Last week I had my first panic attack in two years.
My first reaction to the panic was escalation of the panic. Why was this happening? We closed this chapter, we fixed this! I tried to block, stop, cajole, distract, used all the mental kung fu I’d developed to deal with exactly this situation. The event was unstoppable. All the people in the room zoomed out as though I was seeing them through a telescope. All I could do was breathe through and try and survive it. I used the cues of the faraway faces to try and mirror the dominant emotions of the room, be inconspicuous as I sat in my tight little ball of shame. I sobbed all the way home. The anxiety sat in my bones, and manifested in the next twenty-four hours in cold chills, violent nausea and the numbing migraine that is my body’s self-defense against thought.
I watched my mind desperately reassess where I was at. What did this mean for me, who wants to teach people how to get better, the art therapist in training? Wasn’t I supposed to have all the answers? Didn’t I have to be healed to heal others?
What it meant, I decided, was that I have insight into anxiety that is an invaluable asset for teaching how to heal anxiety. Every time I feel panic arising, I have an opportunity to understand, watch and learn. I don’t have to have all the answers, because I’m a human in progress.
I decided to use my anxiety as a trigger to really listen and respond to what my body needs, not what my mind needs. My mind is a trickster, and in moments of panic I need truth. I aspire to a good relationship with my mind, where my intuition and thoughts work in beautiful synchronicity, and my mind is a soothing, slow place to foster ideas and dreams. In the meantime I’ll wait till my feet are firmly planted back on the ground before I negotiate that next chocolate/sugar/caffeine hit.
A week later, my gut is still clenched tight as a fist, and I’m trying to sit with that feeling, rather than repress it or judge it. Writing about the panic attack has helped set the intention about what to do with that experience. I’m using anxiety as a teacher. My neuroses were feeling a bit neglected, so they found a way to call me to attention. All I can do is offer them compassion, and then turn my attention and energy to the direction I want my life to take, rather than on the fruits of seeds mindlessly planted.
If you know people who panic, consider sharing this with them. It’s good to know we’re not alone.
How do you manage panic attacks?