Unexplained Panic

I’m dealing with something I do not understand and hoping some of you who read this blog can give me some insight.  This is a rough time of year, of course.  We’re coming on the first anniversary of my daughter’s death, just passed the 11th anniversary of my sister’s death, and are in the middle of the holiday season to boot.  My anxiety level is so high it’s literally making me ill at times, and things are relatively unpleasant at the best.

The bit I’m not understanding is panic.  Recently, my best friend and I had to make a change of plans.  The small change in our routine really set me off.  I just had this assumption that he was out of my life.  That *used* to be a response– I would assume that spending time with others would make him realise how horrible I was, and he’d want me out of his life forever.  That has *not* been a reaction for a few years now, though.

Even more recently, he found himself a bit under the weather.  Nothing serious at all.  Just the typical pre-winter cold.  Again, I panicked.  Would he get enough rest?  Would we be able to see each other?  Would he, knowing how much changes were upsetting me, push himself to do something he wasn’t quite up to?  A million unpleasant thoughts popped about in my head, and I was literally worried sick.

Today, he got a bit of nausea.  Again, nothing serious.  Likely, it’s just lunch that didn’t feel as though it spent enough time with him the first go round.  That brought the panic to a full-on attack.  My mind immediately went to the idea that my best friend would die, and I’d never see him again.  That quickly led into the thought of not being able to spend any time with him at all over the next week, even if he did survive.  He has plans the next two Saturdays, so Fridays seem almost critical.

I am *not* one to panic.  As a matter of fact, I’m typically the one who stays calm whilst everyone else panics.  Why, then, are simple changes in plan or status making me panic?  Today, my reaction to my best friend’s stomach issue was a full-on panic attack.  He isn’t aware of that; it’s not his responsibility.  Still, I phoned him to hear his voice, so I know he *sounds* fine.  He says he’s a bit tired and has some lingering nausea, all perfectly normal.  I’ll be pacing the floors until I know for definite I’ll see him tonight, though.  Every minute of not seeing him seems to count double right now- it’s like my mind is registering the fact that every minute could be the last minute.

So what’s going on with this panic?  PTSD involving grief issues?  I have no idea what to call it, how to frame it, or how to work with it.  I also have no access to a decent therapist to help.  This is making what’s already a difficult time of year much, much worse.

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4 thoughts on “Unexplained Panic

  1. I am not a therapist nor have I lost someone as close in my life like you have–but I have struggled off and on with obsessive thought patterns that often result in panic symptoms. It is extremely frustrating and makes you feel completely out of control! I have no advice to give you- just wanting to say that I understand and can identify and if it continues to let a psychiatrist know so they can either put you on some meds or tweek whatever meds you are on. Best of luck to you!

    • Yes, I think feeling out of control is one of the worst experiences ever. It just magnifies everything else. Thanks so much for the commiseration! It helps, I think, for us to know we’re not alone in our feelings sometimes. Makes it all feel less crazy somehow. I hope things are going smoothly for you!

  2. First, I want to say I AM not a therapist. I have been in therapy for almost 14 years from child abuse and have PTSD + other diagnoses that are not important, right now.

    This is what I do know. When trauma occurs our brain finds a way to deal with it to protect us, keep us safe, alive. Consider trauma an old tractor wheel rut in the mud. Over time it becomes harder for the wheel to create a new track. That is similar to the pathways in your brain. The trauma of loss is a ‘tractor wheel rut’ in your brain pathways. When you worry (panic) the rut is triggered and you fall back into the old pathway. Your reaction is not only not your ‘fault’ but a trend hard but not impossible to overcome.

    I have spent a long time reprogramming my brain to create new pathways. When I get triggered, like your panic at your friend not feeling good, I intentionally ask myself am I safe right now. Am I in danger, right this minute? Asking those questions are creating new pathways in my brain. You can ask yourself questions like: “Is my friend really leaving me or does he just need to go rest for awhile?” “Is he feeling just under the weather or is his life on the line?” Do you get the idea? Look around at your surroundings and notice that you are safe exactly at this minute in time (of course I am assuming you are given I don’t know where you are : )

    Practice breathing when you find you have slipped into overwhelm (which, by the way, I did this afternoon and needed to be reminded how to pull myself out. It happens to all of us : ) Listen to your breathe. Is it slow? Fast? Loud? Quiet? How smooth can you make it? Breathe in and count as you blow out. How many counts do you get to? 1, 2, 3 done. 1,2, 3, 4 … done.

    Practice mindfulness. Watch a bird fly. Watch a leaf fall down onto the ground. Study those actions. Watch the bird and see what pattern he takes. Does the little bird join his friends? Does he stop and rest? Stop and look for food? How does the leaf fall? Does it go straight down or swirl and turn over before landing on the ground? Where does it land on the ground? On a sidewalk? Who is the first foot to walk on it? Does it land on top of other leaves? A fence? Another tree branch? All these actions will bring you back into the present and help to minimize the overwhelm.

    Hope this helps. I’m sorry this is a hard time of year for you. If it provides any comfort at all, you are not alone in feeling triggered this time of year.

    Take care of yourself like you would take care of your daughter when tucking her into bed at night.

    • I like the metaphor- an old tractor wheel- that’s a description I’ve never heard before. Thank you for taking the time to offer some excellent suggestions! Mindfulness…awareness of the body and environment…these are things I forget about when they can be most helpful. 🙂 Thanks for the reminders. Take care of yourself, as well!

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