Posted in Shattering Stigmas

A Guest Post from “The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me” Olivia Hinebaugh

I’m so excited to welcome the first of two posts by people I admire named “Olivia” with a fantastic guest post about panic attacks, anxiety, OCD and ADHD from Olivia Hinebaugh. Olivia is the debut author of a fantastic sex-positive contemporary romance, The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. You can order it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and Indiebound. Olivia is a fantastic writer and I’m so thrilled to welcome her words here for Shattering Stigmas. You can visit her on her website and Twitter.

A few years ago, I got up on stage and told a theater full of people of how I was obsessed with going to the bathroom. I was reliving the worst time in my life, when I was suffering from full-fledged panic disorder with agoraphobia. And sharing the good, bad, and embarrassing from that time was really empowering. I was reading an essay I wrote as part of the show This Is My Brave, whose slogan is “storytelling saves lives.” I completely agree with that sentiment. One of the worst parts of having a mental illness take over your life, is feeling completely, and utterly alone. The more I’ve shared my story and struggles, the most support and camaraderie I’ve received.

I didn’t know exactly what a panic attack was when I first had one. I knew something really bad had happened to me. I knew I had been traumatized because I had been on a trolley and felt truly unsafe. And that was just the first of many. Because my panic attacks manifested as lightheadedness, nausea, and general digestive discomfort and urgency, I thought that maybe I had some sort of passing out disorder. Or I thought I was always coming down with something. It took months before I made the connection that maybe the problem was in my brain. 

When I share my story, my biggest hope is that someone who is suffering and doesn’t know why sees a way through it. Or that they’ll feel less alone. Or they’ll see that help is out there and it’s possible to live with it. Maybe not perfectly recovered, but managing and accepting and thriving.

I have also viewed my anxiety in a positive light, especially when it comes to writing. Not to be dramatic, but having panic disorder, agoraphobia, and OCD was pretty much the worst thing that ever happened to me. I think it was really my first time experiencing suffering. I had an illness that was invisible to others. My compassion deepened immensely. And I do think that compassion is a necessary trait in writer.

When I was 17, I was diagnosed with ADHD. And while I understand pretty well, at this point, how that makes certain aspects of my life more difficult, I have a lot of practice folding neurodiversity into my identity and embracing the positives. With ADHD, I treated it with medication at the end of high school and was able to get straight A’s for the first time in my life. But I also wasn’t daydreaming. I wasn’t writing. So when I got to college, and life became less stressful (my high school was really demanding), I stopped taking medication and realized that my creative life had suffered. I’m a classic inattentive. I often forget what I should be doing. I have a tough time transitioning activities. I find it really difficult to organize my space and stay on task. I’m messy and forgetful. But I am always thinking. I can tune things out when I’m focused on work. On medication, I heard every word everyone said to me, I was so tuned in. And for me to write, I needed to tune out.

So I was determined to view my anxiety in a similar light. It’s increased my compassion. It keeps me safe. It gives me challenges to overcome and there’s some joy and pride in conquering phobias. I am less judgmental. Because until someone tells you they are suffering with an invisible illness, you just don’t know. I almost always disclose my anxiety when it crops up. For me, I’d rather people know I’m having an anxious day than think I’m blowing them off or that I don’t care. 

Disclosing offers more than just being understood. It opens the door for other people to share what’s going on with them. I’ve learned so much from other people. I’ve learned there are billions of ways to be a human and that everyone is dealing with something. I’ve also learned that I am very much not alone.

When Olivia Hinebaugh isn’t writing fiction, she can be found writing freelance, making art, discovering new songs on Spotify, texting her writing buddies, or folding laundry. She lives near Washington, D.C. with her spouse, three kids, a dog that looks like a coyote, and a one-eyed cat. The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me is her debut novel.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Creativity at the End of the World by Rey Noble

Happy Monday everyone! We are in the final week, the homestretch of Shattering Stigmas and the posts and the conversations just keep staying so consistently amazing, intense and poignant. I hope all of you are enjoy this as much as I am. Today I am so pleased to welcome my friend, Rey, onto the blog to talk about managing creativity and self-worth in the face of mental turmoil. This post is so elegant, honest and real. Thank you so much for sharing it with us, Rey. When Rey isn’t kindly writing posts for me, they write queer paranormal & urban fantasy, and are a part of The Work in Progress Podcast and Blare Her Name Podcast. You can also find Rey on Twitter.

