Hello, welcome to my new series ‘A Panic Attack at/in…’ This series is slightly different to any posts that I have created before. These posts will be written by other people. Who, collectively want to share their experiences of having a panic attack at different places.
I wanted to create this series because for me especially [and I am quite sure that I am not alone in this]. I worry more about having a panic attack than I do when I am actually having one. Which I am not sure if that makes any sense at all but hopefully you know what I mean.
Pretty much wherever I go my first thought it ‘yeah, but what if I have a panic attack’. OR ‘I bet no one else has ever had a panic attack doing…’ SO, I thought that by asking as many people as I can to share their experiences of panic attacks others. [with myself included] Can go to this section on my blog and know that whilst someone might have had a panic attack, they are still ok, and most importantly, they got through it.
First up in my series is the lovely Kelly Hope, who, let me tell you has the MOST endearing style of writing. I love reading her post and can identify with lots of things she said. Thank you SO much Kelly for sharing your story.
A Panic Attack at the Airport
Where were you/What were you doing when you had a panic attack and how did it make you feel?
The panic attack that stands out to me the most is one that I had standing in line at Dublin Airport, getting ready to board a long haul flight to the West Coast of the United States. I have never been a good flyer but since developing anxiety and specifically social anxiety, even the idea of the airport now makes me panic. So like I said, I was standing in the queue; coffee cup in one hand, passport in the other when I noticed that my chest was starting to tighten. It was almost as if another being was in front of me applying so much pressure to my chest that it felt like the air was being knocked out of me. Everything was moving in slow motion, my whole body felt like it was going to fall out from under me. It was honestly one of the worst panic attacks I have ever had.
How did you deal with it and did anyone/anything help you/ease how you felt?
I was sadly travelling alone but in that moment; what really helped ease the (for lack of a better word) panic was that I had headphones on. One element of airports that stresses me out most is the almost muffled noise in the air that highlights just how many people are in one area. To try and get past it, I listen to classical musical or stripped down instrumentals. It means I don’t have to focus or over stimulate my brain by listening to my favorite songs but it’s enough to make me feel like I’m in my own bubble. At the time it was a really slow beautiful piano piece that to this every time I heart it, makes me think of this moment. I stood my ground as strong as I could manage and tried to focus on the slow and steady rhythm of the piano over power just how fast my heart was beating. I really don’t know if I could of taken that next step to walk closer to boarding if I hadn’t had music to calm me down.
Have you/would you do the same activity/go to the same place again despite this?
I didn’t have an option. When I landed on the East Coast I had to step off the plane, go through another and much larger airport before finding my connecting flights gate. Obviously coming home I again had to tackle two airports, two airplanes. I will admit though, for most of that first flight – I spent it thinking ‘how am I going to handle this connecting flight’. Looking back on it now, I’m actually really glad that I was pushed to go through such a similar situation again so quickly because I tend to be someone who experiences having a panic attack somewhere and then I will avoid it. There are stores I refuse to go into, streets I refuse to walk down and it’s because I let myself avoid them for too long. I gave my power to the fear instead of trying to fight it and travelling is one of the things in my life that brings me the most joy so it really would of been a big loss if I hadn’t of taken those last five or six shaky steps to get to the plane.
Despite what happened, take three positives that you learnt/experienced from what happened.
When I was diagnosed with anxiety after an accident I was worried that anxiety would stop me from still doing the things I loved before having it. Although that is true to certain people and in certain cases, this moment and this memory remind me that I can still be myself even if it takes trying a little harder or taking precautionary measures like figuring out the signs of when an attack is coming on so I can better handle the situation.
I think that because this was a very bad panic attack I honestly would say it was one of my ‘weakest’ points. I felt so vulnerable, I felt scared – I mean I literally cried on the plane after just because the whole situation really caught up with me once I had lived through it. Looking back on it now though I don’t see fear or vulnerability. I see strength. Not only did I go through the actual panic attack itself. But my whole world didn’t crash down around me. The world kept moving, I still got on the plane. I still got on the next plane and the two it took to get home. I beat myself up a lot for having anxiety and how it affects my day to day life. But this was a big moment where I was sitting on the plane going ‘yeah but I actually still got on the plane – THAT is what matters’.
I think the biggest positive that I took away from that moment and from every panic attack I have is that it’s always going to end. No matter how long I feel trapped in a moment or no matter how hard my heart is racing. The more panic attacks I have, it’s almost like the easier it is in the moment to tell myself that it will be okay. I know that because I’ve been in that head space before and I’ve managed to get through it then too. When you know there is a light on outside it’s easier to feel safe in a dark room. That’s how I feel the more panic attacks I overcome.
What is your top piece of advice to people going into similar situations who might also be anxious about it?
My top piece of advice is to really plan and plan again. Before my trip people kept advising me ‘you will be okay once you don’t think about it too much’. `But the reality of it is, if I hadn’t thought about it – I might not of been able to ever get on that flight. You know yourself best. You know your mind, you know your body. Think about what you don’t like about the situation you are heading into that could potentially trigger a panic attack. Figure out how you can either take away that possibility all together or how to reduce its impact on you (ie. if noises are an issue, use ear plugs etc). In the same mind set you also know what DOES work for you. So think about what makes you feel safe. If you can include those things in any way to the situation you are heading into – do. It can be as simple as a smell, a scarf that reminds you of a loved one or treating yourself to a nice slice of cake in the airport.
After that – make sure you are physically and mentally as prepared for the situation as you can be. With flying and airports it’s a bit more extreme. So for me it’s always important to plan the extra ten minutes before you leave your house to have breakfast. Or make sure you have that window of time in the airport itself. Make sure you’ve had enough water. Mentally – it’s harder but simple things like having a good night slight is always such an incredibly important foundation. With all of that combined, although you can not control or stop a panic attack from occurring. I think you are at least as ready as possible to handle it to the best of your ability.
Is there anything else you would like to add/include?
The only other thing that I’d really like to say is that I really do think it’s so important that we keep this conversation going. We are so lucky that people like Sophie are going out of their way to give momentum to this. But it’s something we can all do. Be more open about it with friends. Be more open online. It’s sometimes a lot of people and I myself even struggle with admitting. But I always hope that I could even help one person by doing so. When I am having a bad mental health day the one thing I always think is ‘I feel awful and there isn’t even any point to this’. But maybe we have the control to fix it. There doesn’t have to be no point. We can use our voices, our stories, our experiences and make sure that our children never experience the stigmas we face. That, one day things like this are discussed and helped in all schools. A lot of our generation and past generations have had to suffer in silence but I’m hoping we can change that.