I’ve made a post or two (or seven) about PTSD, and I’m fairly open about my experiences. Been doing real well for over a year. But in the last two weeks I’ve had two full-blown attacks. The first one happened because I ignored my triggers in order to be polite and wound up a mess. It was all I could do not to run, or throw chairs, or crack my teeth from gritting them so hard. Thankfully, my friend, who suffers from panic attacks, knew exactly what to do. She made me step outside of myself (because the lizard brain takes over and is very hard to reason with), and asked yes or no questions that I could answer by nodding or shaking my head. She also made me breathe.
The second one happened at home while I was play fighting with my sig-oth. Things became too real and I couldn’t catch my breath. I hyperventilated. All the while he is asking me, “Are you OK? Are you OK?” on repeat and getting worried because I was scaring him. He knows exactly how to respond during one of my “normal” attacks. It’s just that he’s never seen this sort. It was a first for me too, which made it all the more terrifying.
Are you OK?
That will paralyze me. I cannot respond. I cannot answer- even with slight movements. The lizard reigns supreme and he shall not be moved. And it’s made worse because I’m on the inside, knowing I’m not OK. Knowing the lizard is in control. It feeds the panic.
I am not all people. If you have friends that suffer from panic attacks, find out what they need before one happens.
Some suggestions of what NOT to say:
Calm down = Fuck you in panic speak. We cannot calm down. And again, fuck you for telling us to.
It’s just _____ or it was only a ______.
Oh please suggest that we are overreacting! That’ll earn you another big fuck you. We’re already yelling at the lizard that everything’s OK, we don’t need your judgmental tone. It’s not helpful.
Panic attacks hit the flight or fight response. Sitting down and pretending everything is OK is not usually an option. Duh. We are not doing this cause a scene. We are not trying to embarrass you. If you cannot handle this, please just shut up and say nothing.
Best thing to say?
Say it calmly.
Some people cannot articulate their needs without touching the memories of past attacks, I believe the second one happened because of the first one. I panicked about panicking. As weird as that sounds it’s common.
TL;DR: Panic attacks are real and you can help by calmly telling the person during an attack to breathe. Calm Down = Fuck You
Don’t ignore your triggers. It’s a rook mistake.
Love is not your savior. Love is the luxury after you save yourself.