Panic Attacks and the Opposite of Despair

She flew straight into that tree. MomsicleBlog

I had a panic attack a few weeks ago.

That kind of feels like the end of the post.

I had a panic attack, and I thought I should let you know.

I want you to hear loud and clear that things are not perfect and that’s okay.

Some writers make you think you can survive parenting through crafts and cute photos, some through sarcasm and wine, and I probably make you feel like home-cooked meals, humor, and cool local businesses will keep you afloat.

Not true.

Parenting, illness, anxiety, infertility—whatever you are fighting head-on with a sword in your hand, don’t feel alone. Some people have shinier web veneers, but the struggles are still the same.

No one thing—or cadre of adorable things—is keeping us afloat.

It’s a wild and constantly moving fishing net of support that enwraps us and tries to pull us out of the sea.

For me that net is woven of God, family, neighbors, close friends, professional counseling, babysitters, date nights, exercise, writing, being outside, and watching sports and trashy TV.

And sometimes, in spite of all of those things, I feel captured and have a panic attack.

I was driving my kids and my grandma—she was living with us very briefly—and I was in charge of too many things. I’d dropped off the kids, gone to the DEQ, the DMV, picked up the kids, gotten dinner…. So on the freeway, in traffic, with my little band of pirates, I had to roll down the windows, start breathing deeply, pull off at the next exit, and head home on the streets, tuning out everything in the car and focusing on just one thing: getting home.

You might not get panic attacks. I wasn’t a panic attack person. But even if you’ve never had one, you probably feel sometimes like you’re in a fog, like there are too many responsibilities, like you’ve bitten off too much, like the rules changed and no one told you.

Sometimes we feel like we need to be unfailingly positive, and constantly in search of perfection, or at least success. We should be always moving toward the light, getting better at what we do.

That sets up a lot of anxiety. And along the way we experience a lot of failure, and change course, or change our expectations.

I heard the most wonderful quote the other day. It was from Katherine Ann Power, an American ex-convict and fugitive who lived under an assumed identity in the Willamette Valley until 1993 when she turned herself in (A fascinating story you may know, but if you don’t, listen to this interview on NPR—but do me a favor and don’t read the comments. I don’t believe in hell, but then I read Internet comments).

Katherine said of her time in prison, “The opposite of despair is not hope. The opposite of despair is getting out of bed every day.”

I find this liberating. I don’t know if I am a good parent. I can’t promise that I won’t lay on my horn in the car, swear too close to the preschool, or yell at my kids. I don’t know if I’m going to live up to my expectations today.

But I can get out of bed. And I’m on my way.


This post is dedicated to some dear friends who are going through devastating infertility struggles, the death of a beloved parent, acute job issues, and other overwhelming valleys in their lives.

A rose from my garden. MomsicleBlog


14 responses to “Panic Attacks and the Opposite of Despair

  1. So true, Evelyn. And thanks for sharing so honestly.
    As somebody who could use an extra arm or two (think Hindu gods and goddesses) to juggle the responsibilities of 3 kids, job, old house and my recovering-from-a-stroke wife, I completely relate. And as skilled a juggler as I am, the ground around me is littered with dropped balls.
    I’ve never been the cheerleader type, and probably over-share when people ask me how it’s going. On the other hand, I try not to be too lugubrious either. So I strike a balance – and that’s really what it’s all about.
    While I’ve never had a panic attack, I have spent a considerable amount of time at the end of my rope, and can understand the mind/body reaction to stress and its need to be heard.
    As Miss Hathaway used to say on the Beverly Hillbillies, “In with the good air, out with the bad!” Remember all the people who love you, who will support you when asked, and just breathe.

    • Scott, I always love your thoughts, energy, and perspective! In with the good air–out with the bad. Yes! But my favorite here is the ground littered with dropped balls. I am happier the more balls I don’t try to pick up… 🙂

  2. Evelyn, you are a diamond in the rough. Carry on!

  3. Take care. I have found that once I am able to talk about the hit of life changing stresses the burden lifts a little because everyone I connect with has spent time with at least one of them too….

  4. Love you. Love how honest you are. Love these ideas.

  5. If there was a “give a hug” button I would pres it promptly. I send you my love and letting you know that you are not alone. I can commiserate.

  6. Evelyn, I know this post isn’t about me, but I want you to know that I appreciate it. I appreciate your ideas and I appreciate your words that have resonated with me tonight! Thank you for being courageous enough to share these words and stand up for parents and women like me!

  7. Thank you for your bravery and wisdom but especially the getting out of bed part. Because that much I can handle, too, and I handle it all better with you.

  8. Dear, sweet friend. There is so much I want to tell you. You are strong and brave. You are a wonderful friend. An amazing mother. You’re feisty as hell, and kinder than most people I’ve met. And yes, you too have your limits and faced them squarely this year.

    Resilience doesn’t mean never breaking down: it means picking yourself up again and again. And, dammit, that begins with heaving yourself out of bed every. single. morning.

    Rock on, resilient creature! \m/

    And please watch this if you haven’t already. We all have our closets to hide in, but there is strength in vulnerability:

    I LOVE YOU xoxoxox

  9. Pingback: For Anyone Who’s Still Standing | momsicle

Your Comments Feed My Blog

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s