Conquering Brighton, Part 1: Oh God, What's Happening To Me?

Conquering Brighton, Part 1: Oh God, What's Happening To Me?

Panic attacks can be a permanent scar, and a visit to Brighton showed me this.

[Trigger warning: discussion of anxiety, panic attacks, dissociation and suicidal ideation. Also, a note from the writer: I know such stories can fill those experiencing anxiety with dread; note that there's a happy ending in the next part of this story].

If I told you this beautiful, tranquil scene in Southeast England -- its rich warm colors and the astounding silhouettes created by an impressive sunset -- was what led to my worst experience of anxiety ever, would you believe me?

If you were an anxiety sufferer, you would scoff at me. “Of course,” you would say, perhaps recalling an incident yourself. “They can happen anywhere, at any time; stressed, or not. Sometimes they just seem so random, and you wonder why it even happened.”

But if you were not, it would seem strange. You may question how it could instigate a panic attack or any form of anxiety, really. How could something so serene have such an effect on a person?

I do not have an answer for you, even though I was the one who experienced it. As I write, I look back and still question why this scene seemed to fuel the anxiety I had experienced. Was it the intense exposure from the sunlight? Was it the oddity of the colors reflecting over the city that made me feel so uneasy? Did I just secretly hate the sun?

What I can tell you is that it was not odd that it happened. I had been experiencing a lot of stress at school, leading to my being home-schooled to avoid the daily sickness and dread I felt for no reason. I was avoiding with my problems instead of facing them.

Do not get me wrong: facing one's fears is not an easy task. I did what many did in a situation that scared them; I escaped from it.

But this did not help at all.

Imagine a stack of cards; something really nice. It is not that stable, to begin with, but it still manages to make itself stand tall as much as it can. Now, imagine someone comes over there with a hammer and literally beats the shit out of it; just giving it a really good demonstration of physics. The paper cards are crumpled and ruined, and an attempt to put it back together fails because the cards are bent out of shape.

This was my first experience of a panic attack. When it finally happened -- something I had never experienced before -- it shook the foundations of my existence. I wanted to put myself back together, but I could not.

What made it worse was that it happened in my place of solace; my room. Before, if the world had proven too stressful, I could at least know that here I was safe and free from the nervousness that latched onto me outside.

But, as I sat there one day, my mind exploded. Suddenly, my head was amassed with a surge of dizziness and confusion, and my heart pulsated as I tried to comprehend what the fuck was going on. I threw myself onto my bed, as an onslaught of thoughts filled my mind. They kept flowing, and they would not stop; some of them demanding I question my existence, the others telling me I was dying and others that I should kill myself.

As I clenched my head between my hands, the only beacon of light was to think of my sister. I saw her smiling over the horrific thoughts that filled my mind, and I remembered how much I cared for her. I knew that I had to stay alive, for her.

Love won the battle, and the commotion stopped, but I had changed. As I returned to my seat, there was a weird barrier that separated me and the screen. An attempt to look at it made my mind foggy and blip as if there was a sort of glitch in my head.

This experience did not go away, and this was unfortunately not the last time it would happen.

On the pier of the quirky city of Brighton, during the magnificent sunset, my mind once again exploded. As I looked around at the scene cast in a beautiful orange glow, unreality took over. Time moved oddly; my awareness of the walk back to our hotel was sketchy and missing its parts. I recall seeing myself in the reflection of a bus’s glass, a neutral glare staring back. The world looked flat, and I felt nothing.

I hoped it would be temporary, but it was not. Existence itself had become unreal. Experiencing the world made my mind foggy, and I felt like I lived behind a pane of glass. Going outside really did not fare well with my mind, and it made me constantly want to escape. I could no longer focus on conversations, returning to my mind; the hideous thoughts of my panic attack returning, making me question who I was, what the world was and why any of it mattered.

I could no longer look in the mirror. This was not an emotional metaphor: there was a literal separation between myself and the person that looked back. Attempts to do so made the feeling of unease and confusion return.

There were times when I would get incredibly depressed for a few moments, my mind filling with notions of my existence being false. I could not escape this, and so I would wait it out. Eventually, it would go away, but they would be a permanent stain on my cognition. I would fear their return throughout the day because they would always return.

Leaping ahead to late 2016, I found I would be returning to Brighton. My original experience, the memories that were still lodged in my mind, resurfaced. My anxiety was already significantly conquered from that period of time a few years back, but I was still nervous. I knew I would fare better (and I did)… but this was where it happened. This was where I had lost control.

It is surprising how something so distant can still create such fear.

End of Part 1.
Cover Image Credit: Robert Wheatley

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What it’s Like to Have a Panic Attack, and How to Care For Others Suffering One

It’s NOT all in your head, you are okay.

Having a panic attack is one of those things that is hard to understand unless you’ve been through. I’ve been battling Panic Disorder for a couple of years, and one of the ways we can progress the mental health field is by educating others.

Who can get a panic attack?

Anybody. However, people who struggle with anxiety regularly are more likely to have a panic attack. Panic attacks tend to also be a nasty side effect of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, class, you name it. Under some certain circumstances, there are those who experience them more often.

