Archives for April, 2012
(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.) THE THIRD RULE It may not seem evident on some days – especially in the morning hours – but I'm a thinker. My brain is constantly chugging away. Is yours the same way? Even when I think my brain is quiet, it's often not. Have you ever stepped into the shower, ready to enjoy a few relaxing minutes of warm water, and then spent the entire duration of your shower ruminating about something else? There's no time to enjoy the soap, shampoo, or conditioner because my brain is lost in another time and place – usually the past (why did I say that stupid thing earlier today?) or the future (what if I panic at the grocery store tomorrow?). In other words, I can take entire showers without ever realizing that I'm taking a shower – because, in a way, I'm not. I'm somewhere else. My brain is always on and always corrupting a perfectly peaceful present moment of soap and shampoo into a broken mess of anxiety. But at the heart of things, this type of behavior isn't necessarily pathological. I think it's human nature to reflect on our failures, but perhaps not to the extent that us anxious-types do. And of course it's important to think about the future and be prepared. After all, isn't that how we diminish some of our anxiety? Isn't that how we lessen the uncertainty of the future?
(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.) THE SECOND RULE I introduced Rule #2 in my last post. It's about the bodily sensations that we feel when we're anxious or panicky: They are not harmful. They are not in the least harmful or dangerous -- just unpleasant. Nothing worse will happen. WHY IS THIS SO SIMPLE? In truth, I don't know. This one's not very simple to me. In high school, I decided to donate blood as soon as I was old enough. The Bloodmobile came to our gymnasium during school hours and we got to miss class if we donated...so, of course, my fellow classmates were signing up left and right. I signed up too. After all the paperwork, they tested my iron level -- and it was low. Not so low that I couldn't donate, but low-ish. I was herded along to a donation table where I laid down and got comfy. They stuck me with the needle and I watched myself drain into a plastic bag. It was weird and a little disconcerting to see so much blood -- MY blood -- but I could handle it. Until the very end.
(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.) THE SECOND RULE Let's rewind for a minute back to Rule #1: "These feelings are normal bodily reactions." Of course, by "these feelings," we're referring to the uncomfortable physical sensations of panic: rapid heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, and so on. The whole lot of them. And with that in mind, here's Rule #2: They are not harmful. They are not in the least harmful or dangerous -- just unpleasant. Nothing worse will happen. Sounds peachy, doesn't it? Nothing worse will happen! Imagine that. It's so simple and so idyllic-sounding that I imagine a generic Disney princess reading Rule #2 in a chipper and cheery voice. Fairy tales do come true, you know!
(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.) THE FIRST RULE It's time to start working my way through the Ten Rules for Coping with Panic. After all, I want to improve -- I want to panic less and stretch my geographical "safe radius" more. So, here we go, step by step, from the beginning. Rule #1 -- my giant stumbling block: These feelings are normal bodily reactions. Remember that the feelings are nothing more than an exaggeration of the normal bodily reactions to stress. GAHHHH. Where do I even begin?! WHY THIS IS SO DIFFICULT? I understand that a rapid heartbeat is a normal part of the panic experience. Same with dizziness, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, weakness, sweating, air hunger, and hyperventilation. But they feel so abnormal. They feel so wrong. They feel so threatening. And no matter how many times I repeat to myself during a moment of panic that the dizziness and the weakness and the air hunger are "normal," I can't convince myself of it. What if this is the one time where a medical emergency is presenting itself? If that's the case, and if I ignore these feelings, I could be ignoring crucial symptoms and may fail to get myself help on time.
Lists are so compelling. The therapist I'm seeing right now gave me a cute little wallet-sized list called "Ten Rules for Coping with Panic." It's printed in the tiniest little font, but thankfully, I've got a very decently-functioning pair of eyeballs. I keep it in my wallet next to all the stray ATM receipts that tend to uselessly pile up. I like lists. I've always liked lists. They're neat. They're orderly. They appeal to my own urge to simplify things. They organize concepts and turn long & convoluted paragraphs into mere outlines. They make life easier. Panic is complex; lists are parsimonious. (Go ahead; look it up. Most useful GRE word I've ever learned.) So, here's what what my therapist wants me to do with this little list: pull it out during a panic attack, review the list of rules, follow them step-by-step to calm down, and then voila! -- I'll be panic-free and cruising down the highway with the wind in my hair. Okay, well...something like that. I'll be as close to panic-free as possible, she tells me. Close enough to move along to the next activity and get on with my day, at least. But truthfully, I'm struggling with this list in a big way. In fact, I'm struggling with each and every item on this list. In fact, I can barely get past the first one during most attacks.
