So as I write this, I’ve just come through the other side of an anxiety attack. Peaking with the added worry (as if I needed any more of that right now) that I thought I might pass out. However, the horror of being found in a heap in the garden with my too-short dressing gown and bed hair still in situe, probably enough to make me hold on to my consciousness.
That first attack
I had my first anxiety attack a few months ago, just going about my day … I walked out of the local shop, clutching one of those 7am-emergency ‘no-milk-for-the-cereal’ bottles of milk, and after taking a couple of paces down the street it hit me like the force of being struck by the oncoming traffic. No warning signs flashed up, just this sudden fear.
Within seconds my heart started racing and my breathing got laboured. By the time I reached the corner I wanted to run, but my body couldn’t manage it. The lack of oxygen I was struggling to drawn in forced me to slothfully keep walking.
Eventually I made it home, on a pair of legs made of jelly, and as soon as I stepped through the door, I physically managed a deep breath, let out with a sigh that epitomised gratification. I was home. I was safe. And gradually my heartbeat and breathing resumed their normal tempo.
I didn’t see this attack coming, it completely blindsided me. But I’d survived it, and I’m sure it was a one off… famous last words!
Oh hello again
And then today I woke up in a bit of a spin. It started with a fluttering in my chest, then quickly escalated. Before I knew it I was pacing the kitchen like I had serious calories to burn, hand clutching my chest, tears streaming down my face, laborious breathing - I just couldn’t quite get a quenching inhale, it was punchy, jagged and gasping.
My heartbeat was increasing with speed and strength. My ‘thinking brain’ desperately trying to rein in some logical problem-solving, but the distraction of the physical symptoms holding onto pole position.
At one point, wisdom did a half-hearted pole vault jump into my awareness, repeating the acronym ‘STOPP’ that I learned in my recent CBT sessions. Yet another, more domineering part refusing to stop. But if I stop what will happen? Will I face what I’m afraid of? I feel like I’d be letting go of any control (or failed attempts of control) to refuse the reality of what may be?
I promised my therapist I would reach out to someone in times like this, not to crumple under the weight of it alone, and so I contacted a trusted friend. The most understanding, empathic, greatest listener, and the one you’d want by your side in such a psychological crisis.
Her simple response was perfect: “remember to breathe”. As if hearing it coming from somewhere other than my own mind, enabled it to reach the right path to be granted ‘approval for action’. Followed by “try a grounding technique”.
Grounding myself in nature
So, I went out into the garden. It was like the symbolism of fresh air made it easier to breathe. Offering me the oxygenated relief my body and mind were in emergency need of.
I looked up at the sky. The trees standing tall and firm. The leaves rustling in harmony like a fine-tuned symphony, orchestrated by the wind’s cue. I felt the cool breeze rolling across my bare legs, and heard the sounds of the world, of life – birds, traffic...
It reminded me that I’m here. Right now. Not lost in the typhoon of my mind, the many thoughts being picked up by the force and thrown around in an escalating and undeniable inner storm.
As I sit here writing in the garden, a group of baby birds ascend the feeder, like a gathering of pre-schoolers jostling for the best toy at nursery – young robins, blue tits and a baby dunnock – like a signal to notice life. A message I needed to see. It seemed to change my perspective – a visual prompt that there is hope and new life. It made me stop and watch, and as such, again grounded me right here, right now. Reminding me that I’m not back in a childhood memory, or in a catastrophic future reality. I’m right here, and this is what’s in front of me right now.
My cat then approaches and curls up beside me – her meditative demeanour infectious and calming me further. Her warm, soft fur comforting and reassuring.
Little gentle reminders that there is life, love and connection right here.
What I learnt from this experience:
It’s OK to reach out for help. In fact it’s better than OK, it’s the best thing to do!
Anxiety attacks subside, they don’t last forever, and with a little practice we can learn to manage them.
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