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The ‘Liminal Space’ Before a Panic Attack

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An anxiety disorder is a mental illness, and I get to battle it daily, along with many others.

Here are some truths about anxiety (from a wonderful infographic which can be found at the Mental Health America website):

  • No, it’s not nervousness about a coming event.
  • No, it’s not from too much caffeine consumption.
  • No, it’s not attention-seeking.
  • Yes, it’s me analyzing everything.
  • Yes, it’s a negative voice that follows me everywhere.
  • Yes, I am constantly overcoming fears and worries to battle it.

And no, I’m not ashamed (nor should you be). This is real. Let’s talk about it.

What prompted this post was an panic attack that came after some news I received during a post-op appointment. Here’s a little bit of context: On October 23, I was admitted to the hospital for severe abdominal pain (amongst other incredibly painful things). After my CT scan, I was booked for emergency surgery. My appendix (which we aptly named, Trouble) was angry and needed to come out. The surgery went well and was able to be performed laparoscopically.

Five weeks later, here I am walking into my post-op appointment. I met with my surgeon. He said I was healing beautifully. (Although, we now know I am allergic to steri-strip adhesive. So itchy!) He also told me to keep an eye out for any pain or oozing during my last week of healing.

Then, the surgeon sat down and said he was looking at the tests they did on my appendix. What he said next was the clincher: “You actually had an abscess on your appendix. If you would’ve waited even one more day, then it would’ve been a much graver situation.”

At the time, I casually acknowledged the information. It hit me as I was walking out, in the pouring rain, to my car. “Hold it together. Just make it to the car,” I was telling myself. I shut the door, and the key element of my anxiety disorder, a panic attack, descended.

A panic attack for me is:

  • Shortness of breath, hyperventilating
  • Tears
  • Fear
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Sweating
  • Blinding clarity

The most intimidating of all my symptoms was the blinding clarity. Yes, I did have surgery for a life-threatening illness. Yes, it was real (even the bill for the surgery didn’t make it real!) Yes, if I would’ve waited even a day longer, my life, my life, would’ve been threatened.

Until this attack, I had been floating in a “liminal space,” (and take your time reading about it because I had trouble understanding the immensity of the definition.) In own words (with the the minor research I’ve done), it is the space between one stage of my life and another. It’s basically like remaining in limbo. The information I received from my surgeon triggered me out of this liminal space and into the reality of my life after accepting this new information.

One of the ways to battle a panic attack is to reach out to someone you trust and ask for help. For me, I chose to call someone who knows my anxiety and knows not to say, “just relax,” that cringe phrase!

Here’s how she helped me:

  • She broke the situation down into small bites I could handle.
  • She helped me walk through the situation to acknowledge what was happening.
  • She explained the situation in anatomical details, which actually calms my brain down.
  • She brought me back into reality gently by asking me questions about that day.

I crossed two large bridges that day.

  1. The fog I was in actually has a name, the liminal space, and it was my body’s way of coping with a traumatic event.
  2. An anxiety disorder is a mental illness that is real, but it can be dealt with.

Let’s talk openly about this. Hit like if you can relate. Have you been through a traumatic event that caused a panic attack? I’d love to hear how you were able to walk yourself through it, so I can add to my plan of attack. Just know, we are strong and we can change the thinking around this mental illness.

*I am in no way medically-certified. This reflection is my own opinion of how I battle my anxiety. It’s meant for relating and sharing knowledge, not medical advice. If you feel you need help, then I encourage you to contact your health care profession immediately.



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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: December 23, 2016
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