Panic Attacks

I have wanted to write this post since before I started blogging. It takes some doing though. But part of me wants needs to write it so I’ll continue…

…and I’ll cut to the chase!

In my life I feel blessed to have had about 3 full-blown Panic Attacks, say 10 or so medium ones and I’m guessing upwards of 70 or 80 “scares”. I say blessed, because so many I know have it much much worse.

What does a Panic Attack look like?

Well I give you an example of a “medium” one. Picture the scene. Driving on the M5 Northbound. You are just passed Taunton. Two kids in the back chatting away. Sun Shining. All quite relaxed – well as much as Motorway Driving can be. Certainly no big dramas.

Next thing – and out of nowhere – you feel that your last breath may not have been a good one.

Does that sound odd?…well just wait! The next 10 minutes go something like this:

  1. Try another (deeper breath)
  2. Not sure about that one either…still not right!
  3. Maybe open the window
  4. Girls stop chatting and ask what you are doing opening the window on a Motorway!?
  5. “Getting fresh air” you say, while still trying to take a proper breath.
  6. Still driving you know by now something is not right.
  7. Unable to breathe properly you turn the radio on and open the passenger window as well to really get some fresh air. Now turn the Radio off.
  8. The thought crosses your mind of pulling over to the hard shoulder to get out of the car and breathe. Maybe you will be able to breathe once outside??
  9. Tell yourself – “it’s dangerous”, “I clearly am still breathing” “I don’t want the girls to see me like this – slumped over the car on a hard shoulder struggling for breath”
  10. You tell yourself (in this can go on for many minutes) “you have been here before. You ARE breathing. Everything is OK. Don’t be such an arse”
  11. Then tell yourself this one is different. No it is! You notice a dry tongue. You look in the rear view mirror. Your faced is flushed. Short shallow breaths now. You try and gulp a big one in…it just isn’t happening…
  12. …what IS happening is that you NEED to escape.
  13. Ask yourself how – with two Daughters in the back while on a Motorway.
  14. Return to the “let’s park up on the hard shoulder idea” – tell yourself it will just for a minute or two.
  15.  Refresh all the reasons outlined in (9 above)
  16. You carry on…with the most urgent thoughts of dying flooding your head. Real thoughts of real death. Things start to appear black. Everything feels black. You have to stop driving! You have your daughters in the back. You have to stop driving now!!
  17. Salvation rarely comes in the way of MotorWay Service Stations….!
  18. You find a way to lie to the girls and tell them you just have to get to the loo. Not a lie really – you do have to get to the loo. You walk away from the car is haste. Still not breathing properly, panting really, and find a cubicle and slam the door shut.
  19. You lean against the back wall and breathe. Hands on the wall you breathe as deeply as you possibly can. You start to sob. But you are breathing!
  20. You will go back to the car. You will say to your children that they can have a treat and you will park up properly, and have some tea. You will be shaken and stirred. But alive.

Where and when do you get Panic Attacks?

Well the medical answer to this is anywhere and at anytime. Like most sufferers, Supermarkets need to be treated with caution; but I’ve had them on the beach, at home, at work, in the pub, and on a plane (ask my pal Chris about that one!!)

And My Point is?

Well I’m not a big one for making points – but I have three reasons for writing on the subject:

  1. The quicker more of us feel able to write and talk about these things the better. It’s still all a bit too hush-hush for many people. See the thing is episodes like that one I’ve explained above do leave feel you feeling ashamed and it’s not something easy to talk about. If just one person reading this gets comfort from knowing they’re not the “only nutter in town”  then that’s a good thing.
  2. To offer some helpful advice that works for me. Now I’m not a Doctor or a Counsellor or anything like that, but I do know having a couple of mates ready on the end of a ‘phone can be magical help especially during an attack. Get them to talk to you about anything other than panic attacks though! It can just take your mind away from your feelings and get you thinking about something else – it can and does work for many of us.
  3. My third reason is to tell you that if I had the money I would set up a bank of 24 hour round the clock ‘phone lines for people to call if they ever needed immediate advice or support during an attack. For those feeling isolated or too ashamed to talk about it, panic can be bloody awful. Maybe one day we’ll have such a thing. It wouldn’t cost a lot to set up and run, I’m sure. Just a thought anyway!

