I’ve always had sleep issues, I just didn’t understand that they weren’t normal. It would regularly take me hours to fall asleep even long before homework kept me up till the small hours of the morning. It wasn’t rare to “pass” my dad getting up for work - in my defense, the man got up at 4:30 AM for YEARS - when I was finally sacking out for the night. But no teenager sleeps well, right? All of my academically-pressured friends were staying up all night doing work, so my staying up seemed perfectly normal.
It wasn’t until I got close with a friend whose partner was also an insomniac that I realized that it wasn’t normal to have such a “complicated relationship with sleep”, as she put it. Realizing that it wasn’t normal, and that I had spent more of my life not sleeping right than I have getting a straight eight hours, was pretty instrumental in finding some help with it.
I learned a lot about the inappropriateness of my mom’s behavior as I became an adult, and saw her through the lens of my peers and my sister as she got older and things got worse. What do you mean, it’s not normal to send your parent to bed after they’ve fallen asleep in their wine glass again, and then find the half-drunk glass in the fridge the next morning, waiting to do it all again the next night?
I found half a beer in my fridge yesterday.
I asked my therapist what the technical definition of a panic attack was, last week. She had been doing this thing she does where she spots when I am in a pretty good place, and makes me talk about difficult things. It sucks, but it seems to be helping desensitize me to a couple of the things that have a tendency to really freak me out, so I can’t really complain. Anyway, so I tell her “we have about ten minutes left, I had a question for you” - time-boxing uncomfortable conversations is a “skill” of mine - and when I asked her, she perked up like a cat spotting a bug on the wall.
“What are you experiencing?”
Dammit, this isn’t the way this is supposed to go. We were supposed to be having a nice abstract conversation so I could have a vocabulary to apply to what is happening, instead of having to fish around in my language-defective brain for words I don’t have no idea how to apply to my life. But she is persistent, and I tried to explain how sometimes my brain just… overloads and becomes static.
“You know the purple guy from Inside Out? It’s like he’s at the switchboard, and he’s just running around screaming.”
“I get… stuck. I feel like I can’t move, can’t do anything, can’t think of anything.”
We ended up pulling out the DSM V, and pulling up the definition.
The question remains open, but as I was leaving, she said “you seem to have a really high anxiety tolerance”.
“Yeah, turns out.”
Same friend who pointed out that sleeping like I was wasn’t healthy told me something one of her docs had said. She said, “Anxiety patients tend to underreport their symptoms, because once they don’t feel like they’re dying anymore, they thing everything is fine.”
Have I been having shitty panic attacks for weeks, and just not labeling them as such? What’s the difference between one, and what I’ve been experiencing? I don’t think I am going to die, I am not dissociating but my body is running off, the moment the little purple guy opens his mouth. My chest tightens, my throats closes like I’m going to cry. Is it only not a panic attack because I can feel my head go first, and my body follow, so it doesn’t seem sudden and unexpected?