A Post about Panic for World Mental Health Day 2015

Imagine suffering from severe claustrophobia and having to go in a lift. Now imagine that lift being absolutely packed full of other people – there is literally no space between any of you – then picture the lift breaking down. Can you imagine the absolute terror that would grip you, the very real sensation of being completely trapped? Your body shaking, your tummy churning, your breath smelling of fear, your heart feeling like it will bounce out of you, your head racing; thoughts all over the place, thinking the worst, losing control of your mind as you try desperately to grasp on to rationality? You are in full fight or flight mode but have nowhere to go.

Now imagine sitting at home safe and happy, drinking a cup of tea and then, wham, being hit with the sensations I’ve described. Sheer terror…for apparently no reason. Full fight or flight with nothing to fight and nothing to fly from.

Ok, you’re back in the lift. It has started working, the doors open and you tumble out. You still feel terrible (and probably will for the rest of the day at least) but you know the danger has passed. You let out deep sighs of relief as your fear subsides and your body stops shaking with the unspent adrenaline.

You’re at home again…the tea is cold now and there is still NO DANGER, which means there’s no danger to pass and so it feels as though there can’t be an end to the terror. You are completely trapped. And so you come to the only ‘logical’ conclusion you can muster – you are either dying or losing your mind.

Somehow it does pass – your muscles, geared up ready to flee from certain death, calm down. You stop being sick (a design fault in the old fight or flight set up!) and, while you feel so disappointed in yourself for ‘letting’ it happen again, all you feel you can do is droop shattered into a heap into bed.

Well I do anyway, as, for me, that’s a visit from my familiar acquaintance (we’re certainly not friends) that goes by the name of panic.

 

It hasn’t visited for a while and I’m getting better at managing the situations where it might. But I still have the anxiety that it’s there, lurking, so here’s what I want to say about panic:

– I don’t choose to panic, it’s not rational, I’m not doing it to be annoying and I’m certainly not doing it for attention.

– I haven’t told lots of people about it – not exactly a conversation starter is it!? – only a handful of friends and family know and that’s out of necessity.

– To be honest, it doesn’t feel fair that I have to feel this – that anyone has to feel this. I really hate it.

– Knowing that I have the propensity to suffer from panic attacks makes me feel mostly scared, sad, embarrassed and frustrated.

– If I could change one thing about myself it would be to take away panic attacks and also take away the fear of panic attacks.

 

BUT:

– Panic is a very small part of me, it isn’t all of me. I am not a sad, embarrassed and frustrated person. I am prone to worry and guilt, yes, but I am also self-assured, intelligent, outwardly calm and happy (sooo happy. Really if we’re saying anything is embarrassing it can sometimes be how darn happy I am).

– I wouldn’t change my ability to feel such panic. The ‘primitive’ part of our brains needs to recognise danger and ignite our bodies into action before the thinking part wakes up. My amagdala is focused on the job – my fight and flight system is robust and in full working order. It’s an amazing life-saving mechanism. True I’d be happy without the test drives of it, but at least I know it works hey?

– I am lucky in that I know my trigger and I know the cause (I haven’t always known). This doesn’t mean I avoid it totally, but I can manage the trigger situations and try to prepare myself. I would urge people to try and understand their triggers, perhaps with a panic diary or/and professional help – a pattern may appear. The world must seem unimaginably terrifying if you don’t know what situations or places trigger panic attacks.

– I haven’t died yet panicking and if I lose my mind I always find it again. It is ‘only’ a feeling – granted it’s one of the most intense one you’re likely to ever feel – but it is only a feeling and it is one that will pass.

– I have learnt the power of breathing. The ONLY way (without medication) that I can stop a panic attack once it has started is through breathing exercises.

 

Lots of people will suffer from at least one panic attack in their life and everyone experiences them differently. I’ve mentioned my panic disorder in a post only once before (here) and I have a hunch I won’t be making a habit of using it as a blog topic in the future BUT it’s World Mental Health Day today so it felt like a nudge to have a bit of a natter about it.

Mental health is universal, we all have it, just as we all have physical health. For some it’s ship-shape and shiny; for others it’s not; and then most of us are somewhere in the middle muddling through. There’s no shame in a broken arm (unless you did something really drunken and silly to get it) and so there shouldn’t be any shame in a panic attack.

