Don’t Have a Panic Attack in the Arby’s Drive-Through

I woke up shaking—third time that week. Getting out of bed was painful and I was nauseous on the first sip of my breakfast shake. Anxiety normally only hits me really bad two, maybe three times a year; lately, it’s been almost every day for over two months. And every day is like this.

Generalized anxiety is bad on its own, with the irrational fears and brain fog, but the physical symptoms have been awful. I’m so anxious I can’t sleep, so I’m tired pretty much all of the time. My heart’s racing and my breaths are shallow, so I constantly feel like I just ran a few miles (in a bad way). Nausea is common. Cooking is hard because I’m constantly worried I’ll forget something and burn the house down.

Of course, life does not slow down when I’m depressed. I still have to cook for my family and do all the grocery shopping during a pandemic. (And going out during a pandemic is great for anxiety, of course.) My fast-paced job at an advertising agency can’t slow down. My son’s approaching school year will not slow down. When I can’t slow down, it takes a toll on me, and I’m just exhausted all of the time.

Lunch time rolls around and I decide I don’t have the energy to cook lunch for everyone that day, so I hop in my car to drive through Arby’s, hoping for the least amount of personal interaction possible. I order my food, remain pleasant, and get home and realize that half my order is missing. My wife and kid have food, but I have none. And, yes, I definitely paid for it. That’s the funny thing about depression: often, the things that should worry me don’t trigger it, but totally inane and ordinary things do. My boss had just called a meeting the day before letting us know that we lost a major client, but don’t worry, we should all get to keep our jobs. I’m totally fine with that. But I don’t want to drive back through Arby’s to let them fix my order because the lady working the drive-through might be mad at me.

At this point, my energy level is near zero, so I decide to give up and pick up a Soylent nutrition shake. My wife urges me to go back anyway, because it’s clearly their fault. At this point, the anxiety is so bad that I’m sure I’m going to wreck my car on the way there, and even if I do get there, the lady won’t believe me and I’ll have to pay again for my chicken sandwiches. I’m worried I’m missing important messages at work and will come home to a mess of emails that should have been answered immediately. 

I know none of this is rational or real. It’s not like I need someone to remind me that it’s all in my head (like that’s ever helped). If a fire alarm goes off in your office building, you might be annoyed, but you get out of the building. Alarms are going off in my head, and I’m annoyed,  but I can’t shut them off because they might be real. These are the same alarms that go off when there really is something to worry about, and my brain can’t determine which warning bells are real and which are false. Even when I will myself to keep going despite the alarms, my body is reacting as if it’s an emergency situation. With a whole host of physical symptoms, it is never accurate to say that “it’s all in your head.”

The woman working the drive-through is actually incredibly empathetic and asks a few questions to make sure she gets it right this time. She upgrades the size of my wife’s curly fries, throws in a cookie, and says she hopes I will accept her apology. I let her know I’m grateful and not angry, then grab the food and get home as fast as I can.

I hand my wife her curly fries and give the cookie to my son, then retreat to an empty room and sit in the corner of a couch and curl up into a little ball to eat my chicken sandwiches. Butterflies in my stomach, of course, but I won’t calm down any time soon. I eat my two chicken sandwiches and sit in silence for about ten minutes.

And you know what? They were good chicken sandwiches.

Tomorrow, on my doctor’s orders, I start Lexapro to deal with the anxiety a little more regularly. Because whether the crippling anxiety is hitting me twice a year or twice a week, there’s a good chance it doesn’t need to happen at all, and that’s what we’re trying to figure out. If I can live a better life, I want to, and I’m willing to make that happen. I got a few Xanax to get me through the next two weeks, but wish me luck with my first anti-anxiety medication.

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