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.
– 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.