A panic attack may originate in the mind but is completely physical in its manifestation. There are differences between individuals but mine were fairly typical, I think. Racing, thumping heart, shortness of breath, shaking limbs, and flushed face and upper torso and dizziness. Crying was frequent but as crying was frequent in many situations, it’s difficult to say whether it was a symptom of panic or not.
The first times it happened, I, like many others, believed I was physically ill. I had tests, phone calls to 111, even trips to A&E, hooked up to an ECG, waiting to hear bad news only to be told all was well. No doctor mentioned the possibility of panic attacks. I would probably have dismissed the idea anyway. I was a long way from recognising that my mind was trickling away.
It’s been six months since I had a major panic attack and while I have some minor ones now and then I think I have finally found a way to control them.
Although the depression clears and the horizon sometimes comes into focus, I remain prone to panic when stressed. Usually it’s small things that shouldn’t affect me and wouldn’t have 10 years ago. Last time, it was the fact that I couldn’t print the flashcards and worksheets that myself and my colleague needed for the following day’s lessons. After trying several computers and printers, I felt the stress rising and morphing into panic. The first sign was irritation, restlessness and, of course, tears rising.
There was a time when this would more than likely have rushed into full-blown panic in minutes. But I’ve learnt.
I took myself off to the bathroom and let the panic take me for a minute or two. I let the tears come. I let the shaking happen and the breath quicken. I let the negative thoughts wash over.
And then my minute was up. I stood up and forced some deep breaths. I pressed some tissue paper to my eyes until the tears stopped. It took a few goes, there were a few false starts, but after a minute or so, the crying was under control. I washed my face and re-applied make up (I’ve become quite skilled at using make up to disguise red, swollen eyes and nose).
Overall, I was in the bathroom for less than five minutes and panicking no more than two. I went back to the printer, gave up and went to get help. Eventually, we got the flashcards and worksheets ready.
I don’t know if this technique of “giving the panic a minute” would have had any chance of working when I was at my worst, when I was crying throughout the day, sometimes for hours at a time. But now I’m back in control of my mind for the most part, it works wonders. I allow a short amount of time for the tears and the negativity and the physical takeover and then I stop it. I don’t beat myself up about it, I no longer berate myself for being weak and pathetic (well, not much and only for that minute or two). I don’t say “pull yourself together”. I simply say “OK, it’s time to stop crying now” and try to find a way to do that.
And I always carry around tissues, make-up remover, mascara and concealer. It’s amazing what you can hide with some darkened eyelashes and a faked smile.