I came home with the kids, some groceries and a full blown panic attack today. My husband said, “What’s wrong?”
I say, “I’m having a panic attack.”
He says, “Why?”
Why? That’s a really good question.
It probably started this morning, a Sunday, when I was feeling conflicted and guilty about whether or not we should go to church. Trigger one.
I think I don’t really want to, but I feel obliged and moved to, at the same time. My family don’t want to come, which I understand, so I go alone. Trigger two.
While I’m there I connect with some familiar faces, I squeeze a woman’s hand when she tells me her friend found her son dead after five days, and I weep with a man who just wants to love all the people on the fringe of society. A girl I’ve spent several hours with and know online didn’t remember who I was until I reminded her. An innocent mistake, but for me: Trigger three.
I am moved by talk of great poverty in the world and wonder what I could possibly do to contribute. I feel purposeful, moved and conflicted. Yet somehow useless in the scheme of things. Trigger four.
There was someone there I get a sense is unhappy with me for some reason, so I message her but don’t hear back. She must be unhappy with me. Trigger five.
I feel agitated all day. I’m speaking mumbo jumbo about how I feel about the greater system of church, spirituality, but the people, I love. I don’t struggle to love people. We have committed ourselves to loving people. I probably put too much effort and energy into the way I love people. I can’t even get that right. Trigger six, and it’s not even midday.
So. There’s a voice that’s kind of loud today. It’s that voice that tells me I’m a bit fat. That I’m not really doing anything meaningful with my life. That I’m not quite good enough to tackle the projects I have on my plate. That I might not get that job I applied for, and it tells me I can’t build the business I want to, and applying for a job is a cop out because I should be following my dreams. Triggers seven, eight and nine.
Later, I take the girls to a kids party at the movies. Social anxiety. Trigger 10.
It’s something that should be simple, there’s another Mom there I know, but I feel like she might be unhappy with me too. I touch her arm in conversation to try and build connection.
But that’s quite creepy right? I’m a creep. Trigger 11.
We leave the cinema, and my husband wants me to grab some things from the supermarket. I feel so wound up at this point it bothers me. I can’t find the soda. My daughter can’t keep up and complains I’m leaving her behind. Let’s wrap that all into Trigger 12.
Then we forget to scan the hot cross buns and my daughter walks out with them without paying. I choose not to go back, because it’s too hard. But I feel guilty. Trigger 13.
We get in the car, I put my (what I thought was validated for free parking) ticket in the machine, I owe $8 and it tells me I need to go to the pay station. Fuck. Trigger 14.
There’s people waiting behind me, they’re annoyed for sure. I run out of the car, leaving the kids there, the machine is super close. But it’s out of order. Trigger 15.
I run downstairs, in a fluster, that is out of order too. Fuuuuuck. Trigger 16.
Cars are lined up, everybody hates me, I left my kids in a running car, I race upstairs and ask if I can skip the queue. The man says no. Trigger 17.
I explain my awful actions, I’ve left my kids in the car and everybody is waiting for me. I’m the worst human right now. I race back to the car and a man is there telling me I could have actually just paid right there. So I pissed everybody off for no reason, just because I can’t think in a fluster. Triggers 18 through 24.
Now that voice is super loud and completely taken over, stealing my breath and any shred of confidence I had as a human. You are useless, stupid and now you’re upset about it, what a loser. You know you shouldn’t panic about panicking. Thats what makes you more panicky. My kids are berating me, “Why did you do that Mum? We got in trouble!” I’ve lost count of triggers, and can’t even breathe.
I start to to cry, and my chest is tight, but I have to drive and get out of there, and get my kids home safe. The voice gets louder…instead of just brushing it off, look at you now, you pissed everyone off, and fucked it up and now you’re having a panic attack. Good one. You can’t cope with this, you’re not going to be able to cope with the new job, if you even get it and there’s dinner guests at home. How embarrassing. You’ll go home crying in front of them. My kids have gone quiet, and asking me if I’m OK, I can’t even answer. What a crap Mom.
I arrive home. My daughters hug me, and this brings a small amount of peace. My friend hugs me. I cry. And disappear. And snap at my husband. How do I explain all of that as a reason for a panic attack?
Writing this all down helps. Because I know that voice is not the truth, it’s just some thoughts. It was just a moment in time after a very anxious day. A series of unfortunate events that led to a hectic physical and emotional response.
So, as a word of advice, when you see that someone having a panic attack, it’s not likely just one thing that triggered it. It could have been a whole Sunday of triggers, background anxiety and a nasty voice. Throw in an unexpected situation where you’re potentially disappointing people on top of that, and you have a perfect storm.
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Thinkstock photo via Ozgur Coskun