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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Chicago Review Press

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Let's Panic

The site that inspired the book!

At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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Down here on earth.

A few days ago I was lying on my bed, talking on the phone with my friend Jessie. I was telling her the grim details of the horrific flight I had on my way home from BlogHer. I haven't said too much about my homeward flight, because every time I think about it I end up hyperventilating under my duvet, and one fewer trauma to relive would be nice. All I can say about it now, without the flashbacks driving me to peel the skin from my face, is there was some turbulence. And by "some," I mean "a lot," and by "turbulence," I mean "death was a near certainty." Except it wasn't. So that was a relief.

At any rate, I apparently felt well enough while talking with Jessie to really let loose on the whole ordeal, including the panic attack that kicked into high gear as all the conscious passengers were gripping our armrests and praying fervently. I didn't realize, while I was talking, that Henry was in the next room. So there I was recounting the hours of dry-heaving into an air-sickness bag as my tears soaked my copy of O , when my boy strolled in and asked, "What's a panic attack?" I was still on the phone, so I screeched, "You hush up while Mommy has her Me Time!" Actually I stared at him, wondering how much he had heard, and then I told him we'd talk after I hung up.

Then he asked me thirty more times in rapid succession. Making it really hard to say goodbye to my friend. I still did it, though, because I am able to both talk and wave dismissively at a child. I am a professional.

Again he demanded to know what a panic attack was, and was I really going to die on that plane? The second part was easy, because I definitely did not die on that plane, so obviously those thoughts had more to do with my panic than with the brain-rattling shaking I hyperventilated my way through. "But what's panic?" Henry wanted to know. I contemplated telling him it was a fun new video game I was playing on the plane, but instead I went for the boring, awful truth. I tried to explain, but it sounds pretty silly, all the fear-over-nothing and adrenaline and nausea and so forth. I hope he never has to find out firsthand what a panic attack is. It doesn’t look good for him, given his family history, but a girl can dream.

"Are you having a panic attack now?" he wanted to know, which was silly because I wasn't on a plane convinced that I was going to die at any minute. Except, whoops, I was having a panic attack, actually; I've been gripped by stupid low-grade panic since I got back. There's something so embarrassing and ridiculous about being this panicked all the time. How do you express that feeling to someone else? How little sense does it make that I feel like each step I take is the last one before I hurtle off a cliff?

"Nope," I said, "Come lie down on the bed with me." Which he did. And we laid there for a while. He stared at my face while I looked out the window, attempting to approximate some kind of contented expression.

"You had a bad look on your face," he said to me. "Are you having a panic attack?"

"Not at all," I said. It's really hard to lie to him. Damn it all.

"I'll be okay," I told him. Which felt like the truth.

Reader Comments (85)

kids are so intuitive. mine can read what sort of a state I am in solely on how my face looks.

we have a saying here...

why does your face look like that?

which allows me to say what is bothering me, which leads most of the time to a chat that leaves me feeling better. my youngest is 9 and the oldest is 23.

and for the record, as someone who is pretty deathly afraid of flying, I can tell you that I would still be having a panic attack, too.

I agree with whoever said up there...keep talking about it...
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChris
what happened to the peanut walking down the street?

he was assaulted.

August 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterj
I've had anxiety for pretty much my entire life. I had no idea what it was back when I was so young, or even when I was having panic attacks in high school.

As an adult I've tried therapy and several medications. They helped to somewhat control it, but what has worked the absolute best for me was changing my diet.

After cutting out the junk I was eating, it was positively amazing how much better I felt. No longer do I walk around all day feeling scared, antsy, nauseous...

Cutting out caffeine and drastically reducing my sugar intake has really helped keep that jittery, heart-racing, stomach churning down. Feeling like that was leading to my "snowballing" thoughts that would escalate to the worst case scenerio of anything. Seriously, it would get to where the idea of driving to preschool would throw me into a near-paralyzing panic.

Eating more fresh veggies and fruits, coupled with the junk food elimination has allowed me to be panic-free for over 4 months, and I haven't been in therapy or taken any medication in that time. At least on this level I know I have control. When and if I start getting worked up again, no doubt my first defense will be to grab a salad or munch on some carrot sticks. As odd as that sounds, it has worked wonders for me!

