Image found here.
Darkness closing in. Limbs trembling. Heart racing. Creeping cold over my skin and raging bubbling fire in the pit of my stomach. Palms sweating. Crippling fear of…who knows what? Everything. Nothing. A sense of detachment, removal from what’s around me. Feeling both smothered and exposed. Vulnerable. Mind wheeling in dizzying circles. Nausea setting in. Wishing to escape.
This is my experience of panic attacks. Terrible debilitating things. If you have experienced them yourself this might look familiar, or it might not, because panic attacks affect people very differently. If you have not experienced them then think of a time you were truly terrified, and then imagine that feeling springing on you completely out of the blue, possibly with no trigger at all. It’s not a pleasant experience.
I went through a period of having several attacks a day and it was completely exhausting. They are such draining things to deal with and on top of the attacks themselves there is the FEAR of an attack to manage. It’s so hard to not let this fear affect how you live your life. It’s tempting to avoid places and scenarios where attacks have occurred in the past in case it happens again. That is no way to live.
I still experience panic attacks but nothing like as bad or as often as they used to be. For me, travel was a particular trigger. If I find myself somewhere new, or possibly even just somewhere that is not home, I can find panic setting in. They happen mostly in the evenings around the time we would normally have dinner and as such eating in the evening whilst away from home became kind of a big deal for me. For a long time I was so ashamed of these attacks and saw them as so ridiculous that I just tried to deal with them without help. That wasn’t viable. I eventually fessed up to my now-hubby about what was going on and he has been incredible in helping me manage them and, to some extent, overcome them.
I refuse to let them rule my life. I love to travel and see new places so I’m not going to let the fear of panic stop me. I have slowly developed many ways to cope with my panic attacks; playing cards games; watching something very familiar and light (Friends or the BBCs Pride and Prejudice are my go-to choices); going for a walk; sometimes a really tight hug will help me calm down as it eases the trembling and feels safe; changing my environment helps, so if the attack started in my bedroom I’ll move to the lounge (if I’m away and just have the one room then changing locations in the room, move from the ed to the chair or pull the pillows down onto the floor and make a little nest, whatever works).
In spite of all these mechanisms for coping sometimes they don’t work and I just have to ride it out. But I’m getting better at that too. I accept that this is the situation. I acknowledge how bad I feel. Then I remind myself that it will end because they always have before. I remind myself that although it doesn’t feel like it I am perfectly safe and there is nothing there to harm me. And repeat until the attack eases off. Usually it exhausts me to the point the the end of the attack is me falling asleep and I don’t realise it’s over until the next day (usually waking up with a stuff neck from being so tense!).
So if you are suffering from panic attacks please remember there are many ways to cope with them and over come them, you are not alone, you do not need to be ashamed of what is happening. Accept that at that particular moment it is your reality and find a way to manage it but remember that it is only a moment and not forever.
For further reading here is an interesting article on myths we tell ourselves about panic attacks.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.