World Mental Health Day 2017

“It was so painful. I was so scared. I can’t believe you have it multiple times!”

I helped a dear friend through her first panic attack recently. I assured her that she wasn’t alone, that I was present, that she wasn’t dying, and that it will pass. It eventually did pass for her, after she hid under her blanket for a while. A few days later, she’d said the above to me, and it’d made me think about how my reaction to my panic attacks are now.

It’s true what my doctor told me once: You’ll learn to manage it better. It doesn’t get easier nor less painful, but you’ll learn to not be afraid of it anymore. It doesn’t go away entirely, but it makes the load easier to carry.

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The past few months or so I’ve had 3-4 panic attacks in a day while I struggle through my PTSD, and if anything, panic attacks drain you entirely. One attack already feels tiring because your body goes into intense fight mode. Your muscles tense up, your chest tightens, your heartbeat and breathing quicken, your pupils dilate & you’re hyperaware. Make that multiple times in a day on top of all the other responsibilities that I still need to carry out. and I’m knocked out flat on my bed before I knew it. Yet I couldn’t explain to people who care except say “I’m tired. Let me rest.”

Many people think a mental disorder is only that – mental. But it can manifest itself physically too, and many are caught off-guard. Panic attacks can be painful, disorientating and downright scary. I’ve learnt that what helps for me is to take myself to a quiet space and to focus on breathing and calming my body down. I keep a sweet with me at all times to give me an energy boost post-attack should I need to be present in a class or meeting after that.

I know of others who keep a stressball handy and keep squeezing it to lessen the tension they’re feeling. Some go for long quiet walks when they can. Some just sit still and let it pass out on its own. Whatever it is, different people have different coping techniques and what works for them.

I understand how lonely and frustrating it can get to be surrounded by people who dont get it. If you need help, go get help. If you’re struggling now, know this:

Struggle has phases and this too shall pass. You will learn to be better. You’re going to be alright.

For those of you who want to help out your loved ones, know this: your presence (not your advice) matters most. Be present, assure them that you’re going to sit with them through the chaos and darkness, and that they’re going to be ok. And instead of telling them to breathe, coach them to breathe slowly – do it together with them a few times until he or she is following you.

When they’re ok, ask them to tell you what they’d like you to do – everybody has their own preferences. I like it when someone I trust holds my hand, while another friend hates it when anyone touches her during an attack.

My panic attacks are down to 1-2 a day about every other day, and that in itself is a small victory I celebrate. I own my story now and I stand tall in my progress. Your victories and progress are yours to track and celebrate. Never compare yourself to others. We are all going through our own silent battles – let’s not discount ours and each other’s struggles. Just because our struggles are different doesn’t make it any less real.

May God’s unfailing love and care surround you while you struggle and heal. You are never alone. ❤️

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