“Fuck! Ok, calm down. It’s just a panic attack. You are safe…”
Another jolt of panic..
“I’m gonna die I’m gonna die..” I whisper to myself.
“You’re not gonna die. That’s horrible self talk, where the fuck did that come from?” I reply
My mind flashes a million miles a second, replaying all the reasons that I am gonna die. My heart palpitates..
“This is it! I’m gonna die. I’m having a heart attack. That was the sugar that’s gonna push me over the edge and I’m gonna die.”
Panic waves over me again. Have you ever half tripped.. you know.. when you almost fall, but your reflexes catch you, and you prevent it. Without even thinking, you catch yourself, you don’t fall, and you are safe. Ok.. so you know that feeling of panic, right before all of that autopilot stuff happens.. THAT .. that is what that wave of panic feels like.. but it keeps coming.. just like waves.. the big one knocks you down, and if it’s a strong one, it might even pull you under.
Under could best be described as disconnected.. checked out.. for anyone looking in from the outside. The fear factor is so strong that the mind has splintered and taken the host someplace else, away from the trigger, trauma.. whatever it is.
Checked out – defined from the hosts point of view – ok bare with me.. that caused a wave of panic just to think about. “Breathe. It’s okay.. it’s the right hand side of your chest that hurts.. it’s not a heart attack.. it’s a panic attack.. and its really fucking stupid because all you are doing is sitting writing about panic attacks.. to educate other people who have loved ones that suffer from these fuckers, and don’t have the ability to describe what it is, and what would help. You’re also writing to show other people that suffer with them.. and possibly so much so that they are questioning whether to continue living with this.. that there is hope..”
Obviously, I still have panic attacks.. I am in the middle of feeling it right now.. because I took a shower.. yea.. my triggers can be that basic at times.. but “I am ok.. I have survived every panic attack I have ever had, and I will survive this one too.” Okay.. its easing up.. so.. from the inside, .. splintered.. checked out.. its like being on a simulator ride… ok .. anxiety is rising.. I need to figure out a way to say this without reliving it… blah.. ok just write it .. it’s like a simulator of all your most traumatic moments, being played.. being felt.. being relived… to the outside person.. watching someone on a simulator, react to what looks like nothing going on.. that’s the difference in perceptions of that moment for those two people. Wow.. that was pretty awesome.. I haven’t thought about it like that before. Why was that so hard to write? Well, every time I tried to picture it, I saw my own filmstrip, and it’s like peeking your head into a nightclub. It gets loud really quickly!
Ok.. so what can you do for that person?
Know that asking them that question, in the moment, escalates the panic. Why? Well, now they have to try and focus on breathing, and answering the question, and worrying about what you might be thinking, or that they’re worrying you!!! Oh god… too much! It’s a great question, but save it for a grounded conversation over lunch, or coffee.. chances are that the person panicking may have a list of things that they know help them, but they can’t focus long enough to access that list in the moment.
In case they don’t have any coping skills.. here are some things that help me…
- Keywords and phrases… these may sound obvious, but to the scattered mind it takes a lot of repetition, and refocusing to stay long enough in these words, that it makes a difference.
- “safe”.. you are safe, I am safe.. everyone is safe..
- “grounding” .. Think about things that ground you
- “breathe” .. Deep breathing.. Breathe with them.. breathe in counting to 4, hold it counting to 4, exhale while counting to 4.. if this causes another spike in the panic.. use the Distract, Relax, and Cope technique and then come back to the Square breathing. (Here is a video I made that might help)
- Distract Relax and Cope! – this is an amazing technique. It was explained to me using a simple demonstration, which I will ask you to do now. Hold your leg out infront of you, suspended in the air. Keep counting until you reach that moment where you can’t hold it up any longer..push thru.. it hurts right? Now keep it up and sing.. “Hello.. it’s me.. I was wondering if after all this time you’d like to meet….” Keep singing..
