Commiserate: Pretending You’re Ok

If I’ve ever given you the impression that I have everything together, I don’t.

But I’m pretty sure that’s true of everyone.

Like many people, I started having panic attacks in university.

The myth that ‘you have to be a massive success before 30 or you’re nothing’ really got to me. Instead of dealing with it head on, I locked my fears in a deep, dark place and let them grow until everything around me seemed dark.

Then, I reacted something like this:

Everything's Fine

(this meme is a classic, and if you don’t agree, we can’t be friends).

So, the panic attacks started at a frequency of about one or two a year and increased until, at the worst point, they were happening almost every other day.  

The thing about panic attacks is that once they start, your body decides to make them the default response to stress. Well, at least that’s the case if you don’t get any help. And why would I do a crazy thing like that?

Untreated, panic attacks can lead to a bunch of other un-fun things like panic disorder and/or agoraphobia.

While I am by no means in either of those categories, I do sometimes get to the point where the fear of having a panic attack gets so strong, I feel like I can’t leave the house. Not exactly glamorous, but hey, that’s life. You won’t be hearing me apologize any time soon.

*If anyone’s interested in an article on the physiological underpinnings of panic attacks, just let me know in the comments. I’m happy to write a Panic Attacks 101 article (I actually went to school for this stuff).*

Luckily, working from home has given me the time and space to learn how to manage it, and owning a dog who relies on me for regular bathroom trips forces me to push through the worst days.

Giving into the urge to live in pajamas and refuse to leave the safety of my bed is not an option. But on those really bad days, when every second outside feels like the worst kind of torture, I still beg and plead to whatever entity might be watching over me not to make me see another living human when I open my front door.

And when I inevitably do – because I don’t live in some post-apocalyptic wasteland where I’m the only person left alive  – I’ve noticed something odd. I immediately put on a wooden smile and say that everything’s fantastic in a strangely high-pitched voice like some creepy, modern-day June Cleaver.

What the hell is up with needing everyone to think you’re perfect at all times? It’s gross.

Let’s explore:

It Starts With a Bad Day

Most bad days make themselves known early on.

You wake up late, feeling like you’ve been run down by a mac truck. Deep down, you know you should just be grateful to be alive and living in a developed country…

But all you can think about is every. stupid. thing. you have to do today. You would give anything not to have to get out of bed…not today.

When you do get up, you realize it’s the kind of day where all you want is coffee and you’re out of milk.

Ughhhhhhhh.

You try to get ready as quickly as possible and leave the house. You have to make an early morning meeting.

You get about 20 ft. from your bus stop, just in time to watch it drive by. You pick up into an immediate run, but to no avail.

You stop to catch your breath and imagine that smug bus driver is looking into his rear-view mirror and laughing at your expense. Dick.

You miss your meeting.

You are Murphy’s Law personified.

You Make Yourself a Promise

You start wonder how many bad days you have compared to good days. They’re all starting to feel like bad days…you wonder if other people feel like this.

You just want to be alone, but you have too many responsibilities. You don’t have a choice.

All you can do is hope you don’t run into anyone you know.

You don’t want to talk. But you know you should.

You promise yourself that you’ll be honest with someone about how you’re feeling. How you’ve been feeling. No one feels perfect all the time, and there’s no weakness in admitting that you need help.

Your Involuntary Performance

You scroll through your phone, thinking about people you could call.

But they’re probably busy. Why should they take time out of their day to be burdened with your issues? They’re your issues.

Stop being a baby and just deal with it.

On the way home, you run into someone you know. You make eye-contact and when they ask how you’re doing, without thinking, you say: “GREAT”, with a smile and confidence that feels like it’s coming from nowhere.

Who really said that?

Your charm continues…

It’s too late to go back on it now. You can’t go from bubbly to blubbering in 60 seconds. They’ll think you’re crazy.

You picked a lane. Stick to it. Don’t say anything.

The Cost

You walk away from the conversation feeling cheap.

Whatever you call the feeling when you connect with someone deeply by mutually opening up about your deepest thoughts and feelings, this is the exact opposite to that.

You promised yourself you would just be honest. Why did you immediately flip? There’s no weakness in admitting struggle, right?

Yeah, but it’s definitely weak to so easily give into the pressure of looking perfect.

Shit.

How is it possible to walk away feeling this much worse than you already did?

Whatever, this is the kind of night where you order takeout and watch Game of Thrones until you forget you even have the ability to talk.

Maybe it’s just better to keep everything to yourself anyway.


If you ever feel like this, don’t just assume it’s better to keep it to yourself. Drop a comment and let’s discuss! I can’t be alone on this…

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