I had a very rough weekend. I’m going to talk about it for two reasons. One, it may help someone to know how I handle the really huge anxiety attacks. Two, I often feel like a fake, writing about how to handle anxiety, depression, and PTSD when I still struggle so hard with them. Yes, I have more good days than bad, but even so… I feel like if anyone knew how I can get derailed, I’d be called out as a charlatan. I know that’s not true, so this is also to help me fight that impostor syndrome.
TRIGGER WARNING: suicidal thoughts, descriptions of anxiety
I’ve mentioned before that while I hope to support myself on my writing someday, for now the day job is working as a call center rep. It’s a challenging job, but I’ve been working in the field for so long, most of the stress from callers passes quickly.
Saturday night, I got a call toward the end of my shift. The caller wasn’t rude or hateful, but she was shouting with a man in the background. The things that man said shot through me and slammed me into a flashback. Before the call was over, I was having chest pains, shaking and crying. As soon as it was over, I began coughing because my asthma was being set off.
Trouble breathing in the middle of an attack is just the best, right?
I got permission to leave work early as there were only about 20 minutes left. I grabbed some ice packs and started trying to calm myself with some breathing exercises.
This particular attack had set my brain screaming into flight mode, while feeling trapped. I haven’t felt that way in decades. The utter helplessness and hopelessness of those moments dragged me straight to the moment where my mind fed me the line, “It’s never going to change, there’s only one way out. If you die, it’ll end.”
I have not been suicidal or even had a thought of suicide in so long the very thought startled me into thinking of ways to get through the panic. That particular thought used to be the one that sent me into making attempts.
- Call a friend. I called a friend who came over. She passed me tissues, hugged me, rubbed my shoulder, listened, got me to use my inhaler, helped me walk my dog, and stayed with me for a few hours until I was noticeably more calm. I was still shaking, still feeling like I might cry at any moment, and having that glorious brain fog where I can’t keep a straight thought or complete a phrase. I wasn’t having trouble breathing and I wasn’t thinking of harming myself when she left, though.
- Sleep. After my friend left, I put myself to bed. It wasn’t easy to sleep, but I laid in that bed with a determination that would have impressed ancient gods. I knew that sleep would help, and not sleeping would make things far worse.
- Physical Activity. Sunday, I woke up and was still shaking like a leaf. Though beginning to space between one another, the waves of tears still came. I planned out a few physical activities to help vent some of the anxiousness.
- Take Time. I reached out to my supervisor and got cleared to take the day off. There was no way I could have handled calls with any level of professionalism while still fighting my way clear of the attack.
- Distraction. A friend who heard about my state of mind reached out with the offer to have a phone call. She kept me from talking about the events of Saturday night and instead got me to talk with her about her children and my grandson.
- Call a therapist. Sunday is the worst time to get stuck in a serious panic attack, but when I started to develop a migraine and couldn’t stop the cycles of feeling like I was going to cry any moment, I sent a message to mine. Fortunately, he was able to see me on Monday. I spent the remainder of the day taking migraine pills, being as still as possible, and just reminding myself to hold on until that appointment time.
There were, I’m sure, other things used in there. I hugged my dog a ton, petted my cat, and at some point I remembered that my body needs water. Food didn’t happen because I was already having nausea even before the migraine, but I promise I have enough weight to survive a day without eating.
All the things I’ve written about, the odd-sounding skills, the time spent learning what works for me are why I’m here to write this post this morning.
So, don’t beat yourself up if sometimes you do all the things to help, and still feel like you’re losing the fight. If you’re fighting, you’re winning. If you’re not giving in to the urge to self-harm, you’re winning. The skills take practice and time to become first resorts instead of last resorts. If I can still have a round like this after 20-ish years in therapy, so can you.
The thing I had to remember, and want to express to anyone reading this, is that these skills are to keep you in this life until you can reach help. It’s like knowing first aid. If you cut your finger, you know how to wash it and put a bandage on it, or if it needs one. You also know how to apply pressure in case the cut is too deep so you can get to a doctor for stitches.
Skills for anxiety and depression are the same thing. They’re mental health first aid. Where to apply pressure, how to get help, and how to heal. When they don’t stop the attack, seek help from a professional.
In the meantime, be gentle with yourself. You have these problems because of what happened to you, not what you did to yourself. You deserve to be here, no matter who taught you that you didn’t.