If you have ever experienced a panic attack, you know how they can sneak up on you without any notice. This unwelcomed guest can cause all kinds of scary symptoms, and it may even convince you that you are going to die. Unfortunately if you’ve had one panic attack, you can most likely expect another. This is why, I cannot stress enough, how important it is to have a support person and a plan in place.
Many times, panic attacks will occur when you are alone, which is extremely scary. In my experience, being alone may not always be the worst-case scenario. Having a panic attack when you are with someone that knows nothing about anxiety and panic attacks, can be worse, and escalate the situation even more. It’s bad enough that you think something very bad is happening to you and your health, but when you are with someone and you see that they are also thinking something is wrong with you, it can increase your panic to a new level.
When you feel comfortable, communicate with your family and close friends. Explain what your symptoms are, and what you need from them when you are feeling nervous, or when you can feel an attack coming on. It will not only help them by learning what anxiety symptoms you have, it will help you because they will understand what is going on and they will be able to coach you through the situation. One very important step in talking to your support person is informing them of what you might be feeling, doing, or saying during an episode of anxiety or panic. Tell them ahead of time what you need from them.
Approximately fifteen years ago, my husband was in a very bad car accident. A semi ran into his truck and he was badly injured. He spent days in the hospital and I instantly started having severe anxiety symptoms. After he was released from the hospital, we still had to travel back to the hospital for appointments. Thankfully, my mother-in-law went with us to some of his appointments for added support. Shortly after walking in the hospital, I felt my chest tightening up. I told them I was too nervous to go into the room and I would just wait in the waiting room. As time went on, I had myself so worked up that I started hyperventilating. My mother-in-law came out to update me on my husband, and at that point, I was in a full blown panic attack. I told her I couldn’t breath and said something was wrong with me. Keep in mind, I had not had any in depth conversations with her about my anxiety. I saw the panic on her face and she told me she would walk me to the ER. I instantly felt worse because I thought that if she was thinking that I needed to go to the ER, something had to be wrong with me. By the time we walked into the ER entrance, I was hyperventilating worse than before. I heard her tell a nurse that I needed to be seen immediately, and that my mouth and chin were turning purple. Once I heard her say that, I was struck again with another surge of panic and had to sit down because I thought I was going to pass out. The nurse put me in a small consultation room and begun checking my vitals. At this point, I was violently shaking and slurring my words. I convinced myself that I was having a stroke because my mouth felt numb and I couldn’t even talk. After checking my vitals, the nurse said I was doing fine and that the ER was very busy so it could be a long time before I could get in a room. After about an hour of sheer panic, they still were telling me nothing was wrong and they gave me Benedryl since I had already taken a different medication when I felt anxious in the waiting room earlier. The Benedryl knocked the edge off eventually and I started to feel more normal. I never did get to see a doctor and since I had calmed down, we left for home. First, I want to say that I do not blame my mother-in-law for any of this, she was genuinely worried about me. She had never been with anyone during a panic attack nor did she know anything about them. This situation would have turned out completely different if I would have had a talk about my illness with her previously. She wouldn’t have panicked and could have possibly got me calmed down in the waiting room. If that was my mom, who had known about my panic disorder, she would have told me that I am just having anxiety. She would have rubbed my back and reminded me how to breath correctly. Things would not have escalated and turned out to be the worst panic attack of my life.
Please learn from my mistake! Be proactive, and talk to people you trust about your anxiety and/or panic disorder. The more people you have in your life that can be there for you, the more comfortable you will feel. You never know, you might discover that someone close to you has similar experiences but hasn’t felt comfortable enough to open up about it!