Take a moment, and before you start to read this post, look around you and see your environment. Take note as to how you are currently feeling. Do you have any aches or pains? What about your heart? Can you feel it beating in your chest? Are you comfortable? Are you hungry? What about sounds? What can you hear? Are the lights on? Can you hear them? Take a moment and breathe... Ok, I think we are ready.
Imagine you and a few friends have decided to go out to lunch. You've chosen a popular location and you've managed to find a table to sit at as you are waiting for your food. Casual conversations take place, laughing at the random things that have happened throughout the day.
kuh thump, kuh thump, kuh kuh thump, thump, kuh thump, kuh thump
As you are listening to something your friend had said, your heart feels like it hacked up the last thing you ate. You feel your face get warm. The background noises of a bustling fast food place becomes quiet. It's almost as if someone adjusted the volume of the place like adjusting the volume knob on a stereo. You look at your friends as they continue the conversation.
Are they speaking words?
You're starting to feel faint. Still focusing on your heart, you can't feel it anymore.
Is it still beating?
You cough. It's becoming harder to breath. You're heart must have stopped. Your chest is starting to become tight. You take a sip of your drink. You feel the cool liquid run down your throat.
Should I stand?
You place your fingers quickly to the side of your neck...
Frantically you move your fingers up and down pausing for a second to see if you feel a pulse. You're throat feels like it has something on the edge of your windpipe.
You clear your throat.
It's not helping...
You finally find your artery.
Your heart beats a few strong beats... Your heart is beating...
Mental health is such a fickle thing. For those that don't understand why, I hope you never have to understand. The saying, "ignorance is bliss" is something to envy. It's hard to understand why, when you aren't in the middle of it. So cryptic... Let me start with this.
I've talked about some of the anxiety that I have developed in the last 3-ish years. I know there have been times in my life where stress was around and I wasn't the happiest person when that happened. But the last 3 years have been significantly different for me. And by different, I mean rocking my world.
Mental health is one of those things we never really think about, at least, I never did. Taking some time for yourself never made any sense to me.
Why would I need to take 30 minutes a day to sit somewhere quietly to just think?
Panic in this disco
Panic attacks are a form of extreme fear often relating to something that is irrational. It can also exponentially fester with very little suggestion. I have found meditation to be fairly decent at dealing with panic attacks. Because, rather than falling down a seemingly never ending toxic thought rabbit hole. You acknowledge the negative thought/feeling and try your best to remain grounded and present.
At the start of this post, I ran though what I first started experiencing when I had my first panic attack. One of the things that are very noticeable especially after the fact, is that all conversations fall away. It's like someone has drawn a curtain, or pressed mute on the world. Your entire focus becomes internal as you start to work through what you need to do. Your mind is screaming at you that something is wrong but the only thing you can think to do is confirm it's an issue. You fear the worst the whole time.
That internal conflict is not noticeable to others. Unless someone is very apt at noticing subtle cues of when someone is having a panic attack, it can otherwise go undetected by most. So when people joke about "just getting over" a mental health issue like that, they don't realize that a war of trying to conquer the mind is underway. Kind of like depression, anxiety has a way to take control of your meat buss and force you to imagine the horrific.
Panic attacks can last longer than this but having one for 10 minutes and feeling like "this is it" is one of the longest moments of your life. Especially since you usually have adrenaline pumping through you, which if anyone has had a kick of that in their life on it's own can make it seem as if everything around you has slowed down.
Those physical feelings are the hardest things for me to deal with when it comes to panic attacks. I've mentioned this in other posts, but often times panic attacks can reproduce symptoms that are very similar to a heart attack. Shortness of breath, dizziness, chills and even numbness of limbs. So a lot of people are admitted to the hospital mistakenly thinking they were going to die. The physical feelings often feel so real you hope to God that they aren't.
It is really self deprecating because it's hard to trust your mind or your body at that point. Your mind is powerful enough to produce fake physical symptoms all due to stress. Now imagine that you have been woken up in the middle of the night from a currently ongoing panic attack and for the main course you feel like you are about to choke on something. But when you take a sip of water, there is nothing in your esophagus. How do you deal with that? How do you trust that you are going to be ok?
