I Had Never Stayed Up All Night Until Anxiety

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October 31, 2015

Since it’s Halloween night, I figured I’d write about something spooky.

Anxiety.

cue ominous timpani roll

A little over a week ago I had the worst anxiety attack I’ve had since I was 19.

It went something like this:

I lied down to try and get to sleep around 11:30pm. I then got up, down, up and down over and over again. I watched my phone clock go from 6:28, to 6:29, and then to 6:30am, when my alarm started going off. I hadn’t slept at all.

My first night ever spent with absolutely zero sleep.

Seven solid hours of disabilitating anxiety.

My heart was pounding like I was being chased; I sweated hot and cold; I shivered. I breathed heavy. I threw up a couple times.

The usual creepy closet I stare at while I’m in bed didn’t even seem so scary. I wished a creepy clown would climb out. Just so I could say, “Oh good, a distraction!”

I kept lying down, hugging my body pillow, closing my eyes and trying to go to sleep. Even when I was lying still and taking deep breaths I felt like my heart was going to explode. I was in flight mode. It was not nice.

In the past 24 hours before, I’d only eaten:

  • 1 slice of toast;
  • 1 banana;
  • 1 cup of tea; and,
  • 1/2 a bowl of tortellini (with a bit of salsa… because we had no tomato sauce)

I had also done four interviews over the course of the day, including some filming and a photoshoot. A lot of running around and working on projects for my graduate degree.

This was something I should have watched for. I know I’m  more prone to anxiety attacks when I’m exhausted.

The odd thing was, during this anxiety attack I had absolutely no appetite. That was unusual for me.

As I would be lying there, trying to fall asleep, I kept replaying conversations from ealier in the day. It’s like my brain was trying to do its nightly job to process the day, but I wasn’t asleep. I couldn’t stop it. My head was spinning.

I kept hearing phrases and having flashbacks from the interviews I’d done earlier that day. There stories were so important, and I would feel like an asshole if I didn’t do them justice. I needed sleep so that I could write them properly!

At 4:30am I called my Mom who actually answered the phone (on like the second ring: she is wonderful). She tried to make me feel better and invited me over for supper the next day.

Anxiety can make me pretty despondent. My responses to her on the phone probably made her more worried than she needed to be.

After finishing the call with her, I decided to call one of those help hotlines. You know, that telephone number you’re always told to call in grade school if you’re feeling depressed or suicidal? I wasn’t feeling suicidal by any stretch, but I just felt terrible and didn’t know what to do and wanted to talk to someone. The number I found wasn’t very good. After I dialled through a few different automated voice messages I just hung up.

This also got me thinking: for help hotlines, we should have humans picking up on the first ring. That’s something I think our tax dollars should do.

At around 5am I was on my kitchen floor, forcing myself to half-heartedly munch on an apple, because I thought, “Hey, maybe I’m just hungry?”

I had no appetite, but I made myself chew the fruit. Chew the fruit, Mel. Do it.

I took a piece of bread back to bed with me. I just sort of held it in my hand as I tried to do back to sleep again. I had a good laugh inside at how ridiculous I must have looked. Aren’t I supposed to be smart? And here I am, holding a chunk of bread as I stare restlessly at the ceiling.

After my phone alarm went off, my amazing, patient fiancé (can’t believe that’s a thing!) dragged me into my clothes and made me an awesome breakfast of eggs and toast, which I promptly neglected. I only drinking a half cup of OJ and a nibble of eggs. I think I licked the toast after breaking it in to tiny pieces.

After morning class and having an assignment edited, I got back in to the groove of things. I was still tired and starving since I didn’t eat any breakfast, but I could tell the tide was subsiding.

The guy who runs the radio room at the university was amazing enough to see my zombie face and grab me a cup of coffee. God bless good people. A karma cookie to him!

That half cup of coffee and water are all I had until lunch around 1:30. At which point I devoured a huge sandwich from Subway.

The food got me back on track, and I was pretty much back to normal after that.

But that’s it. Like a little emotional natural disaster, I was briefly powerless to its thrall, and then it receded and I went on with life.

This hadn’t happened in awhile to me. In a way it was actually a good reminder to watch out for my mental state.

After one night of no sleep I was drinking water out of a the votive candle holders in my bathroom and feeling awful. I’d hate to see me after more than one sleepless night.

It’s rough when you’re there.

It’s like being dragged out to sea.  You just can’t escape. If you struggle, you’ll only drown. Best just try to float on your back until the tow subsides.

Maybe some people can escape it. I’ve read some things – like if you can force yourself to do exercise, or do something else to get your body back on track.

In my experience, even easy things become very hard.

For example, when I was sitting on my kitchen floor trying to eat that apple. In my brain I wanted to eat it. I kept telling myself, “Eat the apple. Eat the apple.” But, my body still had a hard time bringing it up to my mouth. To chew, swallow, repeat.  There’s a part of you that counters with, “What’s the point? What’s the point? I don’t want to. I don’t want to do anything.”

So that’s it. It’s rough. That was an unpleasant reminder. I had a good sleep the next night and went on with my life. I finished the first module of my masters this week, and I did a pretty great job.

To that anxiety attack, I say “smell ya later”. I hope that I can keep things in check again so that it doesn’t get a hold of me like that for awhile.

Speaking of, I think it’s absolutely true that there are things you can do to reduce your anxiety, if that’s something you suffer from.

To shine a ray of light on this piece, I’m also publishing at the same time some Lessons I’ve Learned From Anxiety that have helped me deal with it over the years.

I hope you find it useful!

Do any of you suffer from anxiety? How do you deal? Does it sometimes strike after long periods of not being a problem? What’s it like for you?

VIEW & ADD COMMENTS +

Great post Mel. As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I feel ya. Thank goodness for awesome Moms and fantastic fiancés (or any significant other for that matter). Really enjoyed both your posts tonight. Sending hugs from New Brunswick. 🙂

It really is the awesome people around us that deserve all the credit. What would we do without them? Thanks for reading. I hope New Brunswick is treating you well!

Thanks for posting this! I suffer from anxiety too. It strikes when I’m really upset or overwhelmed. I get little warning signs, like being unable to slow my brain down, the world starts feeling like it doesn’t exist outside of my condo, a racing heart. I can’t stop staring at the wall, that kind of thing. And my best way down from it is to talk it out. It’s the hardest thing in the world to make that phone call though. I start to judge myself and worry about worrying, it’s the worst! I finish it by feeling completely exhausted and sore from shaking. So I get it! I’m glad you rode it out. That’s the only thing you really can do in those situations. I also think it helps regulating your breathing. I draw squares with my finger: start small, while you draw upwards take a breath, while you draw sideways let it out, when you draw down, take a breath, then draw sideways again to complete the square and breathe out. Make your square a little bigger each time. 🙂 feel better!

Hi Mel, thanks for sharing. I’m always like, “What do other people do? How do they deal?” the idea of drawing squares sounds really calming. I’m going to give it a try next time. Haha, although I’m feeling a lot better now, it’s something to ‘look forward’ to the next time an attack strikes.;-)

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