Two little words.
So simple, it seems. And yet, so loaded with emotion. Often, the above phrase is accompanied with annoyance, surprise, or even disbelief. People utter those two words together to anyone they think has no reason to panic.
Since developing depression, OCD, and especially anxiety and PTSD, I have been told “Don’t panic” more than I care to remember. Same goes for “Just relax” or “calm down.” I can vouch for the fact that being told these things does the exact opposite of what the other person intended. Just thinking of those phrases now has my chest tightening and my blood pressure rising.
You see, from the outside, everything seems fine. If not fine, at least not catastrophic. Nothing seems bad enough to have a meltdown from, and yet telling the person not to do that might actually enhance the panic attack. Because to the one panicking, there truly, genuinely is a reason to freak out.
The one in freak out mode sees that something has gone terribly wrong. It doesn’t matter what. Things have shifted in a way they are completely uncomfortable with. For example, I once
Panic attacks don’t happen because the person wants them to. Quite the opposite. I can tell you I have never, ever wanted to completely lose it in a downward spiral of fear and panic. I have never wanted to feel like the rug was pulled out from under me and I have no steadiness or surety anymore.
I have more fears and obsessions than I can count, and it seems the more I am told not to worry, the worse those fears get. It’s like, “Why are they telling me this? Are they just trying to make me feel better and I really should be completely falling apart right now? What are they hiding from me or not telling me? How can they not see this is absolutely dreadful?” Seriously. That is exactly how it feels. And then I am totally paralyzed in fear and distress, wishing I could break free. It’s like having a spell cast over me, those panic attacks, and I have no control over what to do.
Unfortunately, I must confess that I too have been guilty of telling someone to calm down during their panic attack. And yes, it absolutely made it worse. But I simply did not understand their fears. I did not understand what seemed so insignificant to me felt like the end of the world to them. Not an exaggeration.
If anyone out there suffers the way I do, please know you are not alone. You might feel alone for sure, as anxiety is pretty isolating.
And to those who cannot comprehend why a person is losing their s***, please don’t tell them not to panic. Please, please try to understand where the fear is coming from. At the very least, tell them to take deep breaths as opposed to not panicking. This could make all the difference for them.