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.