I wish all well-meaning people could understand that having an anxiety disorder, and the panic attacks that come with it, doesn’t mean we don’t know or understand that we have good things and good people in our lives.
Those of us who experience panic attacks don’t choose to have them. They aren’t a matter of having the wrong perspective or being unappreciative or ungrateful for what we have.
There are “triggers.” A scent, a phrase, someone who resembles someone else, a place, a sound/noise, a voice, a song, a shadow, anything really, can bypass the thinking, rational parts of our brains and burrow directly into the sensory memories, our involuntary nervous system, which flow through our bodies. Our bodies hold the memories that our brains tuck away and bury.
It’s instantaneous. It’s involuntary. It happens in a microsecond.
We can learn techniques and skills. We can create and hold onto touchstones that can help us get present again. We can work with a therapist to help us identify and process the experiences and memories that the triggers are connected to.
However, knowing the good things doesn’t stop the anxiety and panic attacks. Having someone tell us to remember the good things doesn’t make the attack stop or help us feel better . . . however much it makes the one saying it feel better for having said it.
After the attack, we don’t feel better. We feel drained and exhausted. We may feel frustrated that we “let” it happen again or feel guilty because it affected someone we care about. We may feel broken and unfixable because it never seems to stop happening, no matter how long we have gone since the last one.
The next time you want to comfort or help someone who’s experieced or is experiencing a panic attack, instead of telling us what there is to be grateful for or all the things we should remember, don’t.
Don’t try to hug or touch us. Ask if we want to be hugged or touched before you do it. Consent isn’t just for sex. Uninvited touch might be the trigger.
Tell us you support us, even if you don’t know what we’re going through. Let us know that you recognize how hard it is and know that there’s nothing bad or wrong that we experienced another one. Sit in silence with us.
Most of all, don’t get and act offended if we don’t respond, willingly receive what you offer, or react in a happy, grateful way. Taking care of our feelings is difficult enough. We can’t be expected to take care of yours.
We know you mean well and that your intentions are good. Let that be enough.