Hack The Panic!

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I talked myself out of a panic attack this week. Here’s what happened, and here’s how we did it.

Symptoms
I don’t get bad ones very often but I can always tell when they’re starting to hit. My temperature and my heart rate both spike, I can’t sit still and whatever I’m doing I do very, very fast. What I’m feeling is that I’m not done with something or I am done and have somehow missed the off ramp, which presents as nervousness and irritability.

Cause
This one was grounded entirely in a physical reaction. Walking to the station to meet Marguerite takes me past Thames Tower which is:

  • brand new
  • partially occupied
  • clearly somewhere Nate Ford would run a heist from the top floor of

What’s not on that list is the wicked cross wind it creates across the station concourse.  So I round the corner by the tower and this 65 mile an hour wall of air punches me in the head. That by itself would be okay. I’m Manx, we know wind, rain, the ocean and we’re working really hard on losing casual bigotry’s phone number. Bad weather doesn’t scare me.

Not being able to breathe does.

I came into this year with a stress-induced chest infection. It made me slow and short of breath, all the time. That fed back into terrible body confidence issues which bred frustration, anger and all that stuff Yoda informs us big nope this is from me, dawg. A side effect of that was my nose was blocked a lot of the time. A side effect of THAT was I got used to mouth breathing so I didn’t, you know, die. Shifting back across felt weird and uncomfortable and, for a while, caused sleep problems.

Humans: what happens when sentience opens the bag of Lego but doesn’t read the instructions.

Then there’s the visceral sense memory of being on Prestatyn Beach, the wind ripping the breath from me as it sprinted over the ocean to Ireland and it just not stopping and being genuinely scared and having to cup my hands over my mouth to breathe and knowing no one I was with would notice or care I was in trouble so why should I say anything and

You get the idea.

Response
So this crested and built and I did something very, very right. I said, out loud, ‘I don’t feel very good.’ Marguerite immediately put down what she was working on and asked me to tell her what I was experiencing. I told her about the beach and the wind. I told her about feeling like I didn’t have an off-ramp. I walked all the way around this thing, even as it crested and grew and together we mapped the size of it and why it was there. The moment we did that?

My heart rate and temperature dropped. Almost instantly. The cylinder of tightness in my chest disappeared. I unclenched, went through the nervous hyper chatty phase I always get on the other side of this thing and then… leveled out. We made a couple of state changes (I changed seat, we put some lights on, I drank some water) and it just dissipated.

Next Time
I am very aware how lucky I am to have a partner who was there and was able to help talk me through the attack. That externalization helped vastly and I think there’s a way to replicate it: Socratic dialogue (what Cris is doing in Picard, basically), externalizing part of your approach to try and see what’s happening from a different perspective.

I know panic attacks are different for everyone. For me, what worked was asking myself (or having someone ask me) questions like:

  • What are you feeling?
  • Why do you think that is?
  • Did something happen today to cause this?
  • What would make you comfortable?

Here’s the thing, I am not under any circumstances a Doctor or indeed DOK-TOR. I know brains are unique, brilliant, awful things and each one is a lock we unpick differently, every day, often multiple times. But, this? For me? This week? Really helped. And mental health stigma is bullshit. So it it might help you too, brilliant.