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Wellness

How To Get Through A Panic Attack

A bit of a strange rant here but I think it will help people who have a history of anxiety. It’ll help anyone who has been in an anxiety attack.

I was introduced to Anxiousness by my parents because they saw the damage it causes. My first panic attack happened when I was in fourth grade. I spent the day in front of my teacher’s desk, unable to control what was going on in my head. My mind was racing, my hands, legs, and body were shaking. The only thing in my mind kept saying was, “I’m not having a seizure.”

This is the first line from the book, Anxiety: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Susan Blackmore. The idea for this episode was inspired by this quote in my book, A Path Through Anxiety (Random House/Portfolio): “We all fear fear, and we live in fear every minute of every day. You don’t think about the fear that you’re afraid of, you don’t even notice it. We all suffer from panic attacks, and we all suffer from generalized anxiety… It doesn’t mean we’re not courageous. We just don’t see it.” I wrote the book A Path Through Anxiety for people who have had debilitating mental health disorders, like anxiety, borderline personality disorder, depression, PTSD, OCD, etc. but who are in a place where they now have the ability to take charge of their life again, in spite of the struggles.

If you think of fear as an enemy, as a constant danger, then you aren’t going to be able to fight it effectively without first identifying and acknowledging your feelings of insecurity. If you think of yourself as having some special skill that makes you “unfraid”, then you are going to feel much of your anxiety rise up to meet those feelings. You will start feeling vulnerable.

My dad was an infantry soldier with the Marine Corps during the second world war. He served his nation in some of the worst places on earth, including the infamous Pine Gap facility, the Japanese-occupied Marianas, where he was stationed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At one point he was at the wrong end of a machine gun and was shot in the shoulder. I have nightmares about this moment and I have nightmares about being shot because…

…because…

…because.

For the rest of my life he kept his memories of that moment of weakness, the one time the gun did its worst to him, and they were the same dreams in which I suffer at night.

In my book A Path Through Anxiety I recommend reading about the effects PTSD has on military personnel. The most important thing I remember from that book is “It takes time to heal.” How exactly do you heal from your past traumas? How do you change your life so you can avoid feeling like you were the victim of another attack? It doesn’t hurt to know that if you are suffering from PTSD, someone else has suffered in the same way, just not by the same methods.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m afraid of the dark. In my childhood I went through a phase where I would avoid going into any room with a person because I would always freak out. I was terrified in places that I had never been before, as if the place I was in at that moment was going to change and turn me into something I thought I was afraid of. It didn’t, of course, but every time I would walk into a room, like the last one I’m going to go into right now, I would freak out because I would see something that scared me. I’d turn around and there would be my mom in the doorway. I would start to tell my story to her but her first response to me was to shake her head. “I’m not going into there!” What the hell did that mean?

I have trouble standing on my toes and holding my hands above my head and I’m scared to touch anything. I see a bright light and feel like I’m going to faint. Any time I think about walking toward a bright light at night I have panic attacks. Whenever I make eye contact with someone, even when it has nothing to do with the conversation at hand, I have panic attacks. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of these reactions to people over the years, including doctors, therapists, therapists, therapists, counselors and the list continues. I’m still working my way through therapy but I’ve already been through my fair share of them. There comes a point while you are going through therapy where certain people don’t understand why you are crying and it’s so confusing.