Recently, I have been suffering with one of the strongest and most powerful waves of my anxiety that I’ve ever experienced.
Although I’m still a high functioning person getting up and out of the house, the panic attacks which I seem to be having daily (or more) are totally controlling my life to the point I’ve woken up on the floor having passed out. Sometimes I think to myself, ‘what does it feel like to see your friend or family member consumed by anxiety or having a panic attack?’ I always find myself thinking ‘what would I do in the situation and how would I cope or be able to help?’ I would go as far as to say that I am a very compassionate and empathetic human being, much to my frustration at times (because I care too much and take all the problems on myself) and I’d like to think I would know what to do.
I recognise that it isn’t anyone else’s responsibility to fix the problem because at the end of the day that can really only be done by me, but I have realised that I am not going to get through this alone. The easiest way to overcome my anxiety is having someone that I am completely comfortable with by my side – someone that can assure me everything is going to be okay when it feels like it’s not. At the end of the day, anxiety and panic is temporary, just like a rain-filled storm cloud that will eventually pass. All I have to do at the moment is use my friends and family as my umbrella, because everyone hates rainy days.
So I thought that maybe a really good way of overcoming some of my anxiety and still feel like I’m helping my friends and family out, would be to put together a list of some of the things they do that really help me, as a way of saying ‘Thank You’. Thank you for everyone who has helped me through a panic attack, thank you to anyone who has or will sit by me, hold my hand, or hug me and thank you to anyone that might help me through the next one. I might not always remember exactly what happened or what you did, but please understand I appreciate everything. And although I may not say it or show it, please know, from the bottom of my heart I sincerely thank you for everything.
A calming presence: probably a very obvious point but one of the most effective is when you stay calm because if I sense you freaking out, inevitably that will make me freak out more. One of my biggest fears when I am having a panic attack is that I am a burden or inconvenience and I’m wasting your time, but you just being there is so helpful because it helps me to rationalise and not feel alone. The quieter the place the better as far as I’m concerned. I like when you sit with me, coming down to my level (it’s less intimidating) and put a hand on my leg, shoulder or back, touching or holding me brings me back to reality, grounding my thoughts. It helps me calm down and control my trembling.
A reassuring comment: when I am having a panic attack I find it really difficult to rationalise in my mind as my thoughts spin wildly out of control, most of the time I don’t even know why I am panicking (the sad reality of anxiety). When you remind me to focus on my breathing, breathing in for three and out for three is great because breathing only helps when done right. Reassuring me that it is temporary and will pass is useful despite my current state, as it is comforting to know it will go away soon.
Sticking by me: most of the time I am very conscious that you have taken time out to sit with me. I might tell you to leave but that is always my anxiety talking because I’m scared I’m pushing you away and am ashamed. My panic attack will only get worse if I am left alone to suffer through my own thoughts. Staying by my side while we wait it out is invaluable, especially, as I am so prone to passing out from the anxiety. Protecting my head is pretty important too I guess, if we are standing it is best we find somewhere to sit and support me when I do eventually stand up. I always come round within seconds/minutes but it is incredibly embarrassing because I feel weak for not being able to handle it.
Friendly conversation: just talking to me is really therapeutic. Even after my plethora of panic attacks, I’m still not used to them and probably never will be, because every single one is just as traumatising as the next. When you talk to me once I have started to calm down, simple questions or even just telling a funny story really relaxes me, so please keep doing that.
All of my friends and family have been amazing and I have now realised that whether I like it or not, you have started to recognise symptoms of my panic attacks and treat them as such. No matter how comfortable I am around you, if you ask me if everything is okay I will most likely say that I am fine but denial has not fooled you. Anxiety will pass and I will continue.
Illustration courtesy of @niall_unger_illustration