I struggled with knowing that my mind may be making up some physical sensation. Or that my mind has picked up on a muscle that is spasming and decided to focus my attention to it, then of course, assuming the worst. I felt very insecure about knowing whether or not any feeling I had was real or not. I got to a point where I was terrified that if I allowed myself to get used to these phantom pains, that when an actual injury were to occur I would dismiss it and not seek out help. (By the way, speaking to others who are conflicted with panic attacks understand the negative feedback loop you can get into from thinking this way. Basically perpetuates the panic attack)
I guess I shouldn't say I don't fear that still, but it is less of a concern for me at this point. I realize a lot of these thoughts are irrational. The hardest part is trying to somehow train myself to differentiate between an actual pain or feeling from a phantom feeling.
There are things that can trigger a panic attack. Mine, most often, occur at random. Usually I will be sitting having a conversation or just focusing on something at work or at home and I will get slammed with an overwhelming feeling of fear. However, sometimes certain thoughts have also triggered them.
My grandpa has dementia. I haven't really talked about it with anyone. But it has bothered me ever since I found out. Dementia is another mental issue, but there isn't a cure. You can't just meditate dementia away. You can't just practice mind puzzles and remember what you did in the last day. You just slowly lose your history.
Memory is a fascinating subject when it comes to identity and you aren't freaking out over losing your own. The idea that you could clone yourself and raise your clone they wouldn't be you. (Basically how twins work) The only way your clone could mentally be you is if your clone had the exact same life experiences. So with saying that, if you lose the memory of your life experiences, you are no longer you. Physically, and genetically, you are still you. But your personality, your interests, your habits are based on the fact that you can remember what you liked, didn't like, or had good/bad experiences with.
I can see why it is so hard for families to adjust when their loved ones are diagnosed with dementia. They are literally changing, and their families are still assuming that they are still themselves. It's like trying to fit a puzzle piece that changed its shape. The pieces around it will have to change before that piece could fit again. (Not a great analogy) But I think a lot of people try to force their memory of that person back onto the person who doesn't remember.
Anyways, some deeper thoughts such as dementia with my grandpa. Then being a new father and married, has made a lot of stress for me when it comes to death. I know, people die all the time and not always from old age. But for quite a while I have struggled with trying to even come to terms with that. Everyone in my immediate family is still alive today. So I'm pretty lucky. However when it comes to someone passing away. I'm not prepared for that.
So talking about death or things that I can't control like a heart attack can trigger irrational thoughts.
The worst attacks are the ones that hit while I am sleeping. You wake up groggy and extremely fearful. I had one the other night that lasted for several hours. I couldn't go to sleep because I would just jump back awake. I had to sit there next to my wife and wait for myself to become tired enough that I didn't realize I fell asleep.
The symptoms of this one was entirely physical. I felt like there was something at my trachea (Probably acid since I can have bad acid reflux depending on what I eat before bed). I would drink water and I could feel it go down just fine. Nothing blocking or seemingly coming up from my stomach. Yet, that feeling persisted. I felt like I needed to constantly clear my throat or cough. Then there were throbbing waves of fear about choking on something I couldn't feel. That fear would run over me like a sumo wrestler trying to push me out of the ring. That fear continued until at least 2 AM. I ended up originally waking up at 11 PM. It felt like an eternity.
I am going to be following up with a psychologist this week to see what my options are. If it’s more mental training with meditation then sign me up. I’m just tired of missing sleep over nothing. I like my sleep.
For those who might be concerned, this can't get me down. Sure it sucks, it isn't what I would like to be happening but I'll get through it. Sometimes it scares the literal shit out of me but it'll take more than fear to get to me.
A message for those in need:
For those who think there is no escape from the fear, here are some things I found to help. Talking about it, especially with those who have or are experiencing panic attacks. Once you start doing that, you are no longer alone. Try meditation, it's helped me with some of the more mental attacks. When my attacks are accompanied with physical symptoms it hasn't helped me as much. For a long time when the attacks first started I was having them almost every night. It does get better over time. It's useful to talk to a psychologist. They can get to the root of the problem, or at least guide you through and identify why you might be having these attacks as well as show you that certain thoughts are irrational.
So that's that. Thanks for reading.