Today I had a panic attack in yoga class.
I was in the Aerobics Classroom of the Y, twenty minutes into my second-ever yoga class, in the middle of Virabhadrasana, Fierce Warrior Pose, trying to concentrate on looking up between my eyebrows, when I began to feel my legs begin to tremble and my airway constrict, began thinking Not here not here not here please not here.
I wanted, desperately wanted, to keep some kind of control over myself. Two whole weeks of doing yoga have taught me, above all, that I don’t have nearly the control over my body that I thought I did.
For me to even sign up for a yoga class is something of a triumph, because there is nothing that makes me feel inadequate quite like an exercise class. I rely on my mind, my sense of humor, my love affair with words, the way I style my appearance, to present myself to others. In an exercise class, I have none of these things — I have only my fat body, my clumsiness and lack of strength or stamina, my spandex exercise clothes. In an exercise class, none of what’s showing is the Me I try to lead with.
After my first week of yoga class, I felt like a badass, just for signing up and following through. I did something utterly outside of my comfort zone, something that leaves me open to other people’s assumptions about me that I don’t have a forum to correct, something that displays, vividly, the things I am not good at.
I am not good at yoga. I hope I will get better.
But somehow, where last week’s class felt empowering and affirming, a challenge I am eons from being able to meet but one which I am excited to begin tiptoeing towards — somehow this week’s class felt suffocating, oppressive, something to close my eyes and hang on and wait for it to pass.
It’s not as if there was anything different about the class itself. This week the difference is only me, the fear that my body is betraying me, is not functioning the way I depend on it to function, that sent me into panic.
This week is the week that I began realizing that somehow my body isn’t working the way it normally works. This week is when I realized, all the exhaustion I’ve been feeling — the exhaustion that I first thought was because of an especially intense fall semester, then attributed to the collision between my grandmother’s death and finals week, then expected would pass once Christmas was finally over and life returned to normal — hasn’t passed. Has been slowly intensifying, even, to the point where I am sleeping ten hours a night and still longing for a nap, where I have to budget my energy in tiny increments: do I take a shower and reheat leftovers for dinner, or skip the shower and so I have the strength to cook something? Can I manage trips to both the library and the grocery store in one morning, or do I need to break it up?
The fact that this is a new sort of budgeting makes me realize how intensely privileged I am to live in a body that normally does what I expect it to do, even if it’s crap at yoga.
This sudden — or months-long, at most — betrayal by the body I’ve depended on for so long, and tried to take such good care of, is terrifying, and it’s yanked the rug out from under my psyche. I don’t know what’s wrong, and I’m afraid. I’m seeing my doctor tomorrow morning to try to figure out what’s causing it: Anemia? Low vitamin D? A wonky thyroid? Or is it simply time to fiddle with my antidepressant dosage?
I hope I’ll find answers tomorrow morning. Right now I am exhausted, and I am afraid. I don’t have the energy to push back against the anxiety that I can usually manage hold off pretty well, and every thought I have is wrapped in a film of panic, the sort of panic that I know is irrational but I can’t break out of even by rationalizing.
I had a panic attack in yoga. I was, and am, afraid my body would fail me, that it could not hold me, that I would fall. My body shook and my chest squeezed shut and I turned my back to the class and hoped no one would realize I was sobbing, and I tried with all the willpower I had left to do my freaking out as silently as possible. When I finally rejoined the class I tried to meditate on metta bhavana, lovingkindness toward my body, but I could not crowd out the whispers, What is wrong with you, what is wrong with you, what is wrong?
Update 1/13/12: Thanks, everyone, for your support. I made it through the snow to my doctor’s office this morning and had blood drawn for labs. He’s inclined to think this is a flare-up of my depression rather than something physical (we’ll get to his perception of depression being an emotional, not physical, problem another time) and will be solved by upping my dosage of Effexor, but he’s waiting for lab results back on iron levels, vitamin D, thyroid, etc., etc., to rule out other causes before we change anything, which I appreciate. After a long list of questions about my lifestyle, which I was able to give honest answers that I felt good about, I got only the mildest of suggestions that all of my problems could be solved by “taking care of [my] obesity,” but he followed it quickly with a disclaimer that he didn’t have any good solutions for how to accomplish that, and I’m too tired to resent him for it.
Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive about my choice to abandon dieting. The past couple of weeks, I’ve had midterms to study for and a major project to complete, things that turn me into a bundle of stress and trigger the perfectionist in me to go into hyperdrive. I struggle a lot with the need to be perfect – a major recurring theme of my past four years of therapy has been the struggle to accept myself as good enough, to embrace and reveal my authentic self instead of hiding behind a faux-perfect false self.
So when it comes to mainstream diet culture and the societally-embraced notions of diet and exercise, of what a woman’s body is supposed to look like, of the requirement to self-flagellate when we “fail” at dieting, of the equation of thinness with health — it’s awfully hard to choose to reject these; because even though I believe I’m making the best decisions for my body and my (physical, mental, and emotional) health, I worry that to everyone else, it looks like I’m failing. I worry that people will see me and think, She REALLY shouldn’t wear those pants. Or I can’t believe she just ordered french fries, when she looks like that. Or I hope I never get that way.
Success at dieting — even though it’s statistically elusive, temporary, and unhealthy — is at least visible. Success at rejecting diet culture — I’m not sure it looks like anything. Sometimes — like now, when my need for perfection is going full-speed-ahead — I want success others can see.
In our culture, people give compliments for losing weight. People do not give compliments for having a great self-image.
Right now, I’m feeling surrounded by reminders that I’m “doing it wrong.” This morning, a well-meaning friend added me to a Facebook group for “healthy moms”; I clicked through to find a lot of women criticizing themselves for not sticking to their eating plans, or not making time to do their daily 100 crunches, or caving in and having a snack after the kids were in bed. I immediately went abort abort abort! and closed the page, but I’ve been thinking about it all day, and I’m feeling pretty vulnerable to these sorts of messages right now.
A lot of this vulnerability right now is because I haven’t been making time for good self-care this week. I spent eight hours sitting in a booth at Panera yesterday, drinking too much coffee and pounding away at a research paper, while my husband and kids were out at the park, enjoying the first glimmers of spring. I’ve been staying up too late studying and worrying about making an A+, I’ve stopped making time for exercising, I’m letting myself eat food I’m not hungry for to medicate my crabbiness instead of dealing with the things that are making me crabby and stressed.
So I’m taking time, right now, to do some things just for me. I’m going to re-watch the body-positive Emma Thompson video that Fat Heffalump posted this morning. I’m going to turn on Adele and dance around the living room. I’m going to set my homework aside and snuggle with my boys. I’m going to eat a grapefruit, which is sounding amazing to me right now.
And if all of that doesn’t work, I’m going to re-post this tweet from @sween on the “healthy moms” facebook page: