Processing a Panic Attack

Living with anxiety is not fun, nor is it close to easy. It can be helped and somewhat controlled, with or without medicine, but it seems as if anxiety sits in the background just waiting to strike.

Is it just me that sees it in that way?

I’ve discussed my own issues with anxiety in other posts A Letter to my Anxiety and Depression and Social Anxiety: Mistaken Identity. I try to tackle them with yoga and meditation. I also color and watch funny movies (my new fave is the Ken Jeong Netflix special) to help.

Scared

How Panic Attacks Work

Panic attacks can happen without an obvious trigger, basically out of nowhere. Talk about scary. If these happen with a change in behavior with at least one month of worry about another attack happening, this crosses over into panic disorder. These attacks start with the well-known “fight or flight” response. When this response occurs multiple times, our bodies misinterpret what is going on- whether the event is a true threat or not.

At this point, it becomes a “fear of fear” situation and this makes for a vicious cycle. In other words, you become scared of the reactions in your own body- the increased heart rate, sweat, etc. It is not a good situation. These usually last 30 minutes or less, but to the person having the attack, it can seem like forever.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack:

  • A sudden increase in intense fear and/or discomfort
  • Racing heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling/Shaking
  • Shortness of breath/feeling of choking
  • Chest pain/discomfort
  • Nausea/other stomach issues
  • Fear of dying

What Can Others Do to Help?

  • Most importantly, stay calm. Please don’t judge the person having the panic attack- that is one of the worst things you can do because we judge ourselves enough. We don’t need the extra judgment. It also isn’t helpful. The feelings are real, please treat them as such.
  • Help them focus on their breathing by taking them to a quiet place (wherever possible) and guide them to take deep, slow breaths for a few minutes. You can also try gentle exercises to burn off some of the stress- even light stretches can help. Even a quiet chat about a shared interest or naming five things around them can help them break out of the thought pattern they are in.

What Can I Do for Myself?

  • Self-care is a very important tool to combat panic attacks. If you realize that you have triggers to your attacks, try to modify or avoid them whenever possible. If this isn’t possible, develop a plan to make things easier on yourself. Why set yourself up to have another panic attack if there is a way to prevent them?
  • Learn more about anxiety and panic attacks. You might be surprised to learn that the feelings you experience aren’t signs that you aren’t going “crazy” but are normal. This can be a source of relief.
  • Cut back or avoid nicotine, alcohol and/or caffeine. All of these are known to be stimulants or somehow cause personality changes that can cause panic attacks.
  • Try relaxation techniques. This is where meditation comes in, for example, or yoga. There are other ways you can try to relax or control your breathing. Exercising is also a good way to help with anxiety. It releases endorphins that help you feel good.
  • Sleep. Getting enough sleep can reduce anxiety- getting to sleep can be an issue, however, so there are things like calming music, melatonin, white noise machines, etc, you can try to get the sleep you need.

Shut down

Treatment and Medication

There are two main ways that anxiety and panic attacks are treated.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is used in many different ways. It helps change thought patterns by looking at how you currently think and learning to look at them realistically.

Medications used to treat anxiety and panic attacks include SSRIs, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines act fairly quickly, within about 30 minutes, but do have a risk of addiction.

This Is Treatable and Tolerable

Panic attacks are something that can be treated and worked through. If you have them, please know that there is help and information out there. Please see my Resources page for more information or see these links:

anxiety.org

helpguide.org

Going to Therapy: Setting and Smashing Your Goals

Therapy is rough work. Some sessions are great, some will leave you in tears.

Everyone goes to therapy for different reasons- for anxiety, depression, substance abuse (in some cases, this court-ordered), grief, and other issues.

I began therapy in 2015 for three out of four of those reasons- the substance abuse part came in later.

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Not As Much Fun To Pick Up The Pieces

That’s part of a Nine Inch Nails lyric from “The Perfect Drug”, one of the best songs from the 1990s. Therapy helped me pick up the pieces of my life- I found Rachel thanks to PsychologyToday. My life had just fallen apart in front of me- Jake died, I quit a job I loved, cut a lot of people off, I had no idea on what to do with my marriage and I was a complete wreck.

Let’s just say my first goal was to manage the grief. I started therapy in October 2015. The tears flowed so much that I wasn’t able to wear any makeup for two months after Jake died. I ate my feelings and started gaining weight, and the alcohol didn’t help.

One of the first things I did was make a list of all the things that I lost when he died. This was heartbreaking, but it helped me come up with ways to make something good out of something so awful. This led to creating this blog, volunteering for the AFSP and other great things.

My other big goal was to figure out what the hell to do with my marriage, or what was left of it. I was supposed to meet with my divorce attorney on September 9, the day before our 10th wedding anniversary (the irony) to sign the papers to file divorce paperwork.

I never made it to this appointment- Jake died September 1 and I didn’t have the emotional strength. I’m almost certain I spent that day crying in bed. This was a tough decision because our marriage was in a terrible spot. Matthew and I were barely speaking, and when we did, all we did was fight. I wanted out. The divorce had nothing to do with Jake, and I made sure he knew that. Our marriage was basically screwed before he ever came into my life.

So where was I supposed to go from there?

Rachel encouraged me to think.

A lot.

I emailed my attorney, who was very understanding about the change in my situation.

Over many sessions, lots of tissues and candy later, I decided to give my marriage a shot. I had changed a lot over the last couple of years, and I figured Matthew deserved a chance at who I had become. As he once said, Jake “fixed what I broke.” I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I emailed my attorney again and told her that I wouldn’t need her anymore.

I began working on myself- the third main goal. This was work on self- esteem and self-worth. I’d already learned what I would and wouldn’t take, thanks to both Matthew and Jake. This time, I was working on watching for patterns of repeat behavior that I knew I didn’t deserve, feeling better about myself, among other things.

I finished therapy in May 2018. I knew it was time- I have processed Jake’s death as well as I can. None of us know what exactly made him decide to take his life, but I have been able to find some peace with it. This was not easy. I still have days where I feel crappy about myself, but I think everyone does. I’m able to lift myself out of it. I’m sober- Rachel was thrilled when I stopped drinking. My marriage isn’t and probably never will be perfect, but it’s okay. I think I still like Matthew, and honestly, I’m lucky he still speaks to me.

I told my story about therapy for a reason- to explain why having goals is so important.

Tell Me What You Don’t Like About Yourself

If you’ve ever seen the show “Nip/Tuck”, this is what the very handsome plastic surgeons asked their patients when they met them.

In a way, therapy is a time in which you can work on the things you may not like so much about yourself and may want to change.

If you don’t have goals when you get to therapy, your therapist will help you set them according to your needs. Be ready to do the work- it may not be fun. You might even be asked to do “homework”, small assignments outside of your sessions. For example, I was asked to open up to people more, to talk to my friends and Matthew more to help me trust others more.

I developed trust issues after Jake’s death- the people who I thought were my friends were the first people to show me they really weren’t. After that, I stopped speaking to a lot of people and now, I just don’t welcome a lot of new people into my life.

I don’t want to risk that again. I have a hard time telling those closest to me when I’m struggling because I figure they have heard enough of my problems over the last three years, so I tend to not say much.

This is still a work in progress.

These goals will help guide you and your therapist in sessions, help track progress, and most of all, help you see that you are moving forward. Your therapist can help you think of ways to get through your issues and develop coping skills- this is where I was given the idea of adult coloring books for anxiety. It does help and I have at least 10 coloring books and two sets of coloring pencils. It’s soothing and helps take my mind off whatever is bothering me.

Some issues take longer than others to get through and this is okay- smash your goals on your own time. It took almost a year for me to get through a session, talk about Jake and not cry my eyes out. It doesn’t matter how many goals you have- everyone’s needs are different. Don’t compare your journey to someone else’s.

You’ve Got This

I liked to treat myself when meeting a goal or just after a rough session. Sometimes I would go home, color and listen to a podcast as a way to decompress or reward myself. If I had met a small milestone, like when Matthew and I completed an assignment that Rachel had asked us to, we would go out to dinner. It’s the small things that keep us going. She was very helpful in getting us through some of the worst times in our marriage.

The goals can be big or small- but they are yours.

Have you been to therapy and would like to share your story?

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

After Thanksgiving Goodies

This is a good month- I love Thanksgiving. I am so happy to see Demi Lovato, one of my sobriety role models, out of rehab. Enjoy the posts and leftovers!

The Road to Authenticity

5 Ways to Conquer Self-Kindness

Healing Through Creativity: Art and Hippo Therapy

Broken Wings Part 5: What I Wish My Spouse Knew

Song Lyric Saturday with Britney Spears

Wonder women

My Experience with Body Image Issues

I’m 35 with three kids.

My body has been through a lot of changes.

The Mommy Bod

Before kids, which now seems like eons ago, I struggled with my looks and weight. I’m 5’2″ and not the most athletic type. I have curly hair which I used to hate. Growing up, I rarely saw models in magazines that looked even close to me. If I did, they were skinny with straightened hair.

I just wanted to look like everyone else but that was not possible. I couldn’t change my skin tone, hair or any other physical characteristics. I got busy with school and work but stayed at a decent weight. Over time, I even started liking my curls.

These pictures represent my weight loss and gain in the last few years. After kids, I got up to almost 200 lbs. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in late 2009 (which I no longer have thanks to diet, exercise and losing weight) and got serious about my weight. I wanted to be healthy for my kids.

A Sharp Turn

In 2013, that weight loss took a different turn. My anxiety kicked into overdrive because of the issues I was having with Matthew. I began thinking if I was skinnier, things would get better. I tend to not eat much when I’m stressed so this became a bigger issue. I would eat one meal daily for days on end due to stress.

Sometimes it felt like I was punishing myself in a way for not being the wife and mom I was “supposed” to be. I may have been punishing myself for making Matthew so angry. I also spent lots of time in the gym- at least an hour four days a week. I’d have done more if I had time.

At my lowest weight, which was August 2015, I was 125 lbs and a size 4. I was so small that my co-workers asked if I was sick. My doctor told me that my pancreas, already not able to produce all the insulin I needed, might give out entirely and result in Type 1 diabetes if I didn’t stop losing weight and pushing myself so hard. I’m not sure I cared.

I loved the way I looked- I finally fit into a string bikini but I was so nervous about it I didn’t want to take off my cover-up. (A friend yanked it off, but in a good way.) I don’t think Matthew cared either way- he had seen me before and after three pregnancies. It’s not like he saw me naked much at this point.

Jake was worried- one of his last worries about me was that I was too skinny. He told me I was still gorgeous but I needed to gain “like 5 or 10 pounds.”

Jake got his wish, but he didn’t live to see it. I gained 60 pounds after his death. I ate, drank and didn’t think about exercising for a long time. I was deep in a hole of grief and depression.

Comeback of the Curves

I stopped drinking and move around a bit more these days. My pancreas survived and it’s functioning quite well. Thanks to having RA, it can be a bit rough but I do what I can to exercise. One of my medications has a side effect that messes with my appetite but I’m not going to be upset if I lose a few pounds.

I don’t weigh myself- there isn’t a scale in my house. I’m not entirely sure what I weigh, my best guess is around 170. I’m a size 12/14. I’m okay with this. I’m happier, I’m funny again, I love food, I’m healthy as I can be, and I got my curves back. The second picture is me in Daytona Beach in August. I look much better.

I can’t say there was a moment where everything clicked and I stopped going so hard on my body. I was a little sad when I didn’t fit size small sweats in late 2015, but I had much worse things to deal with. While I was in therapy, I worked on how I saw my body. It’s been through a lot, and I realized I should have a lot more love for it.

There are three people that are on this planet because I grew them inside my body. I lived through a mini-stroke. I have two chronic health conditions but they are manageable. I’ve had three major surgeries (tubal, gallbladder removal and a partial thyroidectomy). I may have a few rolls but there are curves, stretch marks, surgery scars, and tattoos.

I still have bad days like every other woman but I remind myself of where I have been. I remind myself that I’ve looked a lot worse and that I’ll probably look different in a few years. I’m good where I am now.

Tips for Better Body Image

It can be very difficult to change how you feel about your body.

My helpful tips?

1. STOP LOOKING AT MODELS FOR VALIDATION.

I’ll confess, I’m a huge fan of Tess Holliday. She’s a plus-size model, and I love her message. I don’t look at her or other models anymore for what I should look like. I like her because she has amazing red hair, great makeup and #effyourbeautystandards is empowering. If you’ve never heard of her please look her up on Google. I like a handful of other models but for makeup and other reasons. Models work extremely hard to look like they do and it’s almost unrealistic for most of us to pull it off.

2. Remember what your body has done for you. Have kids? Even one kid changes your body permanently. If you’re a runner like my friend Lauren, there’s a lot of maintenance involved that I don’t want to imagine. She looks fantastic. I’m sure she will thank herself later in life for keeping herself in such great shape. (I hate running. I don’t even run to my mailbox.)

3. Realize that you are more than just what your body looks like. This may take a bit of work in the self-esteem department (lots of work for me) but it is well worth it. Everyone has interesting and/or quirky qualities about them that are likable besides what their body looks like. Do the work- make a Pinterest board of quotes, write in a journal about it. Talk to someone if you need to. The work will be worth it.

Have you had issues with body image? How did you work through it?

Quotes courtesy of Pinterest

My Random Musings