“Dad, could you please drive faster? I do not want to die in the car,” said my 17-year-old self at 2 a.m. while her stepdad and mom rushed her to the ER.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, almost 23 years later, I find myself calling the ER at 3 a.m. in the morning, so convinced that my minor infection has turned into sepsis and that I was dying. The only difference between the first incident and the second is the way I reacted. Knowledge is power.
Many people would probably make fun of both situations—not those who have experienced a panic attack, though. Before I proceed to share the signs and the ways I learned to deal with mine, I will tell you what I told a colleague of mine who asked me whether I had studied psychology or whether I was an expert. My answer was that I read a lot, I do research, and I talk to experts. However, what I did not mention was that I also write from my area of expertise—personal experiences.
Back to the first incident when I waved goodbye to my friends as we passed their houses on the way to the doctor’s (yes, this was how much I was convinced I was dying). The symptoms I described back then to the doctor were the same ones I had each and every time I was having a panic attack.
>> Tight throat—what I described as having a “ball” in my throat had a medical reference.
>> Inability to think straight, as fear takes hold of me.
>> Palpitations—I’d feel like my heart is beating in my throat.
>> Hot flashes that might turn to chills.
>> Nausea, upset stomach, and vertigo—this super package was always the worst.
>> Tingling or numbness in hands.
>> Inability to take a deep breath, which led me to thinking I couldn’t breathe when my levels of oxygen were totally normal.
Since I believe in science and medicine, I would insist on having yearly medical checkups—and I still do—to rule out any physical condition. However, I still have panic attacks every now and then, and the only thing that has changed is the only thing I “kind of” have control on—my reaction.
When I have recently had a panic attack, right before a scheduled surgery, I was watching (right before bedtime) an episode of “Anne with an E” where one of the characters dies of sepsis caused by an infected wound. How on earth did I manage to wake up at 3 a.m. having the same symptoms, text my friend who is a doctor, call the ER, say my prayers, and get ready to meet my creator? We need to ask my subconscious mind and its superpowers—playing tricks on me.
Nonetheless, I did not drive like a maniac to the ER like I did so many times. Fortunately, I managed to control it, and here are some of the things I’d suggest you do:
- Whatever you do, do not google your symptoms. I repeat, do not google your symptoms. Doctors go to medical schools for years and still need to run tests to figure out what is wrong with a human body. A google search will only make matters worse.
- Self-talk is often underrated. During those moments, you are your own best friend. Remind yourself that you are only having a panic attack and that will not kill you.
- Be present and mindful. Look around you for something familiar that helps with the gripping fear. Focus on it.
- Close your eyes, and go to your happy place or person. Let them calm you down.
- Breathe normally while stretching your arms. Remind yourself again that you are not suffocating.
- Cuddle with your pet, your partner, or anyone you live with. And if you live alone, use a pillow and remind yourself that you are safe.
- Last but not least, if I have to pick one thing that has worked magic for me, it would be mantras. They have to be relatable or your own, though. Since faith is the foundation of my life, mine has become: “Have faith. Surrender.”
I wish I could tell myself and others that by avoiding triggers, panic attacks will never happen again, but we cannot live our lives dodging stuff. What we can do, though, is practice mindfulness as much as possible, reminding our “control freak” selves the importance of surrendering.
Ironically, March 30 is the National “I Am in Control” Day—now you can google this.