My Anxiety Story: Part 1 - My First Anxiety Attack on Concert Day
It all started with a dinner. A fun, fancy, faculty dinner meant to be a celebration of the end of camp (and a reprieve from camp food). And it would have been celebratory except something didn’t quite settle with me. Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was the rich pasta after two weeks of cafeteria food. All I know is that I was miserable and stuck – MISERABLY STUCK – while my colleagues happily consumed two more courses.
We carpooled to the restaurant together, and I didn’t know my colleagues well enough to suggest we leave in the middle of such a fancy meal. I guess I could have called my husband to come get me, but I was trying to be strong and hold it together. For some reason I felt like I couldn’t leave? (months later I’m kicking myself for not just calling my husband!).
I made it through the last two courses, through deep conversations that I barely participated in, through a wrong exit, and finally up the dirt road to our cabin where my husband greeted me, and I could finally tell someone that I was NOT well.
The next morning, just before I was heading out to teach my final day of classes, I started to panic. I still felt unwell, I needed to eat, but the idea of eating made me feel nauseous. I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong, I just knew things were not right. I was shaking and crying. My husband told me I shouldn’t teach, but how could I not teach the last day?! And the first class was in 20 minutes!
I showed up to class feeling like a shell of myself. I told the kids I wasn’t feeling well and gave them free practice time. I hid behind a car and texted my boss requesting coverage for the remaining classes, feeling so angry with myself for being sick on the last day of all days and with an orchestral dress rehearsal and concert that same afternoon and evening – performing a work that had already been anxiety inducing all week in rehearsals (Daphnis et Chloe, 2nd flute, ALL the notes).
I went back to my cabin and attempted to eat and rest. While I was lying on my cot, half of my body started shaking violently, and I started to hyperventilate. Then it hit me.
I wasn’t “sick.”
I was having an anxiety attack.
I asked my husband for help, and he took me outside and told me to put my bare feet on the ground as he popped earbuds into my ears. A guided meditation started playing, and I eventually settled down. The rest of the afternoon was spent breathing and pacing the floor because I still had to play second flute on Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe.
Every colleague I encountered at the dress rehearsal looked at me with reservation, asking if I was ok.
Did I mention we had to play outdoors?
I sat in my chair, rhythmically breathing and fanning myself, trying to keep my energy low in order to get through the rehearsal.
Playing felt better – it was a distraction. Long rests in the music felt especially tedious, but I made it through the rehearsal and felt immediate relief when it was over. One more to go.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was calmer even though I still felt uneasy. I was distracted by packing up our cabin and preparing to drive home after the concert. I tried to eat more for energy, a banana, a tiny bit of chicken, an even tinier bit of rice.. but I couldn’t stomach much else.
It was time to get ready for the concert. I started to get scared again. What if I get sick in the middle of the concert? What do I do?? On the outside I was collected, but on the inside, I was panicking.
I got sympathetic looks from my colleagues as I walked on stage. The principal flutist assured me that if I needed to go during the concert to just get up and go. I repeated the breathing and fanning myself with sheet music since it seemed to help during the dress rehearsal, and one piece after the next, I made it through.
When it was over the principal turned to me and said, “The good news is now you know you can play sick.” But I was already breathing much freer, I had never felt such sweet relief.
Goodbyes were said, and my husband and I started on our way home, thankful that the anxiety was behind me.
But it wasn’t.
The effects of that anxiety attack lingered and bled into my daily life back home in Kentucky. Nausea, panic, and a general feeling of “wooziness” overtook my body. The underlying physical discomfort and mental distress left me crumpled and in tears almost daily.
I can’t pinpoint one specific thing that triggered this anxiety attack. My therapist says it was a “perfect storm” of emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and physical illness that brought the underlying anxiety to the surface.
It was an unsettled stomach from dinner the night before. A feeling of being trapped. Fear of not being “good enough” to play with my colleagues. A lack of musical preparation on my part. Resentment towards a colleague that made me feel “less than.” Fear of my supervisors thinking I was flaking out on teaching that last day because we had already been paid.
See any patterns here?
A lot of it had to do with my concern over what OTHER PEOPLE thought of me.
This need to please other people.. to be good enough.. has been my narrative ever since I can remember, and for whatever reason, a switch flipped inside my brain that day in August, and it has taken MONTHS to return to a feeling of “normalcy.”
Anxiety is real, and it is more than being a little more stressed than normal.
This is just the beginning of my story with anxiety. No one’s story is the same, and anxiety affects each person differently. I hope that by sharing mine, you will feel a little less alone, and if you’ve never experienced anxiety – I hope this will give you some perspective and bring more awareness to the issue.
You never know what’s going inside of another person.
With peace & compassion,