Friday, February 25, 2011

Owning my own panic attacks

I have written before about my own experience with panic attacks.

One in particular was a time my middle child was sick. My heart was beating out of my chest. I was pacing the floor. I asked my husband to sleep with him so I could leave the room. I did not sleep. I tossed and turned all night. Every time I heard so much as a noise from the other side of the house, I broke out in a cold sweat. I prayed. I begged God to make it stop. I whispered over and over again, "Get better, get better, get better, get better, make it stop, make it stop, make it stop." My head was spinning with the thought of taking him to the ER to get some serious meds to keep him from throwing up again. There was still one speck of me that knew how ludicrous it was at that moment. He had only been sick for a few hours.

It was a stomach bug.

And I had gone crazy.

In the moment, you could not convince me that it was just a regular illness. You could not convince me that I would not catch it and throw up (which felt like death to me ... in that moment). I was lost in my own panic, and nothing I knew for certain before, and nothing I know for certain now mattered at all. In the moment, I had to make it stop. No matter what.

I had a classic fight/flight response. Now, it's easy for me to casually forget the times I went through this. It's especially easy when I don't want to acknowledge that my kids from trauma experience the exact same thing. I do not want to honor how difficult it is to pull yourself out of it. Not as a 30 year old adult. Certainly not as a child.

I still see little bits of this in my kids regularly. It is MASSIVELY better, and not at such a heightened level all the time anymore. Yet, it's still there. And I still struggle with being empathetic, even though I know. I have felt a taste of it, and I SUCKED at dealing with it until I got the help I needed. I had to remind myself today, as the next two weeks are going to bring some pretty big stresses in our home. We will see the fight/flight response. Thought I would share some of the things I'm reading, to keep my therapeutic parenting brain fresh and "on this":

"Panic attacks are a type of fight/flight response. Once this response "kicks in," we tend to perceive anything and everything around us as a potential threat to our safety. When we are in fight/flight mode, our brain chemistry is altered. The part of the brain which controls our rational thoughts is bypassed ..." - "The Fight or Flight Response" by Mark Sichel, LCSW

"When our fight or flight system is activated, we tend to perceive everything in our environment as a possible threat to our survival. By its very nature, the fight or flight system bypasses our rational mind—where our more well thought out beliefs exist—and moves us into "attack" mode. This state of alert causes us to perceive almost everything in our world as a possible threat to our survival. As such, we tend to see everyone and everything as a possible enemy." - from the Mind/Body Education Center

"Endorphins, which are the body's natural pain killers, are released (when you are fighting, you do not want be bothered with pain–-that can be put off until later.) The natural judgment system is also turned down and more primitive responses take over – this is a time for action rather than deep thought." - from "Fight or Flight Reaction" from Changing Minds

You can help to stop the fight/flight response with deep breathing, tapping and my favorite - shaking. You may already know the value of these things, but you won't find yourself WILLING to do them with your kid if you can't find understanding and empathy for their behaviors FIRST.

Understand why they are responding as though you are a giant can of gasoline and their hair is a match tip. Go there first. Perhaps I can get there a little more quickly on some days because I have felt it. I know what it's like to KNOW what is true and real and safe, and yet have found myself acting like a complete and utter crazy person for no actual valid reason. It took me a very long time to stop feeling that way, and to then catch a trigger before things got out of hand.

And I was an adult.

Dare to understand today. You're stinkin' tough. You can do it.

Don't forget to tell me the same thing in two weeks, once I have forgotten.


The Reign of Ellen said...

I have had one panic attack in my life (brought on, I believe, by a new medication that I was taking.) I never understood how people could confuse a panic attack with a real heart attack, until I had one. I seriously thought that was the end, I was going to die. In the moment, the only thing I could think of was needing to run into my daughter's room and wake her up to tell her I loved her before I died. It was crazy scary.

I now totally get how awful they are, and I feel for those who suffer from them.

Tans said...

Do you also see a lot of the freeze response in your kids?
For us, we see about an equal amount of dissociation and hyperarousal.

Christine said...

Tans, I certainly see both. Different times, different manifestations, different kids. Yup.

johnsonweider said...

yes, I was also going to say: What about freeze?! When it comes to fight/flight issues in myself, my own response is usually freeze.

Lindsay Mama to Nine said...

THANKS for this post. I too have struggled with panic attacks, I have to watch for the triggers.

The WORST ever happened while I was in Haiti two years ago.
It was a July I stayed for three weeks.
One of the other trip leaders had canceled..and so not wanting to cancel letting a group of families come visit ..I volunteered alone to stay for both...The fist trip my Husband and freinds were there. It was a great week and so many things got done. I did end up having a baby dropped off at the O that was six months old...and weighed 4 pounds. FOUR POUNDS! Her mother had lost her breast milk ...but had still kept on trying to nurse her...she came to the O BEGGING for help. Trevor (my husband) and I immediately took her to the hospital (her thigh was smaller than Trevor's Thumb.....they couldn't get an IV in her ...the Dr. sadly told us...she is too far take her make her comfortable...she wouldn't last 24 hours.
We did take her back to our room...and with a Baby Tylenol Medicine dropper fed her pedia-sure every hour..we took turns sleeping in three hour increments during the nights. She survived the night...then the next day and the next....but then it was time for everyone to go and me be ready the next day for the other group of parents.
So as I watched everyone pack up , the volunteers, some families...and my friends and heart started to ache.
I knew the next group was going to be far more difficult. ( a lot of the families coming were going to be HARD. None the less here I had already been in country working my tail off , sleeping 3 hours a night (trying to keep a dieing baby alive...and getting ready for a group of people that weren't my biggest fans..and my support was leaving...I have NEVER felt so ALONE in my life.

They left the hotel at eight in the morning...I had 28 hours before the next group was coming...I had, my own five kids, a little girl that was new and refusing to eat that was 18 months old....her eyes were SO SAD, I knew she NEEDED extra attention to her with the loss of being abandoned and get her to eat...and the very, very fragile baby.

I started having a hard time breathing...and my forehead started to sweat, my arms went tingly...I felt like I was going to faint and die at the same time...then the thought of going to a hospital in Haiti ...added more to the fear... and who would take care of this baby...and ......

I NEED to remeber those moments!
I need to remember the irational fear. I need to relate that to my kiddo's when they freeze.

THANK YOU for this flip things in ways that turn personal fears into empathy for our kids.

Wish I had read this earlier this morning...cause i would have saved my hiney...and well I didn't, and had a not-so-stellar morning.
Thanks Christine!

KO said...

This made me wonder - what are some of your favorite books on attachment/therapeutic parenting?

Christine said...

My current two faves and the ones I most highly recommend are Denise Best's Therapeutic Parenting Manual and "Attachment Focused Parenting" by Daniel Hughes.