CW: descriptions of a panic attack (2nd paragraph), discussion of panic attacks, anxiety, and depression, brief mention of blood

Last Sunday I woke up with a sickening feeling in my stomach. Heavy and oily, it left my body feeling clammy and uncomfortable from the moment I opened my eyes. Anxiety had already begun to take hold of me before I’d even woken up, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had spent the days prior in a haze of depression and exhaustion (not necessarily intertwined, but neither helping the other), and every attempt at restful sleep I mustered was thwarted. Sometimes my dreams were too intense, while some nights my body just didn’t think it could sleep, so it didn’t. I couldn’t tell you what caused the episode – one tiny happenstance after another, slowly piling up. It made it impossible to pinpoint any one event in particular. All little moments, things that in no way jeopardized my safety or health or well being. Nothing that would take shelter away from me, or food, or comfortability. Small things like, “did I send that email at work?” “Did I come off as too snappy in that tweet?” Or, my personal favorite thing to obsess over – “my boss didn’t put an exclamation point at the end of that email, so they might be mad…but she’s out of the office and I have no way to gauge anything so she must be upset with me, as there’s no other option for using neutral punctuation.” Neutral punctuation is a term that I’ve created for periods because my brain has decided that everything, even a lowly period versus an excitable exclamation point, could be a threat. If that isn’t ridiculous, I don’t know what is. Thanks, anxiety brain.

I had the worst panic attack that I’ve had in months that day, late in the afternoon when the sun was high and the skies were blue and I had friends talking to me and absolutely nothing to cause the pounding, pounding, pounding in my chest and the dry mouth that made me feel like I would swallow my tongue if I wasn’t being careful. No amount of belly breathing or emergency meditations would help, not when the panic had triggered a wave of vertigo and standing up was hardly an option.

I sat on my bedroom floor and let my forehead rest on my mattress until the spinning slowly stopped, spinning I could still feel and see with closed eyes, until my heartbeat had gone back to a usual intensity. It isn’t the rapidness of my heartbeat that causes this issue for me. No, it’s the strength of the beat, so hard that I can feel it in my fingers and my toes and all of the blood rushes to my head. The speed doesn’t matter, it could be going ten miles a minute or be practically still in my chest, and still the strength of every beat will rock my body out of stability.

Stability is the hardest thing for me to grasp, while also being the one thing I need most desperately. Financially, mentally, work-wise. Stability is the core of everything that I crave, while also being the key vulnerability that my anxiety and depression feed on. I realized, two days after this panic attack, just how long it took for me to recover from episodes like that one, and how many days are lost to my mental illness. It was two days before I felt comfortable to put fingers to keyboard and write, two days before I could muster the energy to make and prep meals for the following days, two days before I could do what should have been considered daily chores. And as I went back and traced my line of productivity and preparation, I realized that the line didn’t start at my big panic attack. In fact, my panic attack might have been assuaged, or lessened, if I had had the ability to prepare earlier in the week for the possibility. If I had gotten around to meal prepping previously, if I had had more energy throughout the week to keep on top of my chores, if I had worked a little bit more on my story throughout the week. Except I hadn’t done any of that ahead of time because I had a cloud of depression hanging over me, sapping the energy out of my veins like a mosquito drinking blood. Mixed with random bouts of anxiety that never stayed at the same intensity, every hit knocked the wind out of me. Last year at this time, the wind was in my sails, new stories on the horizon, a new job and it felt like everything was coming up Rey. Then one domino was pushed, and the cycle began – it hasn’t ended, aside from a random week or two of calm. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s been one of the worst mental health years of my life, and without a doubt my least productive. I acknowledge that, and while I’m sad about it, I understand that there’s reasons why.

While stability is what I need and what I crave, understanding is what I have. Understanding is what gets me through the long nights of heavy depression, where I don’t have the power in my limbs to move but my brain tells me that I’m a disappointment for not working toward my goals. It’s understanding, not stability, that reminds me that the part of my brain that’s saying these things isn’t me, only partly so. It’s understanding that gives me the ability to look the disappointment in the eyes and tell myself that I’m doing the best I can with what I have, and that even though it may not be much right now, it will be so much more soon. Understanding reminds me that every day ends.

