a new form and take on my Anxiety


Resigned is too strong and negative of a word. Acceptance? Sorry, I’m not quite there yet. Somewhere in the middle, with words I can’t yet articulate, is where I am with Anxiety.

On a very positive note, panic attacks seem less likely to invade my brain and body in most public and everyday situations (knock on wood).

However, they quite often take up a good chunk of my Sundays — Sundays still suck. And Anxiety does often strike me when I am in a chaotic zoo of people (e.g. grocery shopping — Costco on a Saturday, Target on a Thursday evening). It’s the one public situation that’s very likely to put me in a Anxiety-ridden state that sticks around for awhile. Nothing new there.

But I’ve been experiencing a new form of Anxiety and mini panic attacks of late.

For a short period of time on nearly half my evenings I will transition from being peachy-keen to experiencing a surprising panic attack. I’ll be making dinner or watching TV or getting ready for bed. Then, with no warning, it becomes hard to breathe. My chest compresses for a few seconds as if heavy air has been brought into my lungs. The heaviness is the weight of nearly everything that previously would have created panic in public and everyday situations.

Some of the heavy air stays in my lungs, but some of the restriction passes as part of the weight immediately floods my brain. It’s not a brick-brain panic. Instead, I’d characterize it as a sloshing, wet cement churning around my brain. I don’t get dizzy in a physical sense. Instead, I’d characterize it as if my thoughts become heavy fears moving around in my head so they become hard to grasp and grapple with.

I can do nothing other than try to bring the Anxiety down a notch. Deep breaths, closed eyes, and concentration. I work to grasp the dominant fear — again, many have just invaded my brain — and I try to understand the “Why?”

If you don’t know this already, one of the best things you can do when hit with Anxiety is to ask “Why?” It’s supposed to trigger your brain into a reality-based place of the present rather than a fear-of-the-unknown-future-based place.

Yesterday I experienced one of these panic attacks while reading a book. A real problem / issue I’d been grappling with for a couple of days (in a good problem-solving manner) decided to become the heavy air invading my lungs and the turn into the sloshing cement churning around in my brain.

It took a awhile minutes for my question of “Why?” to grasp (almost physically grab ahold of) the thought-problem and turn it into the real question I had been dealing with (in a positive way) for the preceding days.

Thankfully, once I was able to get to that place in my brain, real solutions emerged. And that was good.

I just wish that emotional and physical pain of panic didn’t have to be part of the mix.

So about that space between resigned and acceptance … I have accepted (as both my doctor and therapist have told me) that I may just be an anxious-kind-of-guy. But I have yet to accept that this different way of experiencing Anxiety and panic is part of the new me.

As I’ve noted before, I can see incremental change for the better. I can’t see the improvements on a weekly scale any longer. Monthly perhaps.

But it’s worth noting that I’ve gone through some pretty big real-life transitions of late which would be sure to create Anxiety even for someone with a healthy brain.

And so perhaps that’s why I can’t yet say “accept this, Michael.”




  1. Tom Sampson 11 April 2016 at 9:13 am

    Michael, I’m puzzled why you assign human attributes to your symptoms— “a real problem/issue ….decided to become the heavy air invading my lungs and then turn into the sloshing cement churning around in my brain.” Isn’t that giving the anxiety/panic too much power? The physical symptoms are just that – physical symptoms, and nothing else. (I’m getting in over my head now.) What does the Doc say about this?

    • Michael Dahl 11 April 2016 at 12:02 pm

      Thanks for asking, Tom. I do so for two reasons. The first is not so much about assigning a human quality; it’s in describing a mental health issue as one that has painful, physical manifestations. A lot of people have no idea that mental illness also carries physical anguish … I’ve been told this by many who thanked me for pointing this out. Secondly, I am not my illness (or at least I am not fully my illness). Giving the illness an “other” quality helps set it apart from me. It’s really just a way of clarifying that I’m not asking for this, but still it happens.

      My therapist actually talks in even more “otherness” terms. She says that: “Anxiety is like a bully. Like all bullies, one of the first things to think about is simply acknowledge the bully’s presence, but don’t fight it. Let the bully do what it will, but don’t actively engage it. After awhile “It” will get bored and move on.” This is actually a very conventional view of how to deal with Anxiety: Don’t fight it. Just let it happen. Then let It go.


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