All the best to you and Henry. I'm waiting for the day my 4 yr old asks the same question.
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHeather
Yeh, sometimes one of the hardest things about dealing with this kind of stuff is the impact it has on our kids, who can't fully understand what's going on, try as they might. Don't beat yourself up too much about him overhearing - it happens, and there will be times that you won't really be able to keep him from knowing what's going on. My own little guy (age 4 1/2) still asks me from time to time if I'm happy, if I'm sick, if I'm going to the doctor - all because I was in the hospital a few months ago for my depression. The most important thing is how we handle it, I think - and that we try not to stigmatize natural human emotions. I'm still working on that...
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTrish
I started having panic attacks out of the blue in high school - didn't leave my house for four weeks because I was just too terrified to function.That nauseated anxious feeling in my stomach still comes back from time to time, sometimes lasting for days - it is so hard to explain to people who don't understand.It is always encouraging to hear/see/read people being honest about issues like this because it shouldn't have this stigma it does. Anxiety can be so hard to deal with, especially when sometimes, you don't even realize you are panicking.I hope things improve for you, truly.
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterrachellake
Perhaps it bears repeating ... if, ironically, you do take what turns out to be a last step before you hurtle off a cliff? ... there will be masses of us hurtling after you ... and we'll be polite enough to not land directly on you.
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdianne
I've had panick attacks since I was nine. I tried to hide them for over 20 years and I found that telling the people I love, "I'm having a panick attack" helps with the severity. I've been very honest with my children and have actually talked to my 8 year old daughter who was having a weird episode one night. Sure enough, her first panick attack. Thank God, none since then but I think putting a name on it and explaining it helps the child realize they aren't going to die. I don't know. I've always wanted to blog about them. You did such a beautiful and articulate post.
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterOutnumbered221
"I'll be okay," I told him. Which felt like the truth.

I hope and pray for this, Alice. You are such an amazing person (and your kid sounds pretty insightful, too). I want you to be better than okay, actually. Sounds like that will happen, with time. Thanks for letting us go through this with you. There is some saying, about how friends divide sorrows and multiply joys. I hope we, your readers, do that on a virtual level, at least.
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa
This is what it's about. Thanks so much for writing honestly. I've been in low-grade, near-constant panic for the past week. I'm nearly 40; I'm tired of being a stay-at-home mom and I have no career to fall back on. I feel like the biggest failure on the planet. Well, not quite the biggest, but fairly gargantuan.
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLisa C
Long time reader, first time commenter. I am aprehensive about commenting here because your blog is so popular and frankly, I'm not sure how much I can really add to the conversation, except: (1)It's good that you told him the truth and (2)I suffer from anxiety, and have for a long time, and that's why it sucks: You can have a panic attack over "nothing" and that's why people don't "get it." but I get it and you are not alone.
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFarrell
I know this sounds silly, but I tend to have more panic attacks in the summer. As a matter of fact (nevermind the mono issue), I've had many this summer compared to other summers. And, I only remember one that I had all winter.

I remember my past by incidents. For instance, I met my husband in the summer of 2001, we lived in Florida in the summer of 2002, Walker was born in 2003, Jace was born in 2004, I had a hysterectomy and spinal fusion in 2005, Wayne broke his leg in 2006, we bought the daycare in 2007 and I'll be damned if 2008 doesn't go down as the year I turned 40 and got a teenage kissing disease.

See, just typing that makes my heart race a little faster, but out of all of those things I mentioned above, the birth of my 2 kids are the only winter events...everything else I remember is about the "Summer of ?" and that's when I have these crazy attacks.

I have been lucky to hide most of my medical issues from my children, until now and they are old enough to understand that hey, mom was really sick this week and hey, she didn't come home from the doctor today and hey, she didn't come home again today either. I was in the hospital over the weekend but of course that really has no concept to them but the fact that I didn't come home, oh yea. And, that too makes my heart race just a little faster.

So, I rambled all that to say, maybe it will ease up soon when it starts to cool off. Maybe?
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJerri Ann
New here. Does it make you want to talk to God?
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterOrganizing MOmmy
I have a low-grade panic attack every time I sit down in the chair at the hair salon. It makes no sense, because the worst thing that has ever happened to me there is that my color came out a little off, but panic attacks and logic do not go together. I've also had them while driving long distances with no place to exit, which is not fun at all. Pretty much, panic attacks just suck all the way around, and I'm really sorry you're having to deal with them.
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa
I've become one of the 'let it all hang out' school.

Mainly because I'm not good at hiding things and my kid is a way too smart.

So we call it 'freaking out' and she knows that mommy freaks out. It used to freak her out and I think since I started calling it 'freaking out' and then doing imitations of myself freaking out for her amusement, it doesn't even phase her anymore.

My freaking out made her nervous and affected her and then as soon as I acknowledged it, it stopped having that effect.

Note: I'm not burdening her with my problems. We don't discuss it as a problem. Just more like: Mommy does this thing. She freaks out. It looks like this: Whacka, whacka, whacka. (I exaggerate it for comic effect at times.)

Very interesting, this whole openness thing. As I said, I wasn't doing it on purpose but I have a friend who was screwed up by the fact his parents denied things when he knew they were true and he sort of pointed out to me the futility of that. Kids are not stupid.

Clearly, you cannot inform them of every detail and you do have to soft pedal things when you can. But I've given up on the outright stonewalling I was trying to do previously.

For now, I will go with the 'tell them what is happening in a kid-friendly non-scary way and avoid trying to deceive about my emotions if they are negative because the fact that you are trying to hide it makes it look like it must be reeeeaaaaalllllly bad when actually, it's not a big deal, all things considered.'