Earlier this week, I wrote about how Panic About Anxiety was chosen as 'Blog of the Week' on PA Live!, a lifestyle program local to northeastern Pennsylvania and broadcast on WBRE-TV. And now, you don't just have to take my word for it -- I've got video proof! Check it out here. I sincerely hope that it brings a few folks within the viewing area to my blog -- especially my posts about my own struggle with anxiety might help someone to feel a little bit less alone. This is probably the right time to tell you a story about one of my last grad school classes: Intercultural Communication. After a semester of learning about various cultural traditions and value orientations, my professor took a few minutes at the end of our very last class to discuss something personal: living in the moment. It was May, and graduation was right around the corner. The class was filled with undergraduate seniors and second-year grad students -- most of whom were about to be finished with school forever. His speech went a little something like this:
First things first: welcome, WBRE viewers! (And, of course, to anyone else who might incidentally be finding my blog for the very first time.) As you (may) know, I was honored to be chosen as this week's PA Live! Blog of the Week on WBRE-TV. (By "PA", I'm referring to Pennsylvania, my home state -- not "panic attack," which, well, is also my home state. Ahem. Cough. Think about it. Bad joke?) I'll re-introduce myself: I'm Summer. I get panic attacks. A lot. And unfortunately, the panic (and the fear of panic, which is a different beast entirely) has eaten up most of my early, mid, and now late (yikes!) 20's. I've tried meds. I've tried therapy. I've tried biofeedback. I've tried lifestyle changes. I've tried it all.
I ask this question not only for the benefit of my readers...but for the benefit of myself. How do you cope with the sting of having a panic attack after a long period of panic-free living? I'm not really talking about short-term coping mechanisms here. I'm not talking about breathing exercises or anything like that. Instead, I'm talking about the big stuff -- how do you deal with feeling let down? How do you deal with suddenly feeling so out of control after a long period of feeling relatively in control? How do you go back to believing that you've only hit a small bump in the road and not a gigantic pothole? What goes up must come down, they say, and in the back of my mind I've always known that I'd have another "big one" eventually. I'd been doing so well -- grocery shopping, leaving my apartment for hours at a time, and pushing the boundaries of my "safe radius," as I like to call it. Fellow agoraphobes, you know what I mean. But yesterday was different.
A few days ago, in honor of National Poetry Month, I asked for your anxiety-related haiku. I love haiku as an art form for describing anxiety. While many of us might think of "anxiety" as a huge and heavy long-term predicament -- and, for some of us, it truly is -- even the largest and darkest mountains of anxiety are built from smaller bricks of haiku-sized worries. Now, I may be mixing my metaphors (bricks don't make up mountains!) in that last paragraph, but oh well. Poetry is about what feels right. And for a concept as complex and nebulous as anxiety, a mixed metaphor feels strangely appropriate: anxiety doesn't cleanly fit into any given metaphor. It's always changing. So, let the metaphor change along with it. Even within the same sentence. To hell with that "don't mix metaphors!" rule that I learned in 11th grade. There's only one rule we're following here on Panic About Anxiety for National Poetry Month -- we're writing haiku. A haiku is a short & simple poem that's written 5-7-5 -- five syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the middle, and 5 syllables in the last line. That's it. The rest is up to you. YOUR HAIKU You've given me some beautiful haiku throughout the past few days. Here's a sampling of my faves:
It's hard to believe that April is here already, isn't it? Isn't time tricky? Surely I was just lamenting the onset of winter and grumbling about how the lack of sunlight contributes to my anxiety. And in the blink of an eye, our natural word is glowing brighter and brighter each day. Here is Pennsylvania, March came in like a lamb and left like an even softer lamb. You won't find me complaining. Nor would you find legendary poet e.e.cummings complaining, either. He's a famous poet who was smitten with the springtime season: spring is "puddle wonderful," he claims, in his poem "[in-Just]". Remember that cranky English teacher you had in 10th grade? The one who was always correcting your grammar? Yeah. e.e.cummings is the exact opposite of that English teacher: if you Google a few of his spring-themed poems, you'll quickly notice how quirky and inventive his syntax is. His whimsical punctuation alone sort of conveys the hypomanic beauty of this season: spring!may -- everywhere's here ( with a low high low and a bird on the bough ) how?why we never we know -from Poetry, June 1952 April is the perfect time for warmth, aliveness, and poetry. And so, happy National Poetry Month!