What’s good readers? I apologize for the infrequency of posts as of late. I was going through a tough period. Some of you may know that I’m a graduate student. The way my program works, we take an intensive period of class for the first year, and at the end we have qualifying exams which basically determine if you are or are not fit to remain in the program. I have been doing well, but needless to say the prospect of the degree I’ve been working towards for the better part of my life being on the line here, was pretty stressful. We were given a month to prepare for the two day long exam, during which I studied day in and day out. For someone like me, it was quite difficult to focus for that many days in a row. In high school I didn’t study, and even in college I always did things last minute. I knew I couldn’t afford to approach these exams the same way.
When the first day of the exams arrived I was anxious, but not worried. I had 6 hours to answer 5 multi-part essay questions, and I immediately moved to the last two questions, which I knew I could answer perfectly. I typed for what was (apparently) 4 hours answering these questions only to realize that I now had 2 hours left for the three questions which were most challenging, some of which I did not have a readily accessible answer to at all. This is when the panic set in. And when I say panic I don’t mean worry. I mean heart racing, mind scrambled, muscle paralyzing, “I have to get out of here”, I feel nauseous, full on panic. I was having a panic attack. Sure, in the past I’d been really worried about things and said “oh I’m having a panic attack” or something to that effect, but until that moment, I didn’t know what I was talking about. (it feels necessary to stop here and explain that I am not condemning the use of the term “panic attack” to describe lesser phenomena. The concept of hyperbole is not one that escapes me, or other level-headed individuals.)
The point is, I had an attack. After the exam let out that day I spoke to a friend who suffers from an anxiety disorder, whom I had seen go through panic attacks. As I described the sensations she confirmed that it was just like what her attacks felt like. Luckily for me, I only had to suffer through one full night of panic, insomnia, and anxiety like that. The next day of the exam I was worried I would suffer another attack, but I was lucky enough to maintain just a basal level of panic, and I felt good about the exam when I walked out. I’ve since received notice of my passing score (more than half of my class was not so lucky), and been able to largely move on from that week or so after the exam when I hadn’t heard back. During that week nightmares and more panic attacks plagued me, and all I could think was “at least there is a good reason”.
What I mean by that is, at least I was panicking because my entire success in my field was riding on these results, and my first real panic attack had really screwed up the first part of the exam. I am so much luckier than people who have some disorder or mental illness which causes panic attacks at the smallest thing. I remember clearly the hopelessness, the absolute impossibility of “calming down”. I don’t know how I could survive if those kinds of ordeals were my everyday reality. They have since passed, although my body somehow still feels taught and never quite relaxed. I want to say how brave and how strong people legitimately suffering with anxiety and panic attacks are. Of course there are tons of people out there who will say they suffer from these phenomena, most likely because they have never experienced a full-blown attack. I know I certainly had no idea what it was truly like until that fateful morning. But those people aside, I have so much respect for people who deal with their disorders on a regular basis.
I know I can’t convey the actual sensation of an attack to anyone who hasn’t experienced one, but please appreciate the intensity of some of these struggles. There are many people out there suffering from a loss of control that people like me may never have to encounter, and if we do it will be for a short period (relatively) and probably brought on by something we can at least rationalize.
In other news, I hope to be updating the blog a lot more now that I am past my exams. I am looking into a nice microphone to perhaps start recording some podcast style discussions for the page, and I already have a few ideas for some future articles in the same vein as my article on biological constructions of sex. Thanks, for following and reading!