Panic! at the Y

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.


4 thoughts on “Panic! at the Y

  1. Have a hug. I mean it. That must have felt so awful, I’m really sorry. I’m glad that once you realized this isn’t going to just go away on its own you made a doctor’s appointment. It’s the right thing to do. Many people would’ve tried to make themselves “stick it out” although this wouldn’t have made any sense in your case. I think it’s really cool that you’re putting in the effort to take such good care of yourself. But oh, that mental picture of you trying to hide your panic and your crying from the rest of the class makes me so sad. If I had been there I would’ve hugged you. I keep my fingers crossed that there’s only a minor thing “wrong” with you, like a vitamin deficiency, something that can be fixed relatively easily. Keep us posted!

  2. Panic attacks are the worst thing ever, and I’m sorry to hear you suffered an attack in yoga. It’s so tough to have to hide them from other people. I have severe panic disorder, and I get treatment at what is considered one of the best anxiety disorders center in the country. One thing several doctors there told me is that, for people with panic disorder, mediation and things like yoga are actually not the best things to do. In fact, they told me I may never be able to do them. You might want to ask your doctor about that – it’s counterintuitive, but it made sense once they explained it to me. In fact, a lot of the advice I got from physicians and regular therapists was shot down once I started seeing experts in anxiety issues. I hope you feel better soon. And keep in mind that mental health can affect so much more than just your mood, so don’t worry too much until you know what’s happening.

  3. Panic attacks suck no matter where they happen, but to happen in the middle of a yoga class that is supposed to be about relaxing… that sucks even more. I’ve had similar things happen to me.

    I still get them, but I cope with them a whole lot better than I used to. Mostly by being able to recognise them for what they are when they happen.

    I hope you find a way to minimise yours as much as possible and you’re feeling a whole lot better soon.

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