The word which comes to mind when thinking about prolonged anxiety and/or panic attacks is ‘urgent’ because the physical symptoms ape those of well-known, serious emergencies – and the sense of emotional desolation, of raw terror, is so extreme that the sufferer feels in need of urgent and immediate assistance.
The problem is that the very intensity of the feelings makes a cry for help all-but impossible. The fear of being out of control is very real.
Let me try and explain because I am in the midst of the longest wave of anxiety in a very long time. I have become the hurt child I once was. My mind and heart are inarticulate with pain. I am scared of being betrayed. I am scared of trusting. The tidal waves of adrenaline defy all logic and become a thundering torment like tinnitus affecting the entire body. I feel utterly unsafe and exposed. I cannot settle, or sleep; eating is almost impossible. It is a necessary emotional crisis. It has been brought on by a multitude of things, including my tendency to deny and bottle up my so-called negative emotions.
I am not cracking up. I am, rather, cracking open.
However, knowing this does not lessen the intensity and anxiety of the experience.
No good advice, or sensible practice, helps: I am unable to calm down. I am constantly awaiting the next shock, the next blow, the next cruel act.
But I am adult. I am also in charge. If I don’t move things on, the current stalemate will persist. If I don’t face pain and the past and the wounds flying around, no one else can or will. I have been attacked on many levels in recent days and weeks. My foundations feel very shaky as a result, and I fear that the whole structure is going to collapse.
My most vulnerable state is being seen when I am like this – and, for that reason, I tend to hide away and contact no one directly and wait it out, wait until the worst is over before sharing my feelings. Or, if I do express this inner desperation and urgency, it is in the form of written words rather than a raw cry, or a terrible scream, from the over-burdened mind and bemused, battered heart.
I can talk, often articulately, about how I am feeling, but it is very rare for me to cry in front of anyone. Why? Because my emotional fragility has attracted one too many predators: People who appear so empathetic and caring and say all the right things and then take my halting, weeping confessions and use them, with calculated and cold ferocity, against me.
We are back to trust again, aren’t we? Trust. That most difficult of trials for me. Trust. That which many people feel in my presence with such ease – and yet which I almost never feel in return.
The sad truth is this: People – even close friends, family and partners – hurt others deliberately; they betray; they use confidences for power or with malice; they reject and ignore and make other people feel small and unwanted and inadequate; they manipulate and intimidate and threaten and play horrible head games just for the fun of it; they make little children wait or frighten them deliberately and find it funny; they home in on weakness like hyenas…
You see: Those who we love can hurt us more than anyone else in the world – because they know us and know which buttons to press; because they may not love us in return and so our love makes us into prey animals; because they are frightened of, or indifferent to, intimacy – and, therefore, have to damage, even kill, it in order to feel safe in a world of superficial connection; because they have a lust for power and control, and we gave ours away into their apparently kindly and loving hands far too quickly and far too long ago.
We die alone. All too often, we also go through the Pain Process alone. Why? Because even those closest to us find our anguish difficult to deal with – and there is a tendency to use one of the five bullet points below when a friend is in the midst of severe anxiety or a panic attack. Very often, another’s crisis triggers off memories and emotions that we struggle to cope with, let alone face in our friend – and the desire to be dismissive, or to soothe our own anxiety by giving the friend reams of advice, can be overwhelming.
Just being with a suffering person is incredibly hard for many, I think because jagged and raw emotions are, by their very nature, confronting and alarming. And some of the symptoms of a panic attack can be frightening to watch: The gasping for breath, the shaking, the inability to talk coherently, the clutching at the chest or abdomen at moments of severe physical pain, the pallor, the wide scared eyes, the dizziness…
A person in such a state becomes convinced, very quickly, that urgent medical help is needed. It doesn’t matter if you think they are being irrational; to them, the emergency is very real and absolutely terrifying.
I am coping as best I can. I am trying to trace these traumas back to their source in order to loosen their powerful grip on my present-day existence and self. I am telling individuals I trust the specific details.
But I would say this: We tend to think that everything can be fixed, cured, as long as those suffering have the right attitude and take the right advice. I think we lose sight of the fact that not all ills can be treated successfully – and that deep, long-standing wounds can take a very long time to heal.
Sometimes, all that is needed is a listening ear, a calming and kind approach and the willingness to stay without impatience or an unhelpful agenda.
It also helps to know – and I can tell you this from personal experience – that those who are suffering from acute panic are not shamming, or looking for attention or acting out; they are in the grip of such petrifying fear that their bodies are actually mimicking the signs of heart attack. Telling them to snap out of it as if they were hysterics shows a lack of compassion which can easily make things worse.
It is this intense at present because, for too long, I have swallowed the pain down, pushed it away or assumed a very shallow level of calm meant that healing was well underway. It wasn’t. The full force of it is being unleashed. It is not pleasant. It is vile, frightening, at times almost unbearable. I have denied my strongest emotions so consistently in my life that the eventual bursting was always going to be like a volcano erupting. The agony really does, at times, feel as if I am being flayed, mainly inside, by molten lava.
I have also, on too many occasions, carried on with a relationship despite it giving me little but pain – and have denied myself the right to leave, to stand up for myself, to demand respect.
When this state struck thirty-four years ago, I did not allow it to reach its natural climax; I throttled it back – and there it remained, growing bigger and more dangerous as the years went by.
Sometimes, we just have to face this emotional energy, this lifetime’s backlash. Sometimes, there is nothing that can stop it, or help, in the short term. Sometimes, the intensity of the process means we have to move through it alone. It is challenging. Very. Excruciating. Regularly. But there is a true emotional urgency at stake, because not facing it is far more damaging. Ultimately, we just have to go through it as best we can, using any techniques we think might help – and, when nothing does, being prepared to ride that surging wave until the tide turns.
I know that there are people who will be with me on the Inner during this time – and this gives me comfort and strength for what lies ahead. I am using the influence of the recent Super Full Moon in order to surrender, let go, and pull away.