i had my first panic attack a year ago. it was terrifying and i literally thought i was going to die. my thoughts were racing and i couldn’t hold still. i felt like i was plummeting down down down down with nothing to break my fall. i clutched onto my husband and sobbed “hold me, catch me, stop me from falling.” i felt like i was crawling out of my own skin.
for the next 8 months, i would struggle, day in and day out, with powerful anxiety. i was constantly shaking, pacing, ringing my hands, rocking back and forth, tapping my foot, pulling my hair. i would wake up with a start, already having a panic attack before my eyes could open. morning until night, spring to summer to fall, i was engulfed in fear. talking about it was a temporary help, but that cold, panicky feeling would always come back, washing over my whole body and mind. i cried, sobbed, every single day, because i was so gripped in terror.
“why why why?” i would ask my therapist, my family, my friends. i wanted to make it stop. i wanted to talk myself out of it. one day, my therapist looked me straight in the eye and said “you can’t make it stop. you can’t know why. it is just here.” this was my introduction to mindfulness. she suggested meditation and deep breathing as a way to focus on the present moment. she said to try to focus my thoughts on my breathing, or on whatever activity i was doing, to try to break the cycle of worry. (i should note that this was in addition to medication and regular therapy).
i tried it. i started with deep breathing. then i added yoga. then i added meditation. it has been six months since i started my mindfulness practice. it’s tempting to think that meditation or yoga will remove the pain of mental illness, but that is not the case. i know i wished that would happen. during recovery, the slightest hint of a symptom can make you start to worry that you are relapsing. a mindfulness practice can help you recognize and accept feelings of anxiety, which helps to break that panic cycle before it spins out of control. instead of panicking at the feelings of panic, mindfulness helps you take a step back, acknowledge the feeling, and then sit with it. i have found that the fear passes by more quickly this way.
so today, and every day, i breathe deeply. i drop my awareness into my body. if i feel sensations of stress or anxiety, i breathe into that part of my body. i loosen my jaw. i unclench my shoulders. i bring myself into the present moment. sometimes i have to do this once a day, and sometimes i have to do this every five minutes. sometimes i want to do it and sometimes i make myself do it. i know that it helps. i still have the illness of generalized anxiety disorder. my mindfulness practice is helping me cope with it and accept it for what it is – just one part of my life.