Obviously, it would be better if I were perfectly sane. But I am not. So the best I can do is let her know that I handle my insanity well and it's not a scary thing. Eventually, she might hate me as a teenager for not being more normal but right now my emotions do not cause her fear or distress and I think that this is the best I can do. For now.
August 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterozma
I'm so sorry that you're in pain. One thing to think about if is whether any medication that you're taking might be making things worse. So do take the advice of the previous commentator and go to a doctor and quiz him/her about that. All the best.
August 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMarge
I first read this as you having a fight with someone on your way back from BlogHer, so I pictured you throwing down with someone on the plane, which seems so unlike you!

I had a really bad flight like that once, coming back from a conference in Denver. I'd had two gin and tonics before the turbulence started, and was watching the movie thinking, "I can't believe I'm going to die watching Two Weeks Notice!!!"
August 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKG
I feel for you because I used to have panic attacks. For years I struggled and then someone told me to just accept them. I had gone through enough panic attacks to know that I wasn't going to die, so I just accepted the fact that they too would pass. This lessened the severity of the attacks but they still did not go away. What finally sent them scurrying was living in the "now". Whenever I get a thought that starts up the panic attack signals, I just stop myself and say, I am here now, I pinch myself to make myself aware of the moment, look around to ground myself, and then I ask myself, "At this actual moment in there anything to be afraid of?" There never I calm down. All my fears and triggers always stem from looking to the past or looking to the future. If I can stay present in the moment....everything is great.Good luck. I am in my fifties, it took me a long time to get to this point. Acceptance and riding the panic wave instead of fighting it is the first step.
August 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBev
i was in therapy when my son was young and i remember worrying how to tell him about the panic attacks. i figured i could hide them and she said - no one will ever watch you as closely as your children. they pick up on everything. my oldest is 6 now and i still leave the room if one hits and hope that it's a quick one but the longer, anxious, cranky episodes are what make me feel so guilty, so embarrassed about not acting "normal". it is somewhat reassuring to know you are not the only one out there but i don't wish it on anyone. i hope you feel better soon - do whatever it takes for you.
August 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentervba
I am so sorry you had such a traumatic experience. I've never had a panic attack (chronic low grade anxiety is more my thing) but I feel as if I experienced one while reading your post. I think you handled the conversation with Henry beautifully. I generally find that honesty is the best policy. They can pretty much see through the bullshit anyway.
August 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermerlotmom
It's so amazing to read all these comments from others who also have lived through panic attacks.

I also am attacked by the beast of panic. I've had bouts of it throughout my life and during my pregnancies it got completely out of hand. I'm now on medication for it and since these great little pills entered my life, I have yet to throw-up due to panic. Thank goodness.

Panic is worse than depression for me and I've had lots of experience with both.

I hope you feel better soon Alice... but if not, definitely talk to someone about getting help. I was like "Why didn't someone tell me about this pill before!!!"

(PS. the medication I'm referring to isn't the standard one that everyone takes for depression and anxiety -- because I already DO take that one. This is in addition to that!!! A bit of a not-so-common one... that I'm just taking for a while... like maybe another year. LOL)

Sending you non-panic thoughts!
Its been 16 months and one beautiful baby girl after my miscarriage, and I still can't drive a car on a highway or over an overpass. I get euphoric/ disoriented, start panicking, feeling like my car is going to fly off the road.

I never had panic disorders or any issues with driving until the miscarriage... when the panic sensations started happening, I actually went to my doctor because I thought I was anemic from blood loss! Just wanted to let you know that somewhere out there is another woman who is going through the same frustrating, life-limiting issue. I do think there is a definite physiological link between the type of hormonal crash you experience after miscarriage and panic. Or maybe its PTSD. Oh hell, I just hope we can both get better. Thanks for being another voice out there- You are so right/ its virtually impossible to explain to those who love you and see you as strong, clever and capable- they just can't understand.
August 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterkathrynaz
Hi, I don;'t know if someone else has suggested this but here goes. KLONOPIN. It is the best anti-anxiety drug that I know of. They are a long-lasting calming medication, I wouldn't fly without having one beforehand.
August 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Va
ugh. Panic attacks are the worst and so hard to explain to someone who's never had one or is not prone to anxiety (let alone a 5-yr-old who you're trying not to scare). Maybe you could explain it to him as feeling sick? Or just say that "you know how sometimes you get scared... I get scared too"?

Good luck with everything... having had panic attacks/ anxiety myself I definitely sympathize and hope you can find a way to feel better.
August 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermfk
we don't know each other and never will.we have nothing to do with each other.but i like you.and really truly feel for you.what you went trough is awful, and you have every right to be a mess, don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

hang in there, time really does heal even if we never forget.
August 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMaría
I will just say I have been there. Remind me to tell you sometime of when I was rushed to the hospital in college convinced I was having a stroke. Good times.

Get whatever help/support/cookies you need, will you?
August 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMom101

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