My first panic attack happened some five or six years ago, and that was the most severe so far. The first weeks after my first one weren’t easy. Those of you who suffer from panic attacks know how it feels after the first time. Where, before the first attack you had no idea about how terrifying this experience is, now you almost fear it happening every other second of your life. This constant fear can easily become quite a burden to your every-day life.
Whilst I wouldn’t say I suffer from severe anxiety disorder, I do suffer from panic attacks, at times. I had one this morning, at the office, and it wasn’t a light one. I’m blogging about it for various reasons:
- I’m not shy about it – and neither should you be. This is important, as we’ll see later on.
- I want to help you. No, I am not promising a solution. I cannot, because if there is, I certainly haven’t found it yet. But we’re in this together and that means we can help each other.
- To hit two birds with one stone and use this opportunity to raise awareness in the general public who every so often says something stupid like “it’s all in your head.”
First of all: no, it’s not just you. Does that make it go away? No. But does it make it more bearable? Maybe. Will that make it easier for you to speak up? Yes. Would that help you then? Definitely!
Second, it is of crucial importance that you are not shy about it. This part is important for all that I am about to tell you next (that aside, it is also important because denying any part of you whoever or whatever you are: is stupid).
I’m sure that if you suffer from panic attacks you’ve more than once made your research and tried to find a solution for it out there. I sure did, for many many weeks following the first incident. I’m going to speak to you about what “solution” works for me. It didn’t work immediately, and is nothing close to Jesus-magic. It’s doesn’t make panic attacks less painful, but it has made them less terrifying. More affront-able, less feared. Not like turning a 10-foot giant into a 5-foot man, but more like affronting and facing that same 10-foot giant knowing that you can escape by running between the space between his wide-open feet (this symbolism sucks a a bit, I know, but how else can you escape a 10-foot giant?).
Whenever a panic attack strikes at me I experience the wholeness of the psychological phrase: flight response. My body wants to run, if not fly away from the situation. When this happens, my brain is triggering the same chemical stuff that is triggered if I were attacked by a cougar (or a 10-foot giant!). What is irritating is the fact that my brain controls me, and makes my body react to a cougar attack when there is really no imminent danger in the room at all. Yes… damn brain!
Then I take deep breaths.
Wait, don’t roll your eyes at me. I’m sure you’ve read this “solution” a thousand times and tried to apply it a thousand more. I, too, remember myself telling my wife (my fiance back then) how this seems to be the most common solution proposed by doctors and the internet (it’s not entirely full of crap, you know?). It never worked for me… until the day I started admitting to myself and others that these panic attacks are one of my (many) weaknesses. My burden, my very own cross to carry. That I am prone to its heavy hand at anytime. I started to admit it, and to talk about it, and hide it less and less. I like to quote Tyrion Lannister here, again and again:
So the next time this big 10-foot giant attacked, I could close my eyes and take deep breaths without giving a damn about whoever was around me and whatever they were thinking.
See? There’s a lot of meaning behind those three words proposed on the internet: “take deep breaths”. If you’re just going to do it physically, then it won’t work.
A panic attack is your brain freaking out and convincing your body that it is in danger and it needs to fly away. It takes your whole self to convince yourself otherwise.
So the next time you close you eyes and take deep breaths, do it without giving a damn about those around you and do it with your whole, entire, self.
Focus solely on the sound of your breath… in, and out. In, and out.
Don’t open your eyes.
In, and out. In, and out.
Any part (if not all) of your body will be urging you to flee. Yes… I know because I’ve been there many times. No, don’t try to convince it otherwise, because you’d be using your brain to do that. And your brain is your enemy, while this lasts.
In, and out. In, and out.
I said close your eyes!
And listen to your breathing…In, and out. In, and out.
Don’t worry about those surrounding you. No, don’t listen to them nor your brain convincing you and your whole body to get up and run. Just close your eyes, and listen to your breathing…
In, and out. In, and out.
This sometimes takes me 2 seconds. Depending on the severity of the attack. This morning it took about 30. Yes: breathe and listen to your breathing, and to nothing else.
If this doesn’t work the first time. Try it again the next time, or the next. I don’t remember on which time round it started working for me. One thing I know, however: while it sucks to suffer from panic attacks – and I’m a realist enough to understand the above might not completely work for you – I still want you to know you are not alone.
No, you are not alone.