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What You Can Learn From My Anxiety Attack

Do the work that needs to be done. Keep the commitments that must be kept. Give time to those you hold dear; for they are who matter most. But in the midst of it all, seek and find a thing called balance.
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I wave the white flag.

No longer can I live my life at the harried pace that I have been. A little over a week ago, I was stopped cold in my tracks. My body issued an ultimatum. Slow down or be slowed down.

It was a quiet Sunday morning. As usual, I had a ton of to-do items awaiting me on my last free day before the start of the work week. Meals needed to be prepped, laundry had to be washed, and writing had to be done. Once all of that was taken care of, maybe, just maybe, there would be time to catch up on a couple of shows stored for weeks on my DVR. I could knock out a chapter in a book that has been on extended loan to me from a friend. And, if lucky, I could be in bed by 11:00 p.m. This (and then some) has been my life since 2013, the year my son was born.

But my frenzied life caught up with me when I least expected.

Around 8:00 a.m., I stood under the shower head as the warm water streamed down. The night before was spent sparring with my occasional late night visitor, insomnia. And as always the case when he visits, I was left with a pounding headache, weighted eye lids, feeble concentration, and the feeling that my whole body had been run over by a mack truck. But this time, was different. Terrifyingly different. Out of nowhere, I burst into a cold sweat. My heart thumped and raced. Sounds were muffled and distant. Images blurred. And the scariest was the feeling of liquid flowing from the top of my head down to the nape of my neck. With each inhalation, my chest drew tighter and tighter. I felt like I was suffocating. Slowly.

I frantically snatched the shower curtains open, climbed out of the tub, and rushed to the mirror. My eyes were sunken. Face unusually droopy. I stumbled out of the bathroom and grabbed my cell off of the dresser. I quickly googled signs of a stroke. Then signs of a heart attack. And finally signs of an aneurysm. Oddly, my symptoms did not wholly match any of them, but seemed to combine aspects of all of them. I did not know what, but something was very wrong.

It was when my son called out for me to come play with him that my chest further tightened as if compressed under a steel plate. My thoughts darted back and forth between catastrophe and contingencies. My worst nightmare come true would be to become incapacitated in our home and my son left unable to unlock the front door or dial a telephone to access help. The room seemed to spin around me while the floor beneath my feet suddenly felt like a Tilt-a-Wheel ride. I was becoming unhinged. I had to get us out of the house immediately.

I got us dressed in lightening speed. As I packed up his Ipad, miniature Thomas and Friends, and Goldfish snacks for his stay at the sitter's, sweat covered my brow as my breathing became increasingly shallow and I lightheaded. This was the first time in our lives together that I was confronted with a what if. The thought alone filled my eyes with tears and made my body tremble uncontrollably.

The good news is that I did not suffer a stroke; or heart attack; or the early stages of an aneurysm.

For the first time in my life, I experienced an anxiety attack. Something I never imagined could happen to me. Something I always thought that I was too Ford-tough to ever fall victim to. Consecutive years of parenting alone, working full-time, growing a freelance business, and endless scheduling and to-do lists had finally caught up with me. Despite almost a year of living my healthiest life ever, I was brought to near collapse. Eating well, weekly yoga, gratitude journaling, and meditation practice were no match for the raging monster of stress that lives inside of me.

I had to slow down. Or I would be slowed down.

The culture du jour is to wear our busyness as a badge of honor. Work, work, work, and work some more. It seems that we equate our value with how busy we are and how big we are doing it in the world. We welcome the opportunity to run down all of the projects that we are working on. And rattle off how we miraculously manage our child's fully booked schedule while maintaining our own insane one. Or we proudly declare how few hours of sleep we get nightly because of all of the midnight oil we are burning. When someone asks, "How are you?" like programmed robots, we utter, 'busy.' Not 'well' or 'fine.' But 'busy.'

When did it become so boss, so celebrated to work ourselves to a point of self-destruction? Productivity and career success are great. However, we cannot forget that we work hard so that, one day, we can actually enjoy the fruits of our labor. We work hard to construct a life that, hopefully, fulfills and makes us happy. But we must not do it at the expense of our well being--at the expense of our lives.

Do the work that needs to be done. Keep the commitments that must be kept. Give time to those you hold dear; for they are who matter most. But, in the midst of it all, seek and find a thing called balance.