PANIC!! Don’t move! Wait, I can’t; I am frozen! Don’t breathe! I can’t catch my breath anyway! It was a normal night until I had a panic attack. Those damn things strike when you least expect them. And I am on medication, isn’t that supposed to stop these things?
I was lying on my side. Night had settled around me like a blanket. My eyes closed, snuggling against my sleeping husband (how does he do that? He goes to sleep so quickly). It had been a typical day. I was feeling pretty good as I snuggled into bed, content that the next day would be a good one too. When suddenly…
BAM! PANIC ATTACK!
I can’t catch my breath; I start to sweat. Uh-oh. Then my heart joins in the fray. Beating so fast and loud, I know that it will wake my husband. Shh. I think to my heart and my brain—no need to do this now.
Sigh. Much like telling someone not to think of a white elephant, telling my brain to knock it over did not work. Okay, so telling myself not to have a panic attack is not working. Duh, that’s like saying don’t think of a white elephant. DOH!
Again, next idea. Um, what the hell am I supposed to do? Okay, calm down. CALM DOWN??!!! I can’t calm down; hello, PANIC ATTACK! It’s occurring right now; there is no calming down. Sheesh. It is hard to decipher what to do when my brain is the one creating the overwhelming situation, putting every dangerous response into action.
My rapidly beating heart was attempting to exit my chest cavity like a chest-burster from the Alien franchise. Steady there little heart, I thought. There is something I can do; I know there is, I need to remember what.
Right! I’ve got it! My mantras, right, right, okay, what the heck are those? My mind is entirely blank. Well, this is great. Just great.
Wait, I think I have it; I remember one. Okay, I have it. Whew, okay, try not to die while I get this started. Well, I remembered one, and that was the one I think I needed, so I jump right into that. Amid my panic attack, I try so hard to regulate my breathing while repeating one of my mantras.
Over and over again, I repeat those phrases. I focus on one of them like my life depends on it. I feel like my life depends on it. I get into a rhythm. I focus everything I have on those words. Which let’s face it, at the time wasn’t much because my brain was still sending out red alerts to my entire body.
I was also trying to figure out why which I suppose is not the best thing amid a panic attack. But if not then, at the moment, then when? Once the moment has passed, I won’t be able to be back in that moment to figure it out.
As my therapist tells me, I need to figure out how to talk to my critter brain. And panic attacks are such a critter brain. Panic attacks are reacting before my higher thinking system has a chance to weigh in on it.
Panic Attack Trigger
Thinking about needing to get up to use the bathroom was the trigger. Yeah, I know; WTF, you are saying as you read this. Tell me about it. How would thinking about the fact that I had to pee would initiate a panic attack?
Well, at the time, I didn’t understand it either. I am not sure that I still understand it, but that feeling remained with me through the next day. I was tired. It was the kind of tiredness that I couldn’t think straight.
I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I don’t like letting myself cry. It isn’t my thing, which means that crying is a level of vulnerability that I am not comfortable with. Keeping control and not allowing others to see my emotions was how I survived.
There is NO CRYING
Crying is showing weakness; crying is showing that you are hurting. And there is no way that I am crying. Even though I AM hurting, holding onto that hurt, pulling it within myself, is very painful, and I need that release. I know I do, but I won’t let it happen. It is my brain stopping me from feeling the feelings.
I think that night, some of those feelings slipped through, which started the panic attack. My guard was down; I had a great day and was feeling pretty good about things. And then bam! Panic attack!
Wait, the feeling that I had to pee caused a panic attack? Well, not exactly. Even though I was exhausted and did not want to ponder the panic attack, I tried to decipher what happened. I felt I had to delve deeper.
Sitting with Panic Attack
I sat with the feelings, the thoughts that I was having that night. It was hard not to have another panic attack. I realized that it wasn’t the need to pee; it was the act of getting up out of bed.
Nighttime is a Difficult Time
For some still unknown reason, my brain became confused with my childhood and my adulthood. When I was a child, it was dangerous to get out of bed. As an adult, there is no danger at all. But on that night, my brain started to bring in those memories from my childhood.
I suppose it was my brain trying to heal, maybe, but it certainly created a DEFCON 1 situation. I had forgotten until that night how nighttime was the scariest time of my childhood. It was when I realized that there are things that go bump in the night. And they will hurt you.
I am no longer in danger. I think my panic attack reminded me that the little girl within me has a lot of healing still to accomplish. Nighttime will continue to be a difficult time for me. For now, anyway.
This is now what I do when I am falling asleep each night.