Having several mental health diagnoses can make daily life a bit of a struggle. Adding stress to daily life can cause a number of issues such as panic and anxiety attacks. When my grandfather suddenly died a week after finding a small spot of cancer in his throat, I spent time with my grandmother to help her adjust to not being alone.
However, the added stress of his passing, being away from my home and comfort zone, and several other factors during that winter caused me to have extreme panic attacks. I dealt with them the best way that I knew how. I tried not to let her see me in my worst states in hopes of keeping her calmer.
One morning as we were sipping coffee and watching the snow fall, she asked what a panic attack felt like to me. We are from the country. This is how I explained:
Imagine yourself walking alone a trail in the woods alone. You are a good distance from the house, but you can see it still. You glance over your shoulder and back to suddenly face the largest bear that you have ever seen. He’s standing on his back legs with arms spread. You see his claws and his teeth. You know he’s in an attack position.
Now think about how your body is responding. Your breathing changes to a more rapid speed. Your heart rate increases. Your palms become sweaty. Your thoughts begin to race as you try to decide the best way to handle this. Do you run? There’s no way you can outrun him. Do you climb a tree? No. He climbs too. Do you stand there in fear? Do you scream? Do you remember what you are supposed to do? You are full of fear. You feel frozen. You feel like you are paralyzed and can’t move while your breathing and heart rate continues to change. You feel sick at your stomach. You don’t know what to do. You just want it to stop. You just want to wake up from this nightmare. You don’t feel like this moment will never pass. You feel like you are about to die.
Now remove the bear and the woods. You are safe in your house. The doors are locked. Everything is calm. There is nothing around you to harm you in any way. Yet your body and mind still have the same response as if you were facing that bear. Now what do you do?
She looked at me as if she had seen me for the first time. She told me that she never knew what I went through and asked for me to help her learn things that she could do to help me in these situations.
For me, it is hard for anyone else to help. Moving my body such as shaking my arms, trying to slow down my breathing, changing small things such as lighting and music in the room, and reassuring myself that I’m safe are things that help.
Photo Credit: unsplash-logoChris Geirman