When our self worth is tied to our creativity, to our output or to being ever-present in a creative or social state, any moment we are hindered (by ourselves, by outside obstacles) can turn itself into a moment of absolute, utter disappointment. The most important thing that we can do is give ourselves a little room to breathe. I taught myself to afford the same understanding that I would give to a friend in my position to me. When my friends are in the midst of depressive episodes and panic attacks, I don’t tell them to suck it up and get the work done. I don’t force them to write or create through the flurry of anxiety. I do my best to take care of them and make sure they feel supported and loved through a difficult moment. I want to make the process easier on them. I want them to be able to feel confident in getting back on their feet again. Learning to do that for myself, and to take care of myself in whatever way I could without judging myself on days that I couldn’t, has made it so that I can bounce back faster than I did before. My recovery time is less because I’m doing more to take care of myself and giving myself room to understand the why’s, how’s, and what’s of it all. While I couldn’t stop the anxiety attack or the depression, I could make it easier for myself. I could bring myself to understand why it happened, and with that understanding craft myself a new way out.

Thank you so much for your lovely post, Rey!

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Interested in more Shattering Stigmas posts? Check out this post that Ben, one of our amazing co-hosts, put together listing every single Shattering Stigmas guest post and giveaway so you don’t miss a thing!

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Getting Help During My Worst Panic Attack by Shalena Mathews

Hi everyone! Here on the blog today is Shalena to candidly talk about one of her experiences having a panic attack. I hope you will all enjoy this honest post. 

CW: detailed discussion of mental illness including depression, panic attacks, and suicidal ideation; use of drowning metaphors; detailed description of a panic attack, asthma attack, nose bleed, calling and interacting with emergency services, and going to the hospital

Over the last ten years I’ve had a handful of panic attacks. Most were mild, and when they weren’t, regaining stability usually involved curling up into a blanket burrito in my safe place until the panic passed. Sometimes I reached out to loved ones and they gave me additional support and security that helped me through.

Nothing beyond my general depression and anxiety seem to trigger my panic attacks; they just happen. Luckily, they are few and far between and while sometimes painful and inconvenient, not too difficult to manage.

Except for once, when I had the granddaddy of panic attacks on October 16, 2016.

The day started out a little stressful. I woke up later than I had intended, so I dressed and ran out the door to make it on time to the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, Tennessee. Thankfully I made it with a little time to spare and had a great day listening to and meeting authors (and buying books, of course).

I was done at the event around 4:00pm, and I was tired and hot from all the walking, but happy. As I walked back to my car at a nearby parking garage, I answered a phone call from a loved one and we got into an argument. I got upset, and my body’s natural response to this is to start crying.

Even after the call was done and with the car’s A/C blowing in my face, I couldn’t get a handle on my feelings or my body’s reaction to them. It was about that point I realized I hadn’t taken any of my daily medications because I’d rushed out of the house that morning. This meant I was fighting to control conditions – depression, anxiety, and asthma – which I always need medication to alleviate.

I tried a few different methods of calming down, but nothing worked. My brain and body fixated on every bad thing, creating an ocean of every terrible thought and feeling I’ve ever had about myself; an ocean I was lost in. Wave after wave of panic tossed me about. Whenever I thought I’d gotten my head above water, another rolled over me and down I sank again.

My sobs turned to wails then to howls. Drowning in my own brain and howling with anguish made it difficult to breathe. That ocean of terrible thoughts pressed against me. Every muscle in my chest ached, and with every tiny inhale, my chest caved, like my sternum was trying to meet my spine.

The mental and physical pain were severe and I couldn’t stop them. Then it happened. I thought about killing myself. I visualized ramming my running car into the nearest wall of the parking garage, could feel the gas pedal inches from my foot, waiting to be smashed down. Thankfully, some small part of my brain had separated itself from the panic and pain.

It’s a strange thing to have two brains at once: the one that has been taken over by something you can hardly name, and the other, the true you, clinging to sanity. That part of me stood on the shore, screaming, “We survived this before! Keep fighting!”

That part of me made me turn off the car and take the keys out of the ignition.

While this was safer, it also turned off the car’s A/C, which didn’t help my physical condition at all. But I wasn’t about to roll the windows down for some air. I didn’t want anyone to see me like this. Just the thought of some well-intentioned stranger coming up to my car worsened my panic because of the potential embarrassment. I say this as someone who never gets embarrassed by anything; that’s how bad it was.

Amid the gasping for air and trying to stay sane, I had to keep blowing my nose and wiping my face because of all the snot and tears rolling out of me. But then I missed a big droplet of snot that hit my t-shirt. I looked at my shirt and noticed it had changed color. It wasn’t snot.

My nose poured blood. I hadn’t had a nose bleed in well over a decade and this was no simple bleed; it was a gush, strong and constant. I was freaked. On top of the panic, all I could think was that my brain is drowning, I can’t breathe, and now I’m bleeding. And none of this was about to stop anytime soon.

