her heart. So, she did.*
Her story was like none that I have ever read. We all have a story, we have all jumped obstacles but hers blew me away. There was so much pain, strength, courage, wisdom, humor, love, and emotion. Her story needed to be shared with the world so it could connect with strangers who need to be reassured they are not alone. I’ve realized more than ever recently that it are these personal stories that connect us together as human beings.
I always encourage anyone and everyone to write and share their experience and life lessons, especially in tough times. This is what preach, but there was a big problem, I realized I wasn’t practicing- until now.
Just to preface this, I am usually an optimistic, patient and more or less calm person. Words such as bubbly, happy, cute, smiley, kind, nice are usually used to describe me. Because of my traits, and generally happy moods, I have never had a desire to read articles on anxiety, despite so many people suffering from it. I have naively assumed that only people who are the opposite of me, pessimistic, dramatic, impatient and tense, experience anxiety attacks… bad Milly.
Well, let me tell you, whilst I write this my throat it somewhat closing up, my heart oddly aches and my arms are tingly. Please, no anxiety attack whilst I write this post!!
Up until recently, I have always thought that I have it easy compared to what some of us go through in life. My childhood was awesome, I was a smart kid, graduated from uni, never struggled to find a job, finances weren’t an issue, I loved my body, I found love early and I felt loved. Yes, there were a few big pickles but in the grand scheme of things, I couldn’t really complain! I realize now that I was in complete denial. My journey has been far from easy, especially these last four years. I won’t go into detail, but maybe I will spill some beans over time. Anyway, clearly there were some deeper rooted emotions I had not been dealing with because last week, I experienced my first ever anxiety attack. It was terrifying. I literally thought I was going to die. The funny thing is, it was actually happiness that triggered it.
I was in NYC with my co-founder, Emily and we had just totally rocked a meeting, we were ecstatic! Our Boomcast mission and vision were not only understood but appreciated, and we were on cloud 9. We can do this! We can help change the world! They love us! Oh, the highs of a startup. We were on our way to meet up with Ollie, one of our ambassadors (who also has an incredible survivor story, you can read it here), and then I began to feel faint. Like really faint. I ignored it and assumed it was to do with the whiskey from the night before… However, it got worse, much worse. Holding a conversation quickly became a struggle. I thought everything would be fine until my left arm went numb, I shook it off pretending it was nothing. Nope, the numbness spread up and over to my heart causing it to beat fast, then it spread to my throat causing it to close.
Breathing became incredibly difficult, my vision became blurry and I started to shake uncontrollably. I needed to get home asap to rest, I was probably just tired.
Whilst in the Lyft, my trembling got worse and at this stage I couldn’t feel my body at all, I couldn’t talk, or see and the only thing I could think about was the feeling of death. I had no idea what was happening to my body and that made me freak out more. Good ol’ Web MD and the self-diagnosis came up with: “Stroke”. Well, that just made everything far worse! The driver wanted to call an ambulance, no, no I thought. Once again, I put others before me and thought that there would be people in a worse state than me who needed an ambulance more than I did. Thank goodness there was a hospital nearby, so we made it to the emergency room. I collapsed into the chair as soon as we entered. One of the doctor’s asked if I’d ever had an anxiety attack, and I couldn’t think, let alone say “no”.
Due to my symptoms, I was rushed straight through. They took the usual tests and only my blood pressure was exceptionally high. This was a good(ish) sign. I started to calm down. Everything will be ok now, I told myself I would be fine. I was in doctors’ hands now. Isn’t it wonderful that when you’re at your most vulnerable, you can put so much trust in a stranger? I love that, a wonderful sign of human connection. Anyway, after a couple of hours in the unpleasant and overpacked emergency room, I noticed there were people in far worse situations. I couldn’t work out what, but when I looked at their state and compared it to mine, I calmed down completely. I was feeling normal again and I checked myself out. I self-diagnosed myself and convinced the doctors that I had my first anxiety attack. They didn’t argue, agreed and said farewell and gave me one tip. “Always keep a paper bag with you in case it happens again.” Seriously?! I thought that was just right in the movies!
Now, Emily and I can laugh about it- that’s what we tend to do after a bad turned good situation. We just hope that I don’t look like a fainting goat after every bit of happy news!
On a more serious note, let this be a lesson for us all. If you’ve got a lot on your plate, anxiety attacks can happen out of the blue.
Apparently the chances are likely that I’ll experience another one, so here’s what I’ll do next time:
1. I will tell myself that I am having an anxiety attack and the feelings will pass.
2. I will concentrate on my breathing by,
- Taking a deep breath in for 4 seconds, holding it for 3 seconds, and exhaling for 5 seconds. (Useful insight from WikiHow)
- Pressing my index and middle finger between my eyebrows and blocking my right nostril whilst breathing through the left one (tip I learned at a mediation class by The Center SF)
3. I will distract my mind from fear and count backward from 100 by 3
4. I will tense various muscle groups one at a time for 5 seconds and release. Jaw, arms, hands, stomach and legs. (Thank you WikiHow)
It’s estimated that approximately 10 percent of teenagers and 40 percent of adults suffer from an anxiety disorder of some kind. Actually, you can Do Something about it here. I wouldn’t say that I have a disorder, I feel like my mind is stronger now, but you never know! So now what? Well, to prevent one from happening again, I’m going to continue to “practice what I preach” by:
- Attending at least 2 yoga classes a week (in the dream world, everyday)
- Going for little jogs outdoors at least 2 times a week
- Drinking less alcohol
- Taking loads of deep breaths throughout the day (bonus points for sucking in fresh air)
- Practice 10–20 minutes of meditation each morning (this Spotify playlist is awesome)
Most importantly, I will be opening my heart to my family, friends and strangers more (without sounding like a drama queen). That way, no feelings are trapped inside. I’m now practicing what I’m preaching.
Thanks for listening and I hope these tips help!
(CEO, Co-founder of Boomcast)
* Her story is coming, stay tuned.