I had never had a panic attack before Oscar. If you have never had one, I will try to explain what they feel like to me. To me, it feels like I have lost control of my body and it is a conscious challenge to regain that control. I have experienced several. The last one was almost exactly one year ago today.
One year ago I went on a girls trip. I had picked out a new book that I was going to read on the plane, Finding Chika by Mitch Albom. I decided on this book because I had read Tuesdays with Morrie also written by Mitch Albom and had really enjoyed it. (I do recommend both of these books although both of the stories are very sad.)
Finding Chika is a memoir of a young girl whose adoptive guardians try to save her from a rare, terminal brain cancer. SAD! On the plane ride to my destination I read the first half of this book.
During my time away, I was able to enjoy time with friends and just let go… it was so lovely. I was at the airport ready to return home when I learned that my return flight was delayed due to bad weather in Toronto. It was probably at this time that I started to get a little bit anxious. I start thinking that I will be arriving home later at night than originally planned and that I will also have to battle bad weather on my two hour drive home from the airport.
Once I am on the plane I start to read my book and I finish it during the flight. Thankfully, I had a window seat so I could turn away from my neighbor and hide my tears as I learn that poor little Chika dies.
I land in Toronto, gather my bags and walk to my car. As I pull out of the parking garage I see that the roads are heavily covered in snow. Nothing has been plowed. As I am slowly driving down the ramp onto the highway I see an accident. This is when the panic started.
My hands literally went rigid. I felt like I couldn’t grip the steering wheel. Where could I go? Nowhere… the shoulders were heavily covered in snow. It felt like there was no escape. The panic just started to spiral. I started doing my deep breaths. I was scared and that further escalated my panic. It felt like forever (but probably wasn’t that long) until I found a safe place to pull over and I called my husband. He spoke with me for most of the drive home.
I scheduled an “urgent” call to my social worker. I couldn’t figure out why I had had this panic attack after having such a relaxing time away. After talking it through this is what I learned:
- I had (still am) been living in such an uptight place that once I “let go” the thought of returning became once again overwhelming…?
- I have such a deep emotional response to any suffering child… Maybe Chika had reminded me of myself when I was a child? Maybe hearing of how her adoptive guardians fought until the very end reminded me of my current fight?
- I am a catastrophist so of course I thought I was going to have a bad car accident like the one I had witnessed.
I do have a rescue medication for panic attacks. But the above situation reminded me of how important it is to develop good coping strategies. I was driving and I was alone in the car. It would not have been a good decision to have taken my rescue medication at that time. Instead, I spoke with my husband and did my deep breathing. I also worked through the following exercise that I learned from my social worker…
- 5 Things you can See
- 4 Things you can Touch
- 3 Things you can Hear
- 2 Things you can Smell
- 1 Thing you can Taste
**I just feel the need to add a disclaimer that if you need help, GET HELP! The things that I am sharing have worked for me but I am NOT a professional in this field.
When I had panic attacks related to Oscar’s health I never wanted to take the rescue medication because I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to drive somewhere if I needed to. What I like about the “5 Things” and the “box breathing exercises is that I can do them anywhere at anytime. This gives me confidence that I can get myself under control. But I should also say that yes, I have taken the rescue medication. There is no stigma attached to taking medication.
I wanted to share two links in case you are interested in reading further about the exercises I shared. Take care of yourself!