I had to get help.

I couldn’t get out of my car. Because I was so crumpled by the panic and lack of oxygen, it was difficult to move anything but my arms. But I had my phone. I was in Nashville, not my home, and I didn’t know anyone in the city well-enough to call on them.

I only had one real option. It took me a few minutes to finally do it, but with whatever little courage I could dredge up, I dialed 911.

I’ve never called 911 in my life before this. But I did it.

The voice on the other end of the phone was friendly but to the point, “911, what’s your emergency?”

The rational part of my brain had figured out what to say, so between heaving breaths I said, “I am in extreme emotional distress and need help.” That was all it took. The operator seemed to understand what that meant and started getting details from me about where I was. Luckily, I was in the parking garage connected to the Nashville Public Library and could see the level number on the wall in front of me. I described my car and answered questions as best I could. She spoke in a calm voice and tried to soothe me and had me stay on the phone until help arrived.

The first people to arrive at my car were police. I remember three or four officers being around, but two mainly spoke to me. One was on my side of the car, shining a flashlight around the interior and relaying my condition to the other officers which were radioing whoever they radio. This officer immediately noticed the blood on my shirt and I told him about my nose bleed. One of them asked if I was suicidal and I explained why I’d taken the keys out of the ignition. They seemed to understand that while I’d had a suicidal thought, I wasn’t in immediate danger of self-harm.

The officer on the other side of my car asked if I had any weapons and it was then I remembered a box cutter in the glove compartment. He removed it. They complimented me on doing the right things and calling for help.

All the while I was still in panic mode, crying and struggling to breathe. They had the security guard drive one of those ATV vehicles up to my car and helped me into it. They drove me down to the main level, but some issue was keeping the ambulance away and another officer gave me a paper bag to breathe into and tried soothing me. All of the officers treated me with care and didn’t make my situation worse, something I was extremely grateful for.

I finally made it into the ambulance and the EMTs were also nice and helpful. They had to ask me a bunch of questions, which they apologized for, but they talked to me like I was a normal human being, even when I had trouble focusing and talking. We got to the hospital and the EMTs explained my situation to the ER nurses and then left, wishing me luck.

At this point, I was so exhausted that I’d stopped gasping for breath, but I was still intermittently crying and my chest felt like I’d been run over multiple times.

Finally I was in a hospital bed in the emergency room. I’m not sure who I saw first, a nurse probably, and I had to go over everything that happened again. Then a doctor came and I had to repeat a lot of what I’d just told the nurse. An administrative person came in and had me go over and sign some forms.

The doctor returned and gave me some medication that helped calm me down. I actually chuckled when she told me what it was called because one of my characters in the novel I’m working on takes it. That’s really the only time anyone looked at me funny during this whole ordeal.

Then another nurse or tech came in and administered a breathing treatment. What I hadn’t realized was that the reason I’d had such trouble breathing and why it hurt so badly was that the panic attack had triggered an asthma attack. The nose bleed they chalked up to my blood pressure skyrocketing from the panic and asthma attacks.

I continued to lie in the hospital bed, letting the medicines take affect. Everyone was efficient and to the point, but no one seemed to judge me. After I was better an hour or so later, though weak and in need of food and rest, I left the hospital and took my first ever Uber ride back to my car.

I’d survived.

It’s been almost a year since that panic attack, but looking back on it is still a little difficult. It was a harrowing experience that I don’t wish on anyone. However, if I am glad of one thing, it is that I can share this experience with others. Not the panic attack; I know many people go through those every day, but the experience of calling emergency services to get help.

It was scary but absolutely worth it. I’d had no occasion to know how the Nashville police, EMTs, or hospital staff would react to someone having emotional or mental suffering, but they all surpassed my expectations. It felt like they’d all been trained in how to handle someone like me, someone who was in distress and needed medical attention but couldn’t get it on her own. They were all calm and reassuring and I couldn’t have asked for better treatment.

I don’t know how other places handle emergency calls for mentally distressed people, but I imagine calls like mine are common. I hope my experience is standard for this type of situation, but I realize that people of color, queer people, or other marginalized groups may have different and worse experiences with emergency services. I wanted to share my experience because it gave me hope: hope that the people who are supposed to care for us in times of need know what they are doing and are willing to help however they can.

It also gave me hope for myself, that I was able to reach out for help when I needed it. If you find yourself in a similar situation, reach out, however you can to whoever you feel safe reaching out to. It will be difficult and it will definitely feel scary, but it will be worth the effort because you are worth it and you deserve to survive.

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