In my previous posts in this series (links available at the end of this post), I’ve written a lot about many of the facets of my struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. But, one of the things I haven’t yet addressed is one of the myths that people who suffer with anxiety and panic attacks believe: the myth of safety.
As I’ve told you before, when I’m feeling anxious or having a panic attack, my first and strongest instinct is to flee the situation or the place I’m in, whether or not either has anything directly to do with the anxiety or panic. Even the most benign situations like sitting in a restaurant having a leisurely Sunday dinner with my family has ended with me getting up and leaving the table, either temporarily or permanently.
In those moments of panic, no matter when or where they are, I don’t feel safe. In my mind, getting out of that situation or space is the only safe thing to do. Once upon a time, home was the only safe place to be; and my family members were the only safe people I knew. When I felt panicked, I had to get home, or at the very least, I had to get near some family member. But, then, something awful happened.
Humans live through their myths and only endure their realities.
Robert Anton Wilson
After years of running when panic struck, panic followed me home! I started having panic attacks in my house and around my family; and worse than that, when I felt anxious away from home, running home didn’t fix it. The myth of safety that I’d constructed crumbled and I realized the truth…
There are no safe spaces and there are no safe people.
One of the things I’m struggling with on this road to wellness is rewriting the narrative in my head. Learning that the story I told myself for years is just that, a story; and learning that I am and must be my own safe person, and that whatever space I’m in is a safe space because I am in control of my thoughts, my emotions, and my reactions to whatever physical response my brain and body team up to produce. I’ll tell you that it’s not easy, but it can (and must) be done.
But, how does one go about completely rewriting that narrative that has existed for so long–in my case, for nearly 40 years? The answer is as practical as the answer I give my students when they ask what they need to do to revise and edit their writing: take out the words that don’t work and replace them with the ones that do!
Those of us who suffer with anxiety and panic attacks must retrain our brains to throw out all of the narrative that turned out to be a myth and to rewrite a new work, an autobiography, a true story of who we are and who we are meant to be.
For me, that means actually saying the new words out loud (or if the situation requires, internally):
- This is anxiety. You know it is because you’ve experienced it before.
- You are OK. You are not having a heart attack or a stroke. You are having a panic attack.
- BREATHE! This will pass soon. Just let it be what it is, and let it run its course.
- DON’T RUN!!! You are in control of this situation. No one else offers anymore safety than you. Nowhere else will be safer for you. DON’T RUN!
Not everyone requires that active level of verbal reinforcement, but most probably do–at least until we’ve retrained our brains and rewritten the narrative. Like I said, it’s’ not easy. It takes time and effort, and it won’t happen overnight. But, I believe it will happen. (Resource: The Power of Positive Self-Talk)
In the end, it’s important to remember that, as adults, our individual safety and security rests solely in our own hands. We must learn that whatever space we are in is a safe space because we are in control and we are our own safe people.
I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)
As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!
- If you or someone you know is in immediate danger to themselves or others, please call 9-1-1!
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
- Teen Line: 1-310-855-HOPE (4673) or 1-800-TLC-TEEN (1-800-852-8336)
Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!
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