I suffered from severe panic attacks last year after experiencing trauma. I could barely sleep, eat, stop shaking or hyperventilating for a few agonizing weeks.
It was bewildering to watch myself like this — how can this be happening to me — an experienced meditator, yoga practitioner-teacher and counselor who was mindful of her emotions and thoughts, and was usually poised and confident. If I wasn’t the strong, self-reliant person I had been so far, who exactly was I? And if I couldn’t trust myself, who or what could I anchor myself to? The more I thought this way, the smaller I felt, leading to more anxiety and panic.
I felt ashamed and worthless, thinking that I hadn’t practiced sincerely enough. Surely, if I had, I would have been made of sterner stuff and not crumbled the way I did.
The Unchanged Inner Self
Looking back now, I realize that this was not true. In fact, my yoga and meditation practice is what helped me weather the storm, giving me the resilience to recover quickly.
During the scariest moments of my panic episodes, I was aware of a part of me that was calm. It was the part I used to tune into effortlessly during yoga or meditation — but now things were different. Connecting to this part required far greater effort and was only possible at times when the shakes stopped and the terror abated a bit.
When I could, I typed out messages to myself on my phone from this calm part of me. Reading them later during a panic attack gave me hope and courage. Here’s one of those letters.
I know you are full of terror. Feeling weak, afraid and unable to cope. I know your body feels exhausted and drained. You feel shocked and bewildered at what you have been reduced to. Scared at being unable to ever stand on your own feet again and managing a simple task such as making yourself a cup of tea without hyperventilating, crying, trembling, convulsing and fearing you will fall over.
You are overwhelmed by how you will manage to live and cope with life if this is the way you are. You can't bear another minute of this horror. You feel you have lost the ability to be strong. You feel broken and lost. Trapped. Hopeless. Too scared to hope. Fearful of life.
But I want you to know you are going through an illness. All that you are feeling is valid. It doesn't make you weak. It doesn't invalidate your inner strength that is hidden at the moment. Just breathe and accept all that you are going through as an illness — you are not to blame in any way for it.
You know you have always done your best. You did your best. Give yourself love and gentleness; be patient if you wish you could handle the anxiety and negativity better. You are doing your best even right now. You can't do more. This illness is not in your control. You can't take charge of your mind — do the little things: walk, eat, breathe and rest. And accept.
This situation is not in your control, so quit trying to escape or take action. Let go of the struggle. Surrender to the situation.
When the panic comes, just get up and do something before it overwhelms you. Know that it will get better. I know it is sheer agony, but you must accept the pain, my dear. You are not alone. I am with you. Even though you can’t feel me during the panic, I am there. Be patient.
If you are personally going through episodes of panic attacks, please know that you are not alone. I know how it feels. Please just hang in there, be patient and seek help. You can get better.
Tara Anand is a couples therapist and a mindfulness & yoga practitioner who has experienced first-hand how severely the quality of a marriage can impact the mental health of couples and their children. She helps couples work through conflicts and learn new skills to help foster a heart-to-heart connection. She has shared her journey in her memoir, "Why The Lotus Blooms: Choosing to Stand Tall" and can be contacted via her website.
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