Thanks for reading – it’s not been an easy write. Bob x

By the way, we’ve added some more advice on Panic Attacks on our website here and will always be interested in adding links to national support groups.

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About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
This entry was posted in Bob blogs, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Panic Attacks

  1. Thank you for starting us off 🙂
    I am firmly in the club too – driving is/was/is/was/is my main trigger, flying too. Had my first big one when driving and ended up pulling over and having an ambulance called as I REALLY thought I was dying. Motorways are my main trigger, or long roads with little distraction to concentrate on, I go blank and can’t remember what you ususally think about when driving 9sounds silly) so then I focus on the danger areas like you said breathing. Feel yourself getting warmer, open the windows, radio on, close windows. So familiar.
    I do now talk myself out (down from?) of it, literally talk out loud to myself, tellign myself to stop being silly and I am in control of ME, not these stupid chemical rushes or the flight/fight theory stuff. And I remind myself I have started this so I can carry on and be fine. Some times I can talk myself right out of it fast, others not so fast and it requires a pull off the motorway to calm down and start again.
    I’ve had people ask am I a danger driving when all this is going on, and actually I think I am more aware of what I am doing that when calm and not concentrating as much. I went for many years avoiding motorway driving, but now I face my fear when I need to, well O.K. to a point I would never choose to drive for more than 2 hours I don’t think.
    Oh and another couple of things that helped me with driving, sat nav, great distraction and a way of seeing how close you are and being in a car that is higher up.
    the plane thing – well that is another whole story and in a way I can deal with it as I can close my eyes and just sink into it. Oh yes and best distraction for flying….a toddler 😉
    But I have dealt with this for 16 years on and off, it is never totally gone but I do deal with it better now and I feel more or less in control of it – but the sneaky buggers do sneak up on you sometimes still.

    • onlydads says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting 2SandaS. Planes and cars eh!

      I am so glad you added your comments – it really means a lot. I mean that.

      The phrase “sneaky buggers” rings true with me…I call them worse things than that though!
      Bob X

  2. CoffeeCurls says:

    Well done you. a) for getting through it and b) for being brave enough to write about it. You’re a superstar you are Mr Bobs xxxx

    • onlydads says:

      Thank you CC. Not really a superstar though. Just writing real life stuff that touches many people.

      Always appreciate your comments though. Nice comments from a superstar are always appreciated 🙂 X

  3. ThinkingFox says:

    Very brave post Bob.

    Mine used to come whenever the Mailbox Monster raised its ugly head. Right arm and hand used to shake uncontrollably for what seemed like hours. I always worried whether it would be used against me so didn’t dare seek help; it eventually got better and doesn’t happen anymore, thankfully.

    Distraction is the key though, some good tips from you there.

  4. Thank you for writing this post Bob.
    I hear so many men and women saying they have had panic attacks and can add that I had many around the time I had way too much stress in my life.
    I took to driving on minor roads. Motorways had no room for freedom of choice. Being stuck or forced to be in a situation I didn’t want to be in, was too uncomfortable for me.
    It took longer to get to my destination using the little roads, so I had to allow loads more time for the journey. I’d take refreshments in the car with me, so if I wanted to, I could pull over and relax with my travel goodies, (flask of coffee/hot chocolate, cakes, bananas, fudge, favourite sandwich etc.,). Eating and drinking is a good self awareness move, while you are busy wondering why you are doing either in such a hasty manner, you move the concentration away from your incorrect breathing patterns. I can do motorways again now, but they are a bit monotonous and I prefer to use my car’s foot pedals and gearing.
    With regards to supermarkets and busy places. Someone suggested I try this: (promise not to laugh please, it works for many).
    See the area as an ocean, you are a relaxed fish floating along with smooth, rythmic fin and tail movements. The busy/pushy people are just busy shaols of fish rushing past you, in your calm waters. Keep your own pace and let them pass you by.
    If your breathing becomes erratic and you get the unexplained fear of death while you are in the middle of them. Give yourself permission to stop whatever you are doing and go home. Even if it means leaving a shopping trolley half full of food. It’s ok to tell an assistant you’re sorry you got called away suddenly and would they mind ensuring the products get put back on the shelves. Or if you can’t, then know that someone will always find it and put the stuff back, in the end.
    Better still, before you leave home, give yourself permission to come home at any point if you aren’t comfortable. Knowing you can remove yourself from a situation, helps you to go into it.

    I’m not quite sure why these things work for some people. My theory is that we lose the self comfort techniques we had as children, when we are expected to behave in an adult way. We do not do things like cry in public or run to the safety of our homes if we get scared, hurt or worried.

    I’d say the best thing to do is take a leaf out of the children’s book and never worry about what *anyone* will think of you if you tell them you think you are having a panic attack and what you need to do to make yourself feel better. Most human beings (even little ones, like our kids), will want to help you to the ‘feel better’ part, rather than just tell you to pull yourself together and get a grip. Yes?

    P.S. I like the telephone support idea. The phone companies would make a fortune. There are more people than you’d think, that have panic attacks. Maybe our GPs/NHS should get a phone company to sponsor it?

    • onlydads says:

      thanks for these comments.

      I am not laughing at the supermarket is an ocean and you are a fish idea. Not one bit. It’s just that sort of top-tip that can really work for people. We need more tips from you Evie, I think!

      Warm best wishes

      Bob

  5. John M Blanchard says:

    I have to carry an inhaler in case I have a panic attack, they trigger my “stress related asthma”, most common cause for me now is losing sight of my 10yr old daughter when we are out shopping or at the beach. All I can think of at the time is I cannot lose anyone else close to me, I cannot breathe and so struggle with the inhaler, and when I finally spot her I just sitt there shaking and crying. Minor attacks are triggered by driving around busy city centres and suddenly realising I am lost, the satnav comes to the rescue and I am ok again. The only time I have been up in a plane was when I was much younger, taking off was no problem, the short flight was fun but never tried being in a plane when it lands …… I was doing a sponsored parachute jump so left the plane mid air … lol

    • onlydads says:

      Thanks John.

      It is interesting – the fact that many of us have so many different “triggers” for these attacks.

      I have to say that parachutes on ALL airplanes seems very sensible to me. I can’t see it catching on – but it would make people like me feel a whole lot safer 🙂

      Bob

  6. * (I wrote my last comment very late last night and what John M Blanchard has said above is something I was milling over after I’d closed down my computer), therefore…
    Something to add to this blog post is, that if anyone is experiencing breathing *difficulties or obstructions, dizzy spells etc.,* They should seek medical help first.
    NEVER SELF DIAGNOSE PLEASE.
    I had some truly awful breathing problems in bed, in the middle of the night. I thought my throat had closed up so small that I would stop breathing all together. In my case it was just an extremely bad panic attack, but it could easily have been a medical condition or food allergy.
    Well said John 🙂

  7. onlydads says:

    Good point Evie – better safe than sorry!

  8. Diana Jordan says:

    I’ve just been reading a bit about panic attacks in Conscious Medicine by Gill Edwards. She says they are caused by undischarged trauma (often from childhood) and explains that wild animals shake violently after they have been traumatised into a freeze response, to shake the trauma out of their system. So she recommends that you “Shake your Boogie” to some loud music or drumming. Should be suitable for divorce trauma but not severe trauma such as childhood abuse, rape, serious road accidents … Interestingly, she recommends avoiding traditional talk therapies which can reinforce and deepen the trauma.
    Diana Jordan
    http://www.dealingwithdivorce.co.uk

  9. Vena Ramphal says:

    I agree that talking therapies that focus on the trauma can deepen it. Giving attention to the trauma – dissecting it, examining it, mulling it over – can create a stronger relationship with it. This strengthens the bond between the person and the pain of their past. However, if the past is visited in order to get closure and move on from it, that can be fruitful. This is an entirely different approach.

  10. Liz Dawes says:

    Interesting comments Diana. Lots of commentators seem to be saying that they can almost talk themselves down with a kind of “pull yourself together” speech. Maybe dwelling on it afterwards with a counsellor makes it an even bigger issue? I’m no expert tho, and I do know that my asthma was dismissed as panic attacks for quite a while……If distraction in cars in needed, have any of you tried talking books? Loads of TV comedy/radio comedy series, good books etc are recorded now, maybe find something funny and light that you really enjoy and only allow yourself to listen to it in the car? Something that you will actually look forward to hearing? Might work as a distraction……….

    And good writing Bob. I hope you feel good for having done it, and maybe we’ll all learn something.

  11. Suzy says:

    HI Bob
    Thank you for describing your experiences of panic. I am moved to tears by what people manage to get ourselves through. We are so brave, dont you think? We are. I have been having what has been diagnosed as hyperventilation syndrome or panic attacks. I agree that going into it on some level can re-inforce, so I will just say that I have had about 6, but I would literally collapse with my right leg going tingly then collapsing under me and then the feeling spreading to my arms. It happened first randomly at work and the paramedics were called. They said it was a faint, but to be honest I think I was in shock since I started to break the cycle (I hope). The slightest tingling in my hand would make me breathe more shallowly, which I think is the worst thing to do as you apparently over breathe and breathe out more CO2 than you should. This creates a critical level of acidity in the blood and then the body can shut down or collapse as I did (but not go unconscious). I had to lie down (of course I was panicking terribly because I wanted to get up and couldnt accept that I couldnt use my legs). I hope I’m past the worst now, as I think I understand how I am contributing to causing it. It seems to be about deep and regular breathing – counting 4 on the inwards breath from the diaphragm, and 4 on the outward breath, making sure you fill up your lungs from the bottom. It could happen just after I’d been out for a run, which surprised me, but if I was shallow breathing when I was doing the run then it would explain the build up of co2 in the system, followed by a collapse. I also know homoeopathy and two doses of arsenicum 30c (definitely see a homoeopath, they are absolutely perfect for this sort of thing) i think has helped me break the anxiety cycle. Finally I wondered to myself what the net result of being more aware of good breathing is on me, and actually it is helping me to stay good and centred and grounded in myself. Which of course the anxiety takes away from us doesnt it. So watch your co2 levels, I think and don t take no shit from no one.xxx Thanks Bob -feel better for that!!!xxSuzy

  12. I like the breathing technique idea, Suzy. I used to do the breathing technique they used in my Yoga video. It worked a treat, though I couldn’t figure out if it was the breathing or the distraction of counting my breath lengths, that did the trick. I don’t care if it was the latter, because it helped a lot. Though you do need the time and space to do the breathing, it’s hard to do it with people firing “are you okay”? questions at you.

    With regards to talking stuff through. Most people just want some comforting. It’s sad that we seem to live in a busy, stressy world, where we no longer have time for tea and sympathy. Or too many problems of our own to want to listen.

    I still think the ‘Panic Attack Awareness’ badges, or business sized cards with instructions on how to help, printed on them, could be a good thing.
    With so many people suffering from panic attacks, we could all pull together when we see someone in need.
    GPs, NHS and therapists could hand them out at surgeries/clinics?

  13. I really like the idea of awareness badges or cards. My grandma suffers from panic attacks which for a long time resulted in her being afraid to leave the house. She will now go out and about but only to ‘safe’ areas. A badge or other easy device explaining ways to help to ‘good Samaritans’ know what to do to help her would be a source of comfort to her (and us!)
    I would be very interested in any tips for ways in which we as family members can help her.
    Thank you to all the posters for being so frank and honest.

    • onlydads says:

      …The more I think of this, the more I think Evie has come up with a brainwave. A marvelous brainwave!!

      It effects so many of us – and my guess is different things will help different people. In different situations. The ability to tailor and download a bit of software in the form of a card which you can print off. That must be quite straightforward to do. No??

  14. Kirsty, I hope something can done here. If it could help people like your grandma, then it clearly needs to be followed up.

    It would be good to hear some examples of the type of thing people would like to have on a badge or card….
    A badge/or pendant, would possibly have to be one that is easy to understand the point that is being made. So there is no confusion about what is happening to the wearer and/or people ignoring it. I guess once they became popular, people would start to spread the awareness. So a design or logo should have relevant impact.

  15. Thank you, Bob. You’re very kind 🙂
    Now all we need are the software experts, anyone?
    Or someone famous to sponsor this move to raise awareness? Where’s Peter Andre when you need him? LOL

  16. chrispatagon says:

    Just had my first one – nice club here so not bad to belong.

  17. I feel ur pain. That moment when u feel like death is actually upon u, like ur suffocating. Ur terrified coz every breath feels like ur last, like ur lungs are in a vice which is gettin smaller and smaller so ur lungs have no room to expand. U tell urself to stop it, but the more u do the more scared u get when u can’t. Horrible horrible experience. I can barely leave the house atm with anxiety so thankfully not needin to hide in public loos! Well done for speakin out though, onwards and upwards for u woth the support of fellow sufferers, myself inc 🙂 xxx

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