Trigger warning: While this post limits details, it might be triggering to those who have suffered traumatic loss, a panic disorder, etc.
Have you ever felt like pain from the past was behind you only to have it smack you in the face many years later?
Well, that's what happened to me last night. I hesitated to share this story today out of fear of what you guys might think of me. You know, I'm here to help other sensitive folks like me transform anxiety. Don't I have this thing figured out?
The truth I faced last night is that while I've learned to manage anxiety quite well most of the time, there are moments that even I feel out of control. And this was no everyday anxiety. This was trauma that had resurfaced.
"Two steps" in an article sounds sort of funny to me, as two sounds like such a sad little number. Like there should be just one or three. But this is from my very real experience and I thought I'd share it with you despite it feeling incomplete. Here's what happened...
I hadn't had a panic attack in years, but here it was.
I've had difficulty sleeping in the last week or two. Jason and I usually go to bed at 9:30 (I know, so old) and our schedule has been screwy. My mind has been astir almost every night, so I turned to books (Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach & Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott, if you want recommendations). Both the act of reading and the content of the books helped me relax.
But last night was different. This time my mind somehow landed on a conversation my brother and I recently had about my mom's death.
On August 5, 2017, it will be ten years since we lost her. My mom died a sudden death and I don't want to go into the details in this article. But what I will say is that there were a lot of "unknowns" surrounding her passing. Most days I feel like I have come to peace with these unknowns. Last night was different.
I went down the rabbit hole into some dark and startling places. I immediately began bawling and suddenly I couldn't catch my breath. My chest felt tight and my head throbbed. My heart was beating rapidly and I felt like I was going to die. I had forgotten just how awful this level of panic is.
Jason was asleep in the other room and I didn't want to wake him, so I frantically flung myself onto the back porch.
I sat on the couch and after a few minutes started to find relief.
I attribute the relief of this particular panic attack to two things.
If you haven't watched my video series on techniques to release anxiety, you can view this specific technique here. All of the steps are explained in the video, including how to tap and create a cognitive reframing statement to move toward self-acceptance.
You'll see me demonstrate the technique in a calm and grounded manner in the video. Last night was not like that. I probably resembled something closer to a person on a bad acid trip. But even with little order to my tapping, it began to give me relief. The reason tapping works is that tactile stimulation helps to refocus our attention and draw us into our senses. And self-talk that reflects acceptance helps us to be okay with our experience in the moment.
Get outside when you are feeling bad. Seriously. As I laid on the couch tapping, I also started noticing the sounds of the rain and feeling the humid air, yet cool breeze graze my skin. Looking out into the solace of the night sky gave me pause about my place in this universe.
When we bring our awareness to our senses and begin to feel, hear, see, smell, and taste the world around us, we get pulled into the present moment and out of the past and future. From this place, we can begin to gain perspective and peace.
After a period of looking out into the trees, I eventually fell asleep right there in the outdoors.
Today I'm sleepy, but I am managing all of the everyday responsibilities and being present. No one would know I had the experience I did last night if I weren't telling you now.
How many of us are out there stricken with panic and intense emotion? We never really know. I hope that by disclosing my vulnerability, someone out there will feel less alone and have a couple of easy resources to explore.
***If you think you might be suffering from a panic disorder, please seek professional help by talking to your doctor or therapist. You might also save this Panic Hotline.