I mentioned panic attacks in my post last night, and I realized that I’ve never provided a real description of what the panic attacks do. I’ve made a few little comments here and there in posts, but I’ve never truly explained what they are.
My panic attacks are from an underlying issue of PTSD. PTSD is post-traumatic stress disorder, and it’s typically caused by certain traumatic experiences in one’s past. It is most often seen in people returning from war. The most common examples for them would be hearing a car backfire and hitting the ground out of habit. They also may deal with certain events bringing up feelings, and having their mood suffer because of it.
My PTSD is obviously a little bit different. Mine is coupled with depression which is in itself a never ending battle. For me the symptoms manifest in anxiety and panic attacks. Occasionally I get flashbacks…many times while I’m sleeping. There have been times where I’ve had these flashbacks in a dream, and I’ve woken up in a strange place…completely freaked out. Happened once this past summer right after my father’s funeral…I woke up on the living room floor next to my father’s picture and his box of ashes…with no recollection of how I got there.
When I first started dealing with the panic attacks they were incredibly strong. I would be fine one minute, and something would trigger a feeling of nervousness. My body would essentially shut down and my actions were out of my control. Suddenly it would be hard to breathe…kind of like when you go outside and there is an extremely cold wind…and you get that feeling that you can’t take a breath. Finally I would get a huge gasp of air…and it would turn into hyperventilating. Breathing would get faster and faster until I’d get so lightheaded that I would see spots and start to pass out.
My body would shake uncontrollably. Mini attacks would make my hands go numb and my feet tingle. Bad attacks would leads to convulsions that felt like when you get unbearably cold and can’t stop extreme shivering. Most of the time I had to sit down because my legs would shake so badly that I wasn’t sure how long it would be before they gave out completely.
The biggest and scariest problem during the attacks were the thoughts. Many times my brain would take me right back to the past. My vision would cloud over to where all I could see was some horrific experience in my father’s house. I would hear whooshing noises in my ears until I couldn’t focus on anything. Deep down I knew that I was safe, and that nothing bad would happen…but I couldn’t bring my brain and body back to reality. It was like being trapped inside your own body…knowing that everything is still going on around you…but not being able to reach it.
I learned to ride out the attacks. I could start to tell when they were going to happen, and I learned my triggers. Men yelling, watching any kind of fight between a man and a woman, watching a parent really yell at their child, or being hugged unexpectedly. Any time I felt physically uncomfortable or vulnerable…I could feel that slight catch in my chest that I knew was going to lead to bad news. I got better at removing myself from those situations, or breathing slowly through the trigger. But the dream attacks have always been the worst because of their unpredictability.
PTSD is no joke. I’m lucky to have people in my life that understand it now. But too many times I’ve been told to “calm down” in the middle of an attack…or I’ve had people tell me that I need to stop being “dramatic”. I get so sick of close minded idiots that refuse to admit that there are scarier things in life than bills or minor family drama. Just because PTSD is a disease of the brain doesn’t make it any less painful or hard to deal with as a disease that manifests itself in a visual form. I don’t walk around with a walker, I don’t have some physical problem, and I don’t take medication (anymore)…but I still have a disease and I can admit it.
I have been lucky in my battle…but it doesn’t change the fact that it is a daily fight. It doesn’t just “go away” with time…and it doesn’t necessarily get any easier. I have seen things that no one should see…and that will never leave me. I thank God all the time that I essentially beat my PTSD and depression. I had enough support around me, and the right tools to be able to combat it head on. Too many people don’t have the same.
As I said before, a lot of times you can’t see the effects of PTSD or depression. Unless you’re very close to someone, it can be next to impossible to spot it. But it has to be understood by the public that both of these diseases take lives. I don’t even mean in the physical sense, such as suicide…which unfortunately is WAY too common in these situations. But also in the sense that too many people fight the battle alone. They get trapped inside their minds, and hide all the pain they’re in. “Fake it until you make it” kind of idea. It’s not life when you’re living like that. It’s painful, scary, and restricts you from enjoying all of the beautiful aspects that life has to offer.
So I guess in part to honor Veteran’s Day, and in part just to raise awareness of PTSD and its effects…I encourage everyone who reads this to open their minds and realize just how serious this is.