Panic attacks have been part of Janine Rudin’s life for the best part of a decade. During that time she’s learned how to cope with them, and more often than not, head the little bastard off at the pass.
I have experienced panic attacks since my son died nine years ago. As part of my experience of grief, they used to be regular, accompanying me wherever I went, striking frequently, when I was already quite low.
After medication and therapy I now consider myself well. I am rarely low, anxious or panicky but I am living with this every day. I have learned some brilliant coping mechanisms and I work hard every day to keep it together. I am a professional; I run my own business; I am a wife, a mother and a friend; I am reliable, trustworthy and compassionate and I probably don’t fit any stereotypes of someone with a mental health issue.
My coping strategies are feeling safe and mainly being in familiar and safe places; breaking down my day into achievable chunks; talking myself round if I am feeling vulnerable; keeping busy; speaking to my husband and writing. I am always on the go and I do these most days. I need to eat well and I need to listen to my body when it needs to rest.
A couple of weeks ago it was my birthday and I went away with friends for two nights. Home is my safe place but I still like to go away because I don’t want to be a prisoner at home, not travelling or experiencing other cities and places.
The last time I had a weekend away with friends, I had a panic attack at night. My heart was racing and I had to lock myself in the bathroom to breathe and calm myself and keep it together. And then I played Scrabble on my phone for hours to focus my brain, to distract me until I fell asleep.
It happened again on the Saturday of my birthday trip – a brilliant day of laughter and drinks. I went from laughing so much I thought I was going to pee, to panic and needing to feel safe. I called my husband to calm the fuck down, to head it off, to get some perspective and then I retreated to bed. I kept it together; I spoke to my kids; I played more Scrabble and eventually sleep was mine. The next day I was great.
“Panic is scary, one of the most terrifying things I have experienced – my heart races, my breathing becomes shallow, I don’t feel safe, I need to pace and wander and I can’t settle anywhere.”
So – and this might seem glaringly obvious – excessive booze is a factor. Years ago I realised that regular (nightly) drinking was no good for me. There was a strong desire to numb the pain of grief but it didn’t help me to function.
Now, a few drinks with friends every few weeks is not an issue, but a proper drinking session clearly is: these maybe happen twice a year and they are so very linked to my head hitting panic mode.
I spent Sunday partially analysing it and I think panic takes over when my drunken brain cells can’t keep me together anymore, when the rationalising and protective thoughts that I rely on daily can no longer be effective and the world becomes a scary place.
If panic should stir I can usually break it down, so I know that around me there is no danger, nothing that is there to harm me or mine. I gain perspective and it ebbs away again and I feel safe. But it would seem that having a skinful opens the door for my panic.
Panic is scary, one of the most terrifying things I have experienced – my heart races, my breathing becomes shallow, I don’t feel safe, I need to pace and wander and I can’t settle anywhere. I need to escape, I feel teary, I feel hot, my throat closes up, I feel vulnerable.
After my last big panic attack I felt vulnerable for days afterwards, like the door in my brain was left slightly ajar for panic to creep back in anytime it liked. This time I know it was down to a boozy, fun-filled day and I know I feel OK; the door is closed as firmly as it can be for me.
Living with panic and anxiety is exhausting and it can be restrictive but I refuse to let it completely control me. Now I will add a no boozy days clause to my coping strategies: I’ll have to learn to miss a round or two on those weekends away, to keep me safe and to keep my panic away.4313 Views
Antenatal teacher, postnatal group leader, birth & baby specialist, writer, mother, wife, friend, me. My time is spent with my family, working with parents and trying not to eat all the biscuits. @BirthandBabyCo