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When Someone Reacted the ‘Right Way’ to My Panic Attacks

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To this day, I don’t know how it started — that first one, the one that set the tone for how you would react when I had a panic attack. We were sitting there. Something, or nothing, set me off. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I put my arms around your neck and didn’t let go. I held on tight. I couldn’t catch my breath. Nothing was wrong, and yet I couldn’t catch my breath. I was suffocating. You held me close to you, and you just breathed. Slowly. Calmly. You told me I was OK, and you just breathed. You did what I couldn’t do. And finally, I started doing the same. Finally, I started slowing down. Finally, I could breathe again. It seemed like forever. It seemed like I was dying. But you held me there, you didn’t let go. You showed me how to breathe, and you held me until I could. I didn’t have any words after that. I was embarrassed and scared. But you just held me like it was nothing. You made it OK that it happened, and you showed me you weren’t scared off by my panic attacks.

I should have known the first time wouldn’t be the last. I remember lying there so calmly with my head in your lap… and then it happened. Your hand casually rubbed my neck, and I snapped. I was being choked to death, I just knew it. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move. Everything fell apart. It spiraled into a flashback. I had no idea where I was. I just closed my eyes. It was all happening again. I couldn’t fight, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t do anything. But you didn’t freak out or tell me to calm down. You reminded me I was safe, and no one was going to hurt me. You didn’t make me feel stupid for curling up and crying or trying to escape an imaginary attacker. You stayed. You stroked my hair. You kept me safe. And when I couldn’t breathe you put your hand gently on my stomach, and showed me how. Slowly. In and out. Just breathe. It seemed like I panicked for a lifetime before I could breathe again, but you never gave up. You never moved. You never left. You showed me how to breathe again. You told me I was safe, and you made me safe. You stayed.

Maybe to you, it seems simple; to me, it is life-changing. I’ve spent eternity carefully hiding my panic attacks from the world. No one has ever understood what to do, and how to do it. But you do. It won’t be the last time I have a panic attack. There is no last time. It can always happen — anywhere, anytime. But that’s OK, because your hands are strong and gentle. Your voice is calm. You can breathe. You won’t let me go; you won’t let me fall. When everything is falling apart, you hold me together.

You know I’m scared and desperate. You know how real it feels. You know I can’t breathe.

So you breathe for me. You soothe my shaking body. You help me find my way back.

You’re my safe place, and I’m forever grateful for that.

Photo by Tom The Photographer on Unsplash

Originally published: July 19, 2018
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