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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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Tuesday
Aug052008

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)

Alice, I've been having panic/anxiety attacks since I hit puberty, and didn't know what was causing them until last year. That makes about 17 years of unnamed distress. I thought I was weak and hysterical and high maintenance. Those things might be true, but they aren't the cause of my anxiety. The actual cause? a frigging heart defect! That my mother has! and never told me about! and my aunt has it! and both of them have had attacks for years and my mother never talked to me about what was going on or how to deal with it!!! argh!

so, beta blockers helped, cutting way way way down on caffeine helped. exercise helps. I still have moments of extreme fear or a nagging all-day feeling that nothing is right and everything is out to get me, and it's hard to recognize in the moment that what's happening is coming from within, not as a response to my environment or my situation. Once I can see that, though, I can start to calm myself, but sometimes it takes a couple of days.

hang in there, lady. you are magnificent!
August 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersaramiep
I have panic attacks so awful that I sometimes throw up! Usually they take place in crowded public places or anytime I feel I have no control over a situation. It's the worst feeling in the world and I'm able to avoid some of it now with positive talk and preparation. I'm so sorry for all that you have gone through, but I'm also happy to report that I take great comfort in your pain. I know I'm not alone...
August 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterApril
I have panic attacks so awful that I sometimes throw up! Usually they take place in crowded public places or anytime I feel I have no control over a situation. It's the worst feeling in the world and I'm able to avoid some of it now with positive talk and preparation. I'm so sorry for all that you have gone through, but I'm also happy to report that I take great comfort in your pain. I know I'm not alone...
August 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterApril
I've also had panic attacks and generalized anxiety on and off since I was a little girl. I always felt terribly embarrassed about it, especially about the crazy thoughts I would have during an attack. Finally understanding why it happens (I'm trying out the Linden method now, and I'm feeling very positive about it) has helped me so much. Since we don't use our fear running from wild animals these days, our subconscious tries to "protect" us from other things we fear, no matter how unlogical those fears may be. The "it's really going to happen" feeling it's just part of that protection. You need to tell your subconscious you're safe, time and time again. Eventually it will listen.
August 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMonica
every single time I fly I am certain that I'm dying. it's the turbulence. I never worry about terrorist attacks or mechanical problems, just the turbulence. the only thing that sucks worse than turbulence is panick attacks.
August 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commentergina
I had morning anxiety attacks as soon as I woke up from April to July. Hell. I'd rather be soaked in tears, at least I know what to do with that. The anxiety/panic is beyond my scope.

The morning issues have subsided but it transferred to flying, in a summer when I've had to do a bunch of it. It's difficult to explain and easy not to talk about it, so I'm glad you brought it up.
August 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlaurie
Delurking to say that I have panic attacks too. Have had them for as long as I can remember.

I can go months without one and then all of a sudden they are back.

It was funny (not really) reading your post because I recently had a turbulent flight that left me reaching for my anti-anxiety medication that I NEVER travel without!

It is nearly impossible to describe the sensations of a panic attack to someone who has not experienced it. I have tried time and again to tell my husband about them...about the racing heart, the hyperventilating, the irrational fear, the sky falling in around you and he looks at me as tho I am insane. Maybe I am alittle bit, who knows?

I just wanted to know that I SO hear you!
August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristina
First things first...I LOVE your blog! Definitely one of my top favorites. You are such an inspiration.

Now on to the other stuff...

Oh girl, do I feel your pain. I had a whole summer of mild panic (with some fun little panic attacks here and there) and it was awful. Especially awful when you are trying to be a mom of a toddler and a loving doting wife. *all that went out the window*



August 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSummer Saldana
Whoops wasn't done....

Anyway, I read an amazing book, "The Anxiety Cure," that really helped shed some light, and actually made me feel normal to suffer from it. Weird, yes I know. ;-)

One thing I learned is to be open and honest, especially with our kids. If we hide it and act as though it's something to be ashamed of, our kids will begin to think they are "bad" should they ever experience it. The best thing to do is just what you did. Be open and honest - to the degree their age can handle - and know that they will appreciate you trusting them with the truth. Secrets and keeping things in the dark is never ever good.

Hang in there chicka!
August 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSummer Saldana

what a touching story! i don't suffer from panic attacks but my son does. it's a awful experience to watch and feel like your not able to make it stop.

November 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

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