Archives for Series: Coping with Panic

Anxiety

10 Rules for Coping With Panic: Rule #9 (Part 1)

(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.)

It's been quite some time since I've written another installment in the seemingly-neverending "10 Rules" series. My original goal, as you can read in the link above, was to slowly traverse through a list of panic-related rules that I'd received from my favorite therapist. She photocopied it onto a tiny, wallet-sized piece of paper. I keep it clipped onto the back page of my organizer and now, even after only four or five months of dragging it around with me, it's crumbling.

And this is a good thing.

ON THE WEATHERING OF OBJECTS


There was this guy in high school who sat in front of me during American Cultures in eleventh grade. (How do I remember the layout of a classroom I sat in twelve years ago when I can't even remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday? Good question...for another blog post.)

Anyway, one day before class started, he was reading Lolita at his desk. I noticed that he was being very gentle with the book. He treated it as if it were some sort of delicate and irreplaceable antique, not the Penguin Paperback it (probably) was. He monitored his page-turns carefully, taking caution not only to avoid cracking the binding, but also to avoid giving the book that "I've been read" look.

I wondered why.

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Anxiety

10 Rules for Coping With Panic: Rule #8, or How to Remember the Good Parts

(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.)

It's been a long time -- maybe about a month or so -- since I wrote about these rules.

And why?

Truth is, I've been doing pretty well. I've had a few panic attacks here and there, but nothing I couldn't get through with a little breather and maybe a phone call to my supportive husband.

And when I'm doing well, I fill my days with thoughts of cooking, walking, reading and writing -- not with thoughts of anxiety.

To a degree, that's a good thing. When I'm feeling well, it feels so darn good to focus on that wellness and completely forget the fact that, a year ago this week, I went on LOA from the full-time job that was a breeding ground for anxiety and panic.

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Agoraphobia

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #7 (Part 3)

(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.)

If you missed the first two parts of this story, let me catch you up: I, recovering agoraphobe, felt uber-confident the other day and decided to go to the mall. Why? Well, because of Rule #7:
It [panic] is an opportunity for progress. Remember that the whole point of practice is to learn how to cope with fear -- without avoiding it. So this is an opportunity to make progress.
Predictably, I panicked while in line to return a bra to Victoria's Secret. I wouldn't exactly call the experience pleasurable, but once the panic subsided after my retreat to a mall bench, I'd realized that my panic attack wasn't a setback -- it was progress.

It's all in the way we frame things.

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Agoraphobia

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #7 (Part 2)

(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.)

After deciding I hated the bra I'd ordered from the Victoria's Secret website, I decided to return it.

In person. At the Victoria's Secret store. Which is at the mall.

The mall. An agoraphobe's nightmare. I mean, the word "agoraphobia" itself means "fear of the marketplace" and a shopping mall is the marketplace of all marketplaces. There's people. Stores. Very few places to sit down. A lot of open space. A lot of stimulation.

Why did I decide to brave the trip? It was because of Rule #7:
It [panic] is an opportunity for progress. Remember that the whole point of practice is to learn how to cope with fear -- without avoiding it. So this is an opportunity to make progress.
I walked into the mall feeling confident. Panic disorder is a tricky beast: some days, running down the street to the local deli borders on impossible. But on other days, inexplicably, the world doesn't seem quite as frightening. Is it chemicals? Is it hormones? Does it have something to do with my diet?

No idea. I don't have those answers. But I can certainly tell you that panic comes in waves -- and when the tide is low, I swim.

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Agoraphobia

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #7 (Part 1)

(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.)

Every woman deserves a good bra.

Yes, I'm making a public blog post that begins with a bra-related anecdote. No, I'm not ashamed. Really. We all wear them.

And if I can spill my mental health foibles to you, dear internet-land, then I can comfortably tell you a story that begins with an undergarment, thank-you-very-much.

Moving on.

I ordered a bra from the Victoria's Secret website. I'm a bargain-hunter, but their most recent catalog included a voucher for $10 off any online order.

"Offer not valid in stores," the voucher said.

"Perfect," replied my agoraphobic side. I wouldn't have to leave the house.

A few days later, my bra arrived. But it wasn't my bra. It was pink (ughhhhh, I'm not a pink person) and it didn't really look like the purple-y one I'd added to my electronic cart and ordered a few days prior.

So, feeling a bit ballsy, I decided to test myself by going to the mall and returning it to my local Victoria's Secret store.

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Analysis

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #6

(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.)

Well, we're halfway through the list now. And, in theory, we're halfway through a panic attack. We've reached the point in the list of 10 Rules where panic begins to subside. Here's Rule #6:
Notice when it fades. Notice that once you stop adding to it with frightening thoughts, the fear starts to fade by itself.
WHY IS THIS SO DIFFICULT?

Think about the last time you panicked. How did you get through the situation? Did you focus on the uncomfortable sensations, or did you grab your phone and start texting your symptoms away?

Did you sit and wait it out, or did you run off to find a Sudoku book for distraction?

Did you pay attention to the dizziness and the lightheadedness, or did you turn on the television so you could focus on something else?

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Anxiety

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #5 (Part 3)

(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.)

First, I ran out of a wedding reception because of panic. Then, I sat in my fiance's car as I waited, miserably and fruitlessly, for panic to pass.

WHY IS THIS SO EASY?

Let's take a look at Rule #5 again:
Wait for fear to pass. Wait and give the fear time to pass. Do not fight it or run away from it. Just accept it.
Read the first two sentences of that rule. Do you see a difference between them?

I do.

"Wait for fear to pass" is one thing. "Wait and give the fear time to pass" is something else entirely. It describes in further detail how we ought to follow this rule.

Last night, while panicking in the car, I sat and waited for fear to pass. I sat and waited. And waited. And waited. Just when my heart rate slowed down, my limbs would start feeling tingly. And just when my limbs stopped feeling tingly, I started feeling short of breath. I knew that, if I wanted to prove to myself, my fiance, and my fiance's family that I am a capable woman who can panic and then recover, I'd need to...well, recover.

I'd need to get myself calm and get my ass back inside.

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Anxiety

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #5 (Part 2)

(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.)

I had just run out of a wedding reception after feeling the first pangs of panic.

I was in a car, and that car was in a parking lot, and that parking lot was in a town called Nanticoke that I don't know very well. In fact, I barely know it at all.

I sat in the passenger seat, phone in hand, and waited for some semblance of "calm" to appear. After all, Rule #5 says that fear WILL pass, right?
Wait for fear to pass. Wait and give the fear time to pass. Do not fight it or run away from it. Just accept it.
I waited and waited and waited. I did diaphragmatic breathing and even tried to give myself a quick shoulder massage.

Nothing.

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Anxiety

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #5 (Part 1)

(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 worst part about panic is that it's not always predictable.

Sure, there are triggers sometimes. I've got plenty of them identified. Perhaps you do, too.

But every once in awhile, panic emerges from nowhere. Like last night.

I was at a wedding reception with my fiance. Perhaps strangely, I was actually enjoying myself! What a rare treat.

Without relying on Xanax, I socialized without fear, I ate dinner without what I like to call "panic belly," and I even danced  (just a little bit!) to a few songs without that super-rapid heartbeat that tends to sneak up and trip the panic wire.

I was ready to call the night a huge win when I walked up to the DJ to request a song. He handed me the bride's "PLAY THESE SONGS!" list and said I could pick one to play next. I scanned the list (of mostly country songs; not my thing) and got excited when I saw the first non-country, feel-good song: Come On Eileen.

"Play that one next!" I exclaimed.

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