I’ve never done a guest post before, but this write by my friend Lynne Shayko is absolutely amazing. As someone who has been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks more frequently of late, I really relate and think others will as well, whether your attacks are one or more daily or less frequent.
The message of hope at the end is priceless. Thank you, Lynne, for allowing me to share this.
There is Hope in Your Struggle with Panic Attacks
By Lynne Shayko
You remember your first panic attack. Overwhelmed by life, suddenly you struggled to breathe. Your head floated towards the ceiling as you grimaced from the pain at your chest and the tight knot in your gut. As you wallowed in dizziness and nausea, the world vomited color and noise on you, then faded away to a dull blur. Terrified that you were having a heart attack or going crazy, you collapsed under the stress. After it ended, you struggled to find yourself, and prayed it would never happen again.
But it repeated. Another panic attack. The same terrifying sequence of symptoms. Then a third panic attack jolted you. Suddenly you find yourself standing in a hailstorm of panic attacks. Again and again, the attacks hit you with poetic violence, often when you least expect. You desperately try to isolate what triggers the attacks, how you can control them and how you can win this battle. Gritting your teeth, you develop elaborate strategies to beat the panic. You practice relaxation techniques, visualization, and meditation. Repeating positive affirmations to yourself, you put on your tinted sunglasses, your noise-canceling headphones, and the clothes that make you the most invisible. You want to survive the situation without anyone singling you out. With practice you learn to disguise your panic symptoms and become well-versed in excuses for any erratic behavior that slips out. But you still struggle.
After a while, the panic attacks and your strategies feel part of the fiber of your being. Every day you hang up your coat on a rack of memories, and comb anxiety strategies into your hair. Events, places, and songs trigger memories of panic. A parking garage triggers a traumatic memory, so you gather your strength and speak to the impending panic, This is not the same garage. This is a different day. Today I will not panic. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Infuriated at this invisible war you are fighting, that you never chose to fight, you rage at the attacks. You curse the panic that is filling your life with so much complicated pain.
Part of the pain is loneliness. Panic traps you within your mind, sending you to a place where no one can ever really touch you. Sometimes panic even imprisons you in your house. Tired of fighting panic attacks and losing, often it feels easiest to cancel plans, avoid triggering places, and order takeout instead of going to the grocery store. So you sit alone in your house, calm but missing the beautiful chaos of the life outside your door. You watch the world through social media and yearn to experience it.
Your battle with panic is laced with self-hatred and self-loathing. Every attack feels like an episode of failure. Once again, your strategy to beat the panic failed. You get angry with yourself for canceling plans, for walking out in the middle of the checkout line in the grocery store, for acting strangely and disappearing from your friend’s party. It all feels so stupid sometimes. It is such a simple thing, to go to a store and buy groceries. Everyone else can do it. Why is it so hard for you?
Because you’re not like everyone else. You have an illness. You have a type of illness that can make everyday things difficult. It’s hard because your illness is invisible, but your strange behavior in panic attacks is not.
Right now it’s awful. But there is hope. Panic attacks are difficult and traumatic, but they are not hopeless. And neither are you. You are still the same person that you were before this all started. You’re just sick right now. You haven’t lost yourself. You’re the same person, you are just fighting a complex and difficult illness right now.
Your struggle with panic attacks doesn’t make you weak. Each panic attack is a small trauma. You are enduring a hailstorm of trauma, and you’re still standing, you’re still reading this article and rehearsing coping strategies. You’re still getting up every morning and braving the world again. You are fighting an invisible dragon, and you are still holding on to the sword.
Over time, as you refine your coping strategies, as you find a way to balance your outside and inside worlds, things will get better. If they aren’t, if your world is getting very small and you feel like you’re drowning, get help. Find a therapist or a support group. Reach out to friends or family members. Read up on cognitive behavioral techniques to beat panic disorder.
You may feel very alone right now, but you are not alone. Many people have fought this same battle. They have suffered. But many have persevered and overcome, and you can too.
Try to be kinder to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for breaking commitments due to panic attacks, for leaving places early, and for acting strangely. You have an illness. This is not your fault. If you went to a party and suddenly got sick, would you feel guilty for leaving? If you sprained your ankle while shopping, would you feel guilty for leaving to get medical help? Having a panic attack is the same thing, a medical problem, that comes on suddenly, and requires you to rest in order to recover.
Things are hard for you right now. You are bearing a tremendous weight. But don’t give up. You can make it through this. You may just need some extra help.
When this is all over, you will emerge a warrior. You endured a traumatic series of panic attacks, a pattern that tried to keep you housebound, and still you kept your chin up, you found healing strategies and people to come alongside you. You will emerge from this chapter of your life and rejoice in your salvation. In that day, the world will be wide open for you, and the air will have never tasted so sweet.