I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I’ve lived through the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including panic attacks and anxiety. I know all too well how important it is when psychological or physical “triggers” cause the panic attacks, to have someone to just listen to us and not judge us as the attack runs its course.
In 1992 at the age of 36, I told my wife Karla that I had been sexually abused as child – the first time I ever mentioned it to anyone. The panic attacks started soon thereafter, and we found out I suffered from PTSD.
For the next two years, I had numerous panic attacks. Since 1994, I have only had three full-blown panic attacks.
I use breathing techniques to calm myself. If I start feeling extremely anxious beyond my control, I have a great wife, great friends, my therapist and my faith that I can lean on to help me get through it. I am now able to use what I have learned over the past 25 years or so to prevent full-blown panic attacks from occurring.
At 4:30 a.m. this morning, I got a call from someone in my circle who was having a full-blown panic attack for the first time ever. When I got the call, I listened without judgment. Karla and I took turns talking to this person for the next two hours as they were waiting to go to the airport to catch a flight.
We didn’t give specific instructions or advice other than try to breathe deeply, relax, and know that we would wouldn’t leave them during this time of need. We kept assuring them they were not alone.
(Fortunately, Karla is a registered nurse with a focus on providing hospice care. Most of her patients suffered from anxiety, and she has incredible patience.)
So many trauma survivors suffer in silence with PTSD, panic attacks and anxiety. We are too ashamed and embarrassed to share with someone what is going on.
People who don’t suffer from these illnesses often don’t know what to say. “It’s just in your head. Stop thinking about it.” Some people will yell at us in frustration and make us feel like we are crazy.
“Crazy” is a horrible thing to call anyone who faces any type of mental health challenge. This just drives a trauma survivor deeper into a shell and causes him or her to suffer more in silence, because they aren’t comfortable with openly discussing their pain. That can drive them to destructive lifestyles to ease the pain.
I want others like me who suffer from PTSD and the resulting anxiety and panic attacks to know that we are strong, we are OK, we are not alone, and we are not “crazy.” Find the right counselor and develop an inner circle of family and/or friends that you lean on, and who will not judge you when you suffer through a crisis episode.
To our inner circle of loved ones: We know you get frustrated sometimes. We are so thankful when you listen, don’t judge us, and just hold us close if you can. Sometimes we’ll cry as a consequence of the imaginary fears and the feeling that we are emotionally weak. Thank you for allowing us to freely share what is going on at that moment. Eventually the crisis will pass, and we will be ready to face the world again.
To fellow trauma survivors: We can do incredible things despite the challenges we face from PTSD, anxiety, and panic attacks. Keep enjoying the journey of life and find your inner circle that will listen, laugh with you, cry with you, hold you, and never judge you when anxiety and panic hits.
We are strong! We do more than survive – we thrive!
Fight Through the Fear.