I really hope that maybe this post will help someone else going through a period of panic, or maybe it will enlighten people so they can understand panic for someone else, or maybe it will just help me…let’s see.

Domesticated Momster
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27 thoughts on “A Post about Panic for World Mental Health Day 2015

  1. Fantastic post Lucy, I started getting panic attacks in school out of no where doing the one thing I loved which was reading out loud in class. It took away all joy from the one thing I used to love and I never wanted to do it again. I also panic when I have to speak in front of a group, I also don’t like to speak in group situations or in any situation where the attention is on me. My little “friend” is called social anxiety! Not pleasant, not easy to live with but now that I have a diagnosis I can start getting treatment. I have been accepted onto a group CBT program starting in Feb.

    Mental health is so important and I love that you have been so open and honest. Do you have generalised anxiety? I am quite a worrier too and tend to live my life saying “what if” but luckily I don’t get panic attacks outside of the above situations I mentioned. It must be so tough to get them at home and out of nowhere. Breathing really does help as you said. Have you tried meditation/mindfulness? Xx

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    1. Oh Nicola, that sounds horrible. Hopefully the CBT will really help. No I don’t have generalised anxiety, or social anxiety…i’m in the third category of ‘panic disorder’. I found CBT useful for all the brain stuff, I love sciencey stuff! Mindfulness is wonderful, i have a fab book who’s name I can’t remember. I’m on holiday but will try to look it up and will let you have the title when I do. It’s also got lots of brain stuff in so very useful! You may already know of it as i think it’s quite a popular one.
      Thank you very much for commenting, happy world mental health day! XX

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      1. Hi Lucy,
        Thanks for your kind words and also for sharing the title to the book you recommend. I will have a look into that later. I find mindfulness brilliant, I probably take a more spiritual interest than scientific but either way, as long as it is beneficial that is the main thing 🙂

        I would like to be open about it with everyone but I feel that people just don’t understand social anxiety and imagine a person who is socially inept and a bit of a recluse and that is just not me. I am really sociable and bubbly but its the anxiety that I feel during and after social interactions that eats me up. That said, since my son started school over a year ago I have felt a lot of improvement mainly because of exposure. I tend to avoid a lot of things for me but don’t when it comes to my son as I can’t be selfish where he is concerned. I am feeling positive anyway and looking forward to meeting other people with this condition as sometimes I feel like the only person in the world with these issues.

        Anyway sorry for blabbing on. Chat soon xx

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    2. P.S I think getting a diagnosis is so helpful in so many ways, not least because you feel as though you can sort something out that is a known quantity. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Prof Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman. Have you come across it? It’s fab x

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  2. Wow, great post. I used to get very bad claustrophobia in planes (Ryanair to Ireland so not very big planes!), it was so horrible. It has got a bit better, I agree that breathing really helps. I didn’t know it was Mental Health day today so thanks for making me more aware of it. You describe panic so well. xxxx

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    1. Thank you Annie. I didn’t know it was World Mental Health Day today until recently but thought it would be a good opportunity to share a post that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Claustrophobia in planes must have been so horrible, particularly if you had to make the journey a lot. Glad it’s got a bit better. Thank you very much for commenting x

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  3. Oh my! I’ve had a couple of run ins with panic but only in fairly extreme conditions, so I can only imagine how consuming it must be in the situation you describe.
    Bravo for publicly tackling your demons, Through my eyes a very powerful post of you putting panic firmly in its place! x

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  4. Great post. I have panic disorder, can have several panic attacks each day right out of nowhere, and it is very much mis-understood. I’m in CBT for my anxiety and panic at the moment, am finding it massively helpful! Well done you for sharing this, I’m sure so many people can relate! Xx

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    1. That sounds so scary. I agree, it’s definitely misunderstood. Or if it’s not I think it is. It’s good to hear the CBT is helpful. I found having clear knowledge about which part of the brain was doing what so helpful and also building up a toolbox of positive thoughts and positive experiences. I hope the rest of the CBT goes well for you and makes a difference,I really do xxxxx

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  5. This is a great post, Lucy. I get panic attacks (& I’m also claustrophobic and afraid of lifts!). Love how well you’ve described them. Unfortunately, my main trigger is my fear of death. I can sometimes block thoughts and distract myself from thinking about anything that will bother me, but external triggers are hard to avoid. & I can’t really contemplate the idea of trying to get treatment for the panic attacks because I can’t see how it would help. No one can tell me I won’t die & therefore discussing it only makes the panic worse.

