A Day In The Life of Invisible Disability: The Many Faces of PTSD
Do you or someone you know experience life on some part of the continuum of symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress?
Post Trauma Stress can really interfere with the regular structure, routines, and goals of daily life and not all medical professionals or Emergency Rooms or Crisis Line workers know how to approach and support the sufferer through it all.
Let’s talk panic attacks. Panic is such a physical thing as much or more than emotional. This is what gets in the way of the cure. If our bodies are in fight, flight, or freeze mode, and the heart feels like it will go into arrest, the lungs are clamped shut and can’t get a breath, one’s skin feels like it is covered in fear as much as air, we are not able to concentrate enough to access the skills that will help.
Medications that help bring a person into a level where he or she can access coping skils like deep breathing or meditation are often scapegoated in the medical community and patients are labelled as drug seekers or abusers. It’s a frustrating, shaming interaction with medical personell that can really bring doen the sufferer’s self-esteem, which cycles around and makes things worse.
Often if a person experiences dissociation (another continuum) as part of their PTS, a panic attack can really be anothher part of the personality (multiple) trying to break out and come to the external environment to have a voice and a place and a relationship. And that tectonic rumbling is experienced as a panic attack.
Not many medical personell know that perspective, and so overlook what would help, which is letting the other inside person come to the front, interact with the outside, and establish a validity in their relationships, identity, voice.
What I have found is that when a panic attack becomes intense and physical enough that skills can’t be accessed, is to make the environment ( and here’s where support persons come in) very basic in the following ways, where the sufferer just has to receive it rather than try to actively do things.
Here’s 3 starters:
1. Get everything very very quiet. Reduce all stimulation of sound, lighting, interactions and allowing Just the sounds of the rain on the window, the comfort of a soft blanket, being still. Just noticing the quiet in the environment, present-moment observation of the simplicity of this time can have an effect on the body that is going berserk.
2. Do something — anything handy — that is tactile. Pet the dog, put your head under the cool shower, hold an ice cube in your hand. Rub your toes into the carpet. Rock back and forth if you don’t have a rocker chair. Eat something with a flavor or texture that you haven’t had in awhile (something spicey, something hot or cold, something chewey.
3. Tell 1-3 support people what you are experiencing. Have a hand-out prepared for them that describes what you need from them when you are having a bad panic attack. Prepare this ahead of time. Sometimes just knowing that others know brings a sense of security that you are not alone with all the terror and out-of-control physicality.
Here’s one final thing — instead of trying to attack a symptom straight-on as a symptom, do other things in your environment and personal day that gives you a sense of power and control. Do one small thing, then rest. Make a time when you will do one more confidence-building thing. For example, if I can learn something new in the middle of a panic by listening to an NPR interview, feel more powerful. If I can walk my dog around the block I will feel more powerful. If I can draw a picture of what this experience looks like, I feel like I still have a Self, and I have conrete evidence that I am still in control. And I can, in small bites, expand that personal control, which will, over time, replace the body getting out of control.
The most important thing is to advocate for yourself — during times when you are feeling better — is that you will be allowed to do the things that work, and not necessarilly what other people are instructing. You know your panic better than anyone else, set it up so your personal patterns will be met with the things that actually work for you.
Heidi D. Hansen, M.A., Mental Health Recovery Specialist. Contact at email@example.com or text/call 360-241-5538.