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Sometimes my brain kicks into overdrive and starts freaking out about threats or problems that aren’t really there. This is something that passes with time, but while it’s happening it can be very hard for the people around me to know what to do. I’m going to try and explain what it feels like, so that people who don’t suffer from panic attacks or anxiety or whatever it is can have at least some idea what I’m going through*:

Firsly, I’ll sometimes have a fair idea what will cause me to panic. There are some surefire triggers, like asking a favour of someone (regardless how well I know them) or going into a crowded space. When I’m faced with doing something like this I’ll often delay because I know what it’ll feel like once I do it and I really don’t like the feeling. I’ll also tend to weigh the alternatives and try to decide if it’s really worth the panic. Sometimes I decide it’s not, sometimes I decide it is.
To those who have to deal with me (or others) in this state, I find that being understanding and giving space and time is great. If I seem to be taking far longer than I should to work myself up to it then a gentle reminder (just one, mind!) that it won’t get any easier and I do need to do it won’t do any harm, although it might get a snapish response if I’m particularly panicked. If it does get a snapish response then please don’t take it personally! It’s generally my own brain I’m cross at.

Once I decide to do it I will probably seem all business. I tend to put aside all my fears and put on a confident face. I might seem a bit distant and formal, which is a side-effect of ignoring my emotions. Again, it’s not personal.

If the trigger is drawn out (having to wait in a long queue in a crowded area, for example) or is something where I have to wait for a response the panic will quickly start to rise. My heart will start beating faster. I’ll start looking for exits. If there’s background noise or smells or whatever they’ll seem to get more intense, until I can’t think from noticing them all. My mind will start going through all the things that could go wrong, or all the things in the situation that are bothering me, or ways that I could be misunderstood or upset people by doing what I’m doing. I’ll tend to apologise a lot. I’ll look increasingly jumpy, and it will be very difficult for me to maintain a conversation, or anything that needs concentration.

Once I’m out of the situation it will take a while for me to recover (no matter how quick it was) and I’ll probably be a bit vague for a while and give single syllable answers, etc. until the reaction has passed. Again, simply being understanding is a great help here, as is giving me time to adjust. It’s okay for you to continue talking or doing what you were doing as long as you let me know that it’s okay if I’m not fully listening or don’t respond. Bear in mind, though, that I may be suffering from sensory overload, so if you do keep talking do it quietly! If you are willing to stop talking altogether until I’m feeling better that’s also good, but again, let me know that you’re doing it, and that you’re okay to wait as long as I need. With my mind in the state it’s in I’ll probably worry that you’re upset with me otherwise.
Hugs are sometimes welcome, and sometimes not. If you think a hug might help then ask first. If the answer is “no” then other contact (touching my hand, grasping my shoulder…) is probably out of the question too. Yet again I stress: It’s not personal! Sometimes I just can’t deal with being touched.

When the reaction has passed I’ll generally be back to my normal self pretty quickly (although I’ll probably still be a bit shaky internally) and will be okay to continue. I’ll probably feel a bit stupid though, because even as I’m having these moments of panic I know that they’re irrational. I tend to be fully aware that panicking like that isn’t helping, but I just can’t help it!

*This is entirely based on my experiences and how I like people to react to me. If you find yourself dealing with someone who seems to be having a similar experience you could probably do worse than to follow my advice above, but if in doubt ask! If someone is in the midst of a similar experience you’ll want to keep your questions short and easy, of course, or wait and do your best and then ask them later how you should react in future.

If I were to ask only one question of someone who seemed to be having a panic or anxiety attack it would be “Do you want me to stay here, or to give you space?” If they say to stay then do, if they ask for space then move a small way away and tell them where you’ll be and that they can come and find you whenever they feel ready. I know that when it comes to me it’s a great comfort to know that there’s someone nearby, even if I can’t bear to talk to them right then!

Do any of you guys feel like this sometimes? What do you find helps you? What do you find is an absolute no-no? What advice would you give to people who suffer similar attacks, or their friends?

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