Now, let’s talk about the difference between an Anxiety Attack and a Panic Attack.

Anxiety attacks are less intense, but are often prolonged. These typically occur when you’re nervous about something in the near future, like a dentist appointment. Some symptoms may include muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, anger outbursts. It comes in many forms. You may also recognize it as fight or flight. Anxiety attacks often occur over anticipating events that you may not be able to control.

A panic attack happens suddenly. It is intense, but it goes away faster than an anxiety attack. Some people may think they’re having a heart attack, or about to get sick. Panic attack seem more out of the blue. It suddenly feels like the room is getting hotter, or starting to spin. This can be a result of internalizing feelings, or after a flashback and/or trigger for those with PTSD.

So, the difference is huge! Scary, right?

How can you help someone having a panic attack?

For starters, here’s what NOT to do: Tell them it’s all in their head, or that they are being irrational. What they feel is REAL, and there is pathophysiology involved.

The first thing you want to do is check in with them. Ask them how school is going, or how their cat is. Now, here’s the important part, they may not want to talk. Talking may make their panic worse. If you are with them ask if they want a hug or hold their hand. Again, they may prefer to have some space. Everyone has their own preferences. So in that case, turn to the very best way to help them. To breathe slowly. Panic causes you to hyperventilate, and make you feel like you suddenly lost control of their body.

Make sure the person is somewhere safe.

It may help if they are alone and/or somewhere the person calls a sanctuary. It might also be helpful that the person is in a cool place, as a common symptom is sweating. Turn on a fan, or go outside for fresh air. It is important to remove the person from the environment, as that may be a factor for the panic attack in the first place. If the person was sitting or laying down, have them walk around. If they were standing or walking, have them sit or lay down. The key is to change what they are doing.

Now is time to get them to breathe. Start off with regular deep breathing, and then have them exhale longer than they inhale. If you are counting for them, count to 10 when they inhale, and 13 for when they exhale. I like to believe that this is how the negative energy leaves the body, which is able to calm the person down. When the person is starting to calm down, make sure they stay in that breathing technique.

When you think they can stay in the rhythm without you counting or guiding them. Tell them that is feeling is temporary, it will go away, and most importantly THEY ARE OKAY. Panic attacks often make people think they are going to die based on the physical symptoms, but by following these steps you’ll be able to convince them that it’s only a feeling and they will be okay.

Panic attacks can come back.

Put on a TV show or movie for them to be distracted by their thoughts, and let them know who to turn to if they experience a flare up. By letting them know who can help, can reduce their chances of experiencing another panic attack at that time.

Tip: If you are busy, and can’t help them later when they need you, send them a gif they can follow along to when they are breathing.

Here are some good ones to send them:

Giphy


The more we learn about mental illnesses, and the best way to help, the stronger we’ll be in the future.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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What it is like dating somebody with anxiety.

Here are 5 things to know when dating somebody with anxiety.

Talking about anxiety is something that I have always felt comfortable with. Even though it is something I have struggled with for a very long time, it is something that I have been able to voice out. But what I never really talk about is what it is like to date somebody with anxiety…or really what it is like to date me…someone who struggles with anxiety. So here are 5 things that you can expect dating an anxious person.

We only want what is best for you.

I find that when I date somebody, I genuinely care about their passions and goals. So, I always push them to be at their very best. If you date an anxious person, you definitely will not be doubting yourself because we make it our mission for you to know how amazing you are.

Some things...actually most things, are very overwhelming.

Whether it is going on our first date or meeting your parents for the first time, these acts of life can be very overwhelming. Remember to calm us down and be patient.

Patience is key. Acknowledge the anxiety attacks.

I think a lot of people who don't have anxiety don't understand what we go through, therefore at times cannot be patient. The best thing to is acknowledge us when we have anxiety attacks, and be patient with us. Don't pretend it's not there, and understand that it will pass. If there was a way to make all of our anxiety go away, we would.

We have days where we are really sad for no reason.

This is a big one. A lot of people who have anxiety have their days where it is filled with sadness. This is definitely a real dark side of living with anxiety. Those days feel like everything sucks and we become dead to the world. The only way to really get us through it is by listening and again...being patient. It helps a lot.

Love us with everything you have, because that is how we love you.

It is very possible for our anxiety levels to decrease when we are offered love and compassion. A person who has anxiety thinks the worst of themselves, so they would never make someone else feel like that. We love you for all your flaws, everything you are. That is how you should love a person with anxiety. Love them for their anxiety attacks, love them for their depression, and love them for who they are.

Anxiety isn't exactly a first date conversation, but when you decide to take the next level with somebody who lives with it, you need to be fully committed. Speaking for myself, it has been very hard to find somebody who understands or even tries to understand it. So for all of you people who do have anxiety and find somebody who is willing to be patient with you and understand you, hold them tight and never let them go. And to the people who are dating somebody with anxiety, remember to love them, care for them, and do what you can to make them happy. Because if you spend your time doing that, we will spend the rest of our lives trying to do the same for you.

Cover Image Credit: Amanda Gabrielle

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