Monday, February 2, 2015

a blessing in disguise

Last Sunday was both a horrific day, but also one of the greatest days in my progress to date.

The horrific part was that I had a panic attack at work.

Some quick background information:
     I started having anxiety attacks in late elementary school and into middle school, mostly in 
     the late hours night. 
    Starting in 8th grade  and through high school they turned into panic attacks.
The difference between the two is large:
                          Anxiety is a psychological response
                          Panic is a physiological response
In the earlier years of these instances I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. Meaning I was anxious all the time, which lead to random panic attacks. 

But the more I looked into myself and my therapy, we found that was completely wrong. 
My panic attacks were not random. 
They were all triggered. 

Finding the difference is a diagnosis of anxiety disorder and PTSD is huge. 

Gradually, I was able to work with therapists to identify my triggers and either avoid them all together, or better plan for when I couldn't. 

So back to my work story:

      I was being faced with my strongest trigger: Someone aggressively yelling at a loud volume and a long duration. 

There are two thresholds to panic attacks: physical and mental. 

I knew that I would be facing this trigger prior to it happening, to I prepared myself.
As the argument started, I focused on my breathing. I focused on my words. 
Remain calm. 
Don't engage. 
I am safe here. 
There is no real danger.
Breath in 1,2,3, Hold 1,2,3, and out 1, 2, 3...

Then I felt it. The horrific partAfter about 10 minutes I started feeling the first threshold coming. Physical
    The creeping numbness in my fingers and toes. No. Not here. Not now. Please remain calm 
    I tried to rest my hand on my hip. My entire arm was shaking now. 
    Now I can feel my skin is red. 
My blood pressure.
 My heart beat hurts. 
My chest is filling with pressure. 
My eyes welling with tears. 
Threshold reached, control is no more. 
      Something in my chest breaks, like a dam, and the air is gone. I try to breath in but my lungs are no longer under my control. My tears are no longer under my control. My legs as well. 
              I am now on the ground in a fucking puddle of pathetic embarrassment...
Between my hyperventilating gasps I say I'm sorry repeatedly to my manager while the other person leaves the room. She helps me to a seat. 

Then I realized. The greatest part. I was no longer crying. My body was still in flight or flight mode. But, I never reached the second threshold
The psychological threshold. 

I was present. 
I didn't dissociate. 
I didn't feel threatened.

I sat and talked about what just happened with my manager, a very understanding woman. I told her how having panic attacks in public is my biggest fear, especially at work. 

Once my legs were stable, I drove home. I heard my father saying he was proud of me. 
A blessing in disguise, he said. He always said that.
He was right. What a blessing. 
It proved to myself that I may not be able to beat the fight or flight response, but it was possible to conquer the negative thoughts and the dissociation. 

This might not sound like progress to many people, even might sound like a nightmare to some, but this was kind of a good day.

It can only get better from here.

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