It’s been a hard last few months. My grandmother died on Hanukkah, in December 2015, and unlike my grandmother who was sure she knew where we go when we die, I don’t know. And not knowing what has happened to her, where she is now, has made it very hard for me to acclimate to her being gone.
That and a few other things I’m dealing with have all taken their toll on me with the current culmination being anxiety attacks which I’ve been suffering from periodically for a few months now.
The attacks mainly happen when I’m with my loved ones. The first one was with my parents and little sister when I had them over for dinner. I sat there having a lovely time and then I just couldn’t shake the fact that this is all so fleeting. And then I started feeling like I was going outside of myself, hearing myself and seeing the scene from the outside. And I got very scared.
Until that point I’d never experienced anxiety like that. I’ve performed in front of audiences and felt so terrified that my foot was shaking too much to press the piano pedals. I’ve felt depressed and left Israel and moved to Vancouver, a place I’d never been, adding that to the list of scariest things I’ve ever done. I’ve taken exams which were too hard for me and organized events which made me feel very vulnerable. Once when feeling very connected to the man I was dating, I cried from deep sadness over the fact that one day I’d have to be parted from him.
But the feelings I had that evening were of a different caliber and one of my first thoughts was: Give me a pill for this. NOW. (Something I’ve since done – maybe more on that later.)
“So that’s the difference between being really stressed and an actual anxiety attack,” I’ve said many times since then when trying to describe to people what a terrible thing this is, realizing I had no idea (and still don’t) what others are going through when they suffer from any kind of anxiety, depression or other mental illness.
An anxiety attack is a whole other ball game. Not to mention the terrible fact that it is a game-changer, potentially affecting my decisions, inhibiting me and making me fearful to go out into the world and do what I want to do.
And to think of all the people suffering in this and other ways…
I’ve since had a few other attacks, almost always while with loved ones. I think we all need that thing that comforts us in this world – religion, spirituality, faith, or something of the sort – and since I don’t really have that, I start getting overwhelmed when with the people I love and find that I needed to remove myself from the situation in order to calm down.
The thing is that although the attacks are new, the underlying thoughts and feelings are not. As a child I remember lying in bed and being hit by the illogical nature of the vast universe. My inability to process the information sent a surge of fear pulsing through my body and I needed to force myself to think of something else. When relatives would die, I didn’t understand how people could just continue on like this was OK. (My aunt recently told me she thought all humans should go on strike. Stop everything and say to the Heavens, “We are not continuing on until You explain to us what this is all about.”)
While teachers taught us about math and literature and Torah, I didn’t understand why any of it mattered and how people could so often act as though they understood anything about anything.
And it has all always boiled down to the most basic of questions:
Does any of this matter? Does any of this make sense?
Not that I really want you to know any of this…
I think one of the reasons I have barely written anything personal over the last few years is because on the one hand what can I write if not the really personal stuff? But on the other hand, there are repercussions to sharing such personal experiences.
And so, if you don’t mind, I’d like to outline the main reasons I hesitate talking about my emotional issues, dark thoughts and ensuing medical care and the reasons I just might do it anyway (oh, I think I’m doing it already).
Maybe see this sort of as our contract for me to write about these personal topics and for you to read them with care.
Why I don’t want to share this with you
First, I feel badly talking about disturbing facts about reality (the aforementioned death and suffering among others) because if you aren’t thinking about them then why bring them up? It’ll only upset you.
Second, the amount and complexity of thoughts and feelings going on in my (well, our) head is way more than is possible to really process and get down on paper and so writing or talking always falls short of reality.
Third, there is the worrisome issue of what people will think. This makes me feel vulnerable.
Fourth, sometimes it’s good to talk about these things and sometimes it’s too much. Some of the good people who will read my pieces will want to talk about it. Though touching, this can be very draining and I may not always be up to it.
Fifth, I don’t want sympathy or advice and, again, I know that some well-meaning people might try to give those to me.
Sixth, I hope this doesn’t negatively impact my professional life. I am building up a business and although I think people shouldn’t have to be perfect in the professional sphere, just like we shouldn’t have to be perfect in the personal one, still, I wouldn’t want my openness to affect people’s perceptions of me on a professional level. And on a personal level? Well, it does impacts me and for some reason I’m OK with that right now.
Why I might share this with you anyway
And yet with all those concerns voiced, I still really do want to write about this. I believe it’s a good thing to do and here are some reasons why:
First, for years I’ve been watching videos and reading articles about the taboo of mental illness and how detrimental that is to those who suffer from it and so really I want to jump at the opportunity to help break the taboo, now that I have the chance.
Second, others who are suffering might feel more understood and less alone if they can relate to what I write.
Third, I hate when people idealize other people’s lives. I am prone to that too and it drives me crazy how often we wistfully gaze at others and wish our lives could be more like theirs. I love the idea of bursting people’s (mine and others’) bubbles.
And fourth, I believe that the source of my anxiety – namely, ongoing dark thoughts about the world – are the most important difficult truths about our existence, so how could we not talk about them? That’s ludicrous.
So, will I do it?
For a few weeks I have been yearning to tell you about my crazy experience when I had an anxiety attack on a train ride from Amsterdam to Berlin a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I’ll finish working on it now and publish it. I hope you’ll stay tuned.
One final thing
I’m still the Deena you know (and love:).
It’s not that I walk around with no sense of meaning or purpose. On the contrary. I am often very excited about the work I do. I love the people in my life who enrich my world in the most beautiful ways. I get passionate and I get into a flow which can make my days go quickly in the most exciting sense.
But there is also this added dimension which is a big struggle. It is a major part of what defines the way I see things and the choices I make. It may not be all of who I am, but it definitely is a part of me.