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    1. Oh Silly One that sounds very scary. I’m sorry I’ve only just seen this as on my (farcical) holiday as you know and just coming back to blog for momsterslink. Hmm. I can completely see how talking about it would make the panic worse. And completely understand that as well, sometimes if i start deep breathing I feel more panicky because that’s what i do in a panic attack…it’s a Catch 22 (to stick with your theme). Have you tried any books? The sciencey ones are great – they tell you which part of your brain causes you to think certain ways, including catastrophisation which can be a huge part of panic. And at least with a book you can pick it up and put it down when you want. Claustrophobia must be awful…I always think we must all be a bit claustrophobic – being in small spaces is just not completely natural is it!? Thank you for sharing too x

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      1. Maybe a book would be a good idea as a starting point. No, I’ve never tried it. I’ve had panic attacks since I was very young about this (about 7 or 8), and have always tried to use distraction techniques. Yes, I sometimes get the panic related to trying to control panic too. Usually, it is when I will try to block my mind because I know I am going to panic, but then hyperventilate because I still feel the panic about blocking the panic.

        I imagine claustrophobia is a fairly natural fear, yes – cornered animal fear and everything. I struggle with not being in control so death, being trapped, etc, all bad. I don’t think I can blame my arachnophobia on this issue, though – I just don’t like all their legs! xx #momsterslink

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  6. Panic attacks are very real and people who have never experienced them, cannot understand this. I’ve had a few panic attacks several years ago when I was in the midst of my PTSD. It was really scary and the guilt trip I put myself on was worse because that lasted for several days. Just know that you are not alone. Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s going to help a lot of people who suffer from panic attacks, quite possibly more than you realize. Visiting from #momsterlink

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    1. You are so right about the guilt, I completely agree – I couldn’t quite describe the feeling but yes it’s definitely guilt and I also always feel really disappointed. The emotional rollercoaster that takes place in the days afterwards can be horrendous. Thank you for your kind words and for popping by xx

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  7. These symptoms are very familiar to me. My attacks come when im out in public, even at work. I have actually mastered the art of apearing perfectly normal and in control on the outside while feeling all that on the inside. It is as you say exhausting. #Momsterlink

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  8. Oh that sounds so horrible. I’m sorry. Yes, I too have in the past managed to master the art of appearing calm while in turmoil inside…mine definitely haven’t always happened at home…although I always know I’ll be sick so have to excuse myself pretty quickly! I hope you have someone at work you can give the nod to, or a safe place there you can go to get back to you. It’s just horrible. Thank you for reading and commenting #momsterslink

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  9. I have been battling with a lot of these lately and the one morning a couple weeks ago seriously thought I was going to need a trip to the hospital. They are awful and although I haven’t seen a doctor about them yet I will mention it at my next check up. Between that and my sleeping disorders my doc is probably going to think I am crazy. We don’t have a choice of good doctors to see here and I refuse to pay for a psychiatrist. I too try to calm down with breathing and stretching. Thanks for sharing with #momsterslink.

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    1. Oh no, how annoying! Shame you don’t have a some good docs but still worth mentioning I’m sure. I really think are some great books around as well that can really help people who can’t access free professional help to manage symptoms and thoughts….might be worth a try? Thanks for hosting! xx

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  10. Great post and really brave of you to write this! I used to get so panicked on the tube that I couldn’t use it when I first moved to London. I’m able to take it now but, a couple of days ago, I was on the Northern Line and the tube stopped momentarily between Embankment and Waterloo – I felt everything you described in your first paragraph! Horrible, horrible – I can’t imagine how horrendous for it to just grab you out of the blue.

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    1. Oh no, that must have been horrible. But so amazing that you have reached a place where you can now take it despite feeling those things from time to time. I do understand my triggers more now so although it may appear out of the blue I can pretty rapidly work out what and why. But yes it has definitely been a bit unnerving (to put it mildly!) Thank you for commenting x

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  11. This is an excellent post. Your description of a panic attack is spot on. I’ve never read such an accurate description. It is such a stigma still and yet if people were more aware of the common place of them then people could support each other so much better. This must have been a very difficult post to write. I couldn’t… not yet x

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