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A Panic Attack Doesn’t Discriminate

It was a warm, sunny day in Myrtle Beach, SC. I was looking forward to dinner on the sound. What could go wrong? My mood felt subdued.

My sister and I spent most of the day sunning on the beach and swimming with the waves, life was good.

I’ve written articles in the past about the water bringing me peace, a place to run to and feel stress free for a week or so. This still holds true but no matter where we go or what we do that brings us a sense of complete peace, we can’t run away from our illnesses, in my case, Anxiety with Panic Disorder.

After a relaxing day on the beach, I was looking forward to eating at a Restaurant on the sound- I was also looking forward to hitting Broadway At The Beach after I finished a nice dinner with my sister.

https://www.paradiseresortmb.com/

Broadway At The Beach is a very large and open out door shopping area, filled with shops, restaurants and other places to visit. I don’t recall feeling anxious or stressed about anything before we left for dinner and shopping. The only thing I felt was excitement. My sister had never been to Myrtle beach and I was having fun showing her the places I enjoyed.

When we arrived at Broadway At The Beach, we walked through an entrance, there were a lot of people, suddenly I began to feel so dizzy I had to sit down. I wasn’t too worried at this point, I’ve been known to get dizzy when I walk into large open spaces that are crowded.

My sister sat down with me and I began to feel a sense of urgency which was a subconscious feeling, I feared my dizziness wouldn’t pass and I would ruin her evening thanks to me!

So I tried to push myself

Photo by Lou Batier on Unsplash

Even though I was still feeling dizzy I told myself if I just keep walking it would pass. Wrong! I think we walked about 100 steps or so before we came up on another bench. By the time we approached the second bench I was in full blown vertigo (spinning) and felt as though I was going to pass out. I had to sit again and I was feeling extreme guilt on top of the panic attack I was in the midst of having.

Again, my sister patiently sat next to me. She asked if there was anything she could do? For some reason a decaf latte sounded great, well it’s probably because I could smell the fresh brew of coffee to my right coming from a coffee shop.

When my sister returned with our coffee I asked her to please take her time and visit the shops, I didn’t want to ruin her time because I was having a stupid panic attack. I had to beg her to go and she finally did. My hope was by the time my sister returned my panic attack would be gone.

When she returned, my sister asked how I was doing? I told her I thought I was doing a little better, so lets start walking again. How wrong I was. As soon as I stood up, the spinning was so bad I couldn’t focus, my heart was racing and I felt like I was literally going to pass out. I began to cry, I was scared and feeling frustrated too. I had no control over my body, I began to mentally beat myself up.

I asked my sister if she’d be upset if we left? My sister told me, “Of course not, I can see you aren’t feeling well and I’m worried about you.” So my sister took my hand and we walked to my car together. As soon as I sat in the car, the tears rolled down my face like a faucet. I began to cry uncontrollably. My sister gave me a hug and reminded me that I have an illness which I have no control over, she went on to say, “You can’t help this, it’s an illness and the last thing I want is for you to feel guilty too.” I felt very guilty, my mind wouldn’t stop thinking, “Good job, your lack of controlling this illness ruined a fun night for my sister.” The problem that even those of us who suffer from Anxiety with Panic Disorder, we can’t control it no more than we can control the guilt we feel.

Once I got away from the roaring crowd and into the car, after a good cry, my panic attack finally began to dissipate.

In Hindsight

I had a hard time understanding why I had a panic attack when I was really looking forward to our evening. I’ve learned over the years that many of my panic attacks are pre-anticipatory, I begin to worry about something or going somewhere hours or even days before the event takes place.

I thought I was only experiencing excitement before we left. When I went to my Counselor and talked about the incident a few things became evident. I wanted the evening to be so perfect for my sister that I was actually worrying, even though I had no idea that was how my brain was processing my thoughts.

People with anxiety tend to be “people pleasers” and to some degree, perfectionists as well. When a person suffers from anxiety disorder they try to control every situation they find themselves in, even if it might be something familiar. I wanted my sister to experience an awesome evening. As I spoke to my Counselor, I was aware that I was ruminating over the evening. Ruminating thoughts are repetitive thoughts.

Rumination refers to the tendency to repetitively think about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of one’s negative emotional experience

I didn’t have a negative experience prior to leaving for our night out but I kept going over and over in my mind where to go for dinner until I found “the perfect spot on the sound,” and I kept “ruminating” about the place I chose after we went out to eat, hoping my sister would love it. I didn’t want to disappoint or let my sister down. Oddly, I’m not sure why I felt I would let her down, my sister is easy to please and very compassionate.

Generally, a negative experience will lead to ruminating thoughts if your brain is hard wired that way and you are prone to Anxiety with panic disorder. A negative experience could be something as simple as having a panic attack in a store- you may begin to avoid that store and if you don’t address the avoidance, eventually you may find you’re avoiding all stores.

You can’t fix it if you’re not aware of the cause

First, let me state that those who suffer from Chronic Anxiety with Panic disorder like myself will never be fully free from it. But, there are things we can practice, sort of like fooling the part of your brain that keeps mis-firing, this is where a good Counselor is necessary. A good Counselor can give you the tools to cope a differently, EMDR , Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing- find a Counselor who is Certified and utilizes this as a part of their therapy. Understanding and compassion from those we love is also conducive to our Mental Health.

My sister was patient and completely non-judgmental of me during my crisis. The compassion she showed allowed my guilt to leave me once we left Broadway At The Beach.

If someone you love is suffering from a panic attack the best thing you can do is to be empathetic: part of being empathetic is becoming educated.

Understand that what they are going through is real. A panic attack is as real as a heart attack, no pun intended.

If you fear wide open spaces (stores are very common) bring someone with you who does realize panic attacks are real, hold their hand or grab a cart. By doing one or the other gives your brain something to focus on and a cart also gives you a sense of stability.

Photo by Callie Gibson on Unsplash

I haven’t been free from panic attacks but I have learned a few tricks that help me to function without fearing I will have one in every situation I face.

If my sister had become angry or frustrated with me, I might not have been able to walk out of the gate and back to my car. I’m very thankful for those who love me enough to realize this is not an illness we have control over.

It’s easy to lose hope when your Anxiety disorder is chronic which leads to frequent panic attacks. Reach out to professionals who do understand the illness. Just talking about your experiences can be the first step towards coping better.

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