Okay, did you notice how the shift in focus took the intensity of holding your leg up down a notch or two? (You can put your leg down now my overachievers) THAT is the technique of Distract. Once the mind is distracted, it can then relax.. To distract your panic stricken friend, talk about something completely random.. don’t ask questions.. just give them something to listen to.. paint a picture, or tell a funny memory.. in doing so, you are redirecting the film playing in their mind, while getting them grounded to their sense of sound. The two worlds cannot co exist. Once you feel you have their attention, notice their breathing.. if it isn’t yet deep, then go back to the breathing and counting for the “relax”
Cope – this is the part when the person revisits whatever it was that triggered them, from a calm, grounded place. For me today it was taking a shower. I feel grounded enough to remember what happened.
I was in the shower, the water was hot.. I couldn’t remember if I had locked the bathroom door. I currently have guests staying thru AirBnb. The what if’s took over. What if he comes in? What if he hurts me? What if I need my phone and I left it in the bedroom? In fact.. I bet that was the trigger. I didn’t realize I didn’t have my phone until I was already undressed, and I heard it go off in the bedroom. I needed to go get it, but I told myself I would be okay until I got back in there. I am not at a place in my recovery where I believe that. Having my phone on me at all times gives me a sense of safety.. that SHOULD I collapse, get kidnapped, have a seizure, completely fall apart… I have my phone to get help. Showers are a trigger for me. I should’ve just gotten dressed and gone and got the phone… that would’ve probably prevented this panic attack, but I didn’t. Why? Because I don’t need my phone to be safe.. that is my goal.. to be able to feel safe purely because I am safe.. and not because I have all these safety nets for all of my “what ifs”
- Get in touch with their senses..
- Taste – Peppermints help me, or strong minty gum.
- Smell – tea tree oil is a good one! It’s potent. Vanilla sugar cookie candles. Even better.. cooking, or baking.. that always helps me because it reminds me of my grans kitchen which is one of my safe scenes.
- Sound – sometimes calm meditation music helps, sometimes 80s helps.. sometimes silence helps.. just watch their body language.
- Touch – a bag of ice or frozen veg on the wrists. Something extreme to snap the mind back. . there have been times when I have been so disconnected that my nerves couldn’t feel. This is one of the things that leads to self harm and cutting. Wanting to feel something. If this isn’t a sense that can be accessed yet, come back to it. Drawing attention to that fact can increase panic.
- Sight – This is probably the last sense that can be accessed. The persons vision is on the filmstrip playing in their mind. They aren’t even here. Nothing exists outside of the body.. the world is big enough in the mind. This is why safe scenes work well. A safe scene is an actual picture that the person can focus on. It’s a place they have already predetermined as a safe place in previous therapy, or even to themselves. Earlier I mentioned this in regards to my grans kitchen. While I may not be able to see the world around me, I can see the filmstrip. My grans kitchen is very vivid. I’m stood on a stepping stool that my granddad has made so that I can reach the counter. I am squeezing sausage meat out of the links to make stuffing for our Sunday roast dinner. We are happy. I am safe. I smell the chicken roasting in the oven. I remember the smell of gingerbread filling the house. I remember all the vegetables that we made and ate. I can feel her love. – That is where I have to stop, because that memory then begins to turn into sadness as I miss her now that she is gone, and although it is okay to feel any emotion.. that doesn’t serve me, or this blog right now!
Another safe scene I used for a long time is a picture I drew of the harbor. The boats bobbing up and down. I can hear the seagulls flying overhead. I smell the salty air, and I can feel the warmth of the sun covering me like a blanket. The creeky boards of the dock. The sound of the waves lapping against the wall. I would imagine myself standing there and deep breathing… there’s no wonder that I now choose to live by the sea.
Well… those are the basics that help me in the moment. Ask your loved one, when they aren’t panicking, what works for them? J I hope I have helped someone somewhere.. and even if I haven’t .. I am not grounded, and can get dressed and go for a walk!