There’s something most people don’t quite understand about panic disorder. Days can become intense- completely dominated by panic or the fear of panicking. Although somewhat dormant, the anticipation that the latent panic within might erupt at any second brings about an atmosphere of unease in your daily life. It’s actually a defence mechanism, believe it or not. Anticipating disaster goes someway towards mitigating the real thing. The fog of panic looms then, omnipresent and overbearing, making the simple act of getting through the day just utterly exhausting.
Fortunately, every storm abates. It can take minutes, hours or days, but every tumultuous episode of panic eventually calms and melts away. For a person with panic disorder, the calming of the storm brings a unique serenity. This is the something that most people don’t understand. I struggle to explain the feeling even now, but I’ll try. When you spend a period of time feeling like you’re in constant danger- perceived, yes, but very real at the same time- relief feels like a thousand chains bursting off of you all at once. You can breathe without worrying about it being too deep or unregulated. No longer suffering from tremors and the myriad of physical symptoms that panic brings, a stillness begins to take over which brings you into a state of connectedness with the world around you. You’re no longer bound to the obsession with intense fear. You might even feel that life begins to slow down, allowing you to drink up the world and its many rich flavours. You may think of this as something akin to mindfulness, which isn’t actually untrue, but to transition from a world of perceived danger to a world of peace brings a relief that mindfulness can’t touch. If you know or support someone with this disorder, give them a combination of space and reassurance: Space to feel the panic and to move through it. Reassurance that the world around them is still very much real; maybe even a reminder to touch that real world and absorb its many grounding sensations. I can’t stress enough that panic detaches the sufferer from their senses. They may need gentle guidance to reconnect. This could include holding someone’s hand, perhaps squeezing it rhythmically; press their hands against an unfamiliar surface, like the cold floor beneath them; talk idly about something, giving the sufferer a chance to listen to something outside of their intense world; let the sufferer talk if they feel the need to, it may be a cathartic release which helps to keep them grounded.
After the storm has passed, thanks to your gentle support, a person suffering from a panic attack will experience the most beautiful sort of serenity. A calm day is relaxing, but the sunshine after a storm is euphoric.