I had my first panic attack last night. Over something ridiculous. I am ashamed to post this (luckily, I blog anonymously). A lot of people will read this post and roll their eyes in disgust.
Ever since I was a small child, school has been my identity. I need praise. I need perfection. I push myself to the extreme to get it. That was true when I was 7, and it is true now, and I am nearly 24. I don’t know how to define myself with anything else. It is my life. I have been superhuman in the realm of learning for basically my entire life. I suck at sports. I don’t make much money. I’m not the pretty one or the funny one. I even suck at being a Christian. I have no talents or hobbies. As my good friend told me today, I have put all of my self-esteem and identity into one very familiar and, for me, stable bucket.
The problem is that when you are 24, you have other things you need to juggle besides your university coursework. Life happens, and you sometimes need to give your school work less attention and effort than you want to. Most people don’t have panic attacks about that. They just realize that paying the bills or maintaining relationships have much heavier consequence than messing up an assignment or exam. They make choices.
Last night, I basically fell short of my academic standards by a looonnnggg shot. It was pathetic. And the moment I realized it, I felt light-headed, my stomach hurt, my hands felt numb and shook, and my throat closed up. I felt out of control and wondered if I would die if I did not calm down. I found out that this was a panic attack. According the definition, I think I have technically had lots of small panic attacks while driving, but this was the first time I wondered if I was having some kind of allergic reaction and my throat was closing up.
I am alive. The point though, is not to share that I had a panic attack. I guess the point is for me to ask what is wrong with me? What kind of distorted worldview do I have that submitting something one minute late and sloppy for the first time in my life is what it takes to make my throat close up? Let’s not even go into the crying myself to sleep and then staying in bed all day today. I felt like my whole being was about to crumble with this one incident. I was no longer Supergirl in the only part of my life that has consistently gone well for me. I don’t know why my reaction to this objectively tiny event is maladaptive, over the top, and so uncontrollable for me . Probably sleep deprivation and the loads of coffee were not helpful. Clearly something needs to change. My entire well-being can’t reside in the basket of academia. My brain needs to see the world differently.
Can I learn to be happy without things being OK? Perfect? What really matters in life? How do I start to teach my brain to see the world and myself in much healthier ways?