[Jan 2013] Mindfulness in Panic

I’m having these panic attacks sometimes, and meditation seems to teach me things that can be useful in those dark moments. The only thing is that most of the time I get so overwhelmed and frightened during a panic attack, that I lose sight of what to do and how to handle the situation in a mindful way. It is really not easy, even if I know I am in the middle of a panic attack, and I won’t die or something. It is still very scary and difficult, and I am also very confused about the right attitude.

So I sat down in a calm and relaxed moment to straighten things out, and I realized again, that I missed something very important here. This happens quite often with me about meditation, that I think I understand something very well and very deeply, then one day I realize that I haven’t understood it at all. I am trying to be grateful to these magical moments, but mostly I just feel annoyance about my lack of comprehension.

With my realization now, I can see clearly my changing attitudes and behaviors towards panic attacks.

Fighting and Escaping

The first thing I did when having a panic attack was to scare myself to death. That’s what I did, because it was so horribly frightening. My mind starts to be closing down, my thoughts running wild, my body starts shaking, I feel like having fever, I want to escape but I can’t really do anything. This feeling of helplessness and lost control just makes me even more scared. Like when you are a lost little kid, and some older and stronger assholes come to bully you or beat you up. You are so scared that you just want the whole thing to go away, but the more you want it to go away, the more it stays with you and the more power it has over you. The more you fight, the more they seem to enjoy the whole situation. The more you beg to let you go, the more they turn on. Like being in a swamp, where the more you want to escape, the deeper you sink in it. When you want to fight it, when you want it to go away, when you are begging for it to go, it becomes even stronger. It is a total dead end.

Giving up

When I realized that begging and fighting doesn’t help, I slowly learned to stop doing that. I stopped begging, I stopped fighting, but I didn’t change anything else. I just did’t fight any more, I tried to let it happen, to let it walk all over me. Like letting the bullies walk all over you, because you know that fight will make them even more amused, so you just give up, and let them do whatever they want to do with you. You stop fighting, you stop begging, you stop caring about what they going to do to you. You just give up, like nothing matters anymore. You just let yourself down, like it wasn’t about you, just some boring movie or something. I don’t know if this was any better than fighting or begging, maybe it wasn’t. But I know it was the second strategy I used.

Denying

Then I had enough of this “nothing really matters to me” strategy and this feeling of powerlessness, so I invented something new. I started telling myself it is not so serious at all, this is just a temporary situation, just a negative thought, just some heavy unpleasant feeling, just a little trick my brain does to me, an it is going to go away like always, I just need to take some deep breath, that’s all. Like when you know they are going to say nasty things to you, they might beat you up a little, but they won’t kill you or anything, and life’s going to go on after that.

Well, I have to admit, it is kind of a liberating thought when you know you are going to survive. So I started playing this game. I close my eyes, start breathing, hoping that it is all going to be over in a few moments or minutes. Meanwhile I am trying to convince myself about the insignificance of the situation. This strategy “worked” very well a few times, and I really thought, that I am very mindful and wise about it.

But then I realized it doesn’t really work, because if I go a little deeper, it isn’t very different from simply giving up, just a little more subtle and sophisticated. What really happens inside me is that I am trying to convince myself desperately, that this feeling of panic is not serious at all. I am trying breathing deeply, waiting for things to be alright, but can’t really, because the truth is that I am in a middle of panic. So a little time passes, and things aren’t alright at all. So I am losing confidence, I am taking things a little more seriously now, my arguments are getting weaker, I am breathing more nervous, but the feeling doesn’t subside, it becomes stronger indeed, until it overwhelms me completely.

So I asked the question to myself. Why is this happening? Because I am dishonest. I am trying to deny the present and the reality. I am longing to be in the future, and get over with my current feelings and moments. And this is the complete opposite of mindfulness.

Accepting Mindfully

This opens another possibility to handle panic. This means accepting the moment, observing and understanding it mindfully, telling myself the truth. And the truth is that I am in panic. I am scared, but I accept it. I don’t want to fight it, because it makes it even worse. I don’t want to run away from it, because I simply can’t. And I don’t want to deny it, because it is here now, it exists, even if I don’t want it. I am aware of my situation, but I don’t let it dominate and overwhelm me. I know that what I feel now it is just a feeling, no absoulte truth. But I don’t deny the unpleasantness, reality and importance of this feeling. This feeling is part of my present, part of my life, part of my perception, part of myself, and I can’t and don’t want to deny it. Instead, I am trying to live it to the fullest. I am observing it, respecting it, accepting it, trying to understand it, and learn something of it, without letting it rule me. It goes away when it wants to go away, I don’t want to rush it. I am trying to accept living with this feeling, as long as I have to. Unpleasant it may be, I am still welcoming it.

I can see now, that this is the truly mindful attitude to take. I can see it clearly. But no matter how well I know this, it is still very difficult to do it. Because it is very difficult to welcome suffering or panic. It is extremely difficult to be open to the bad and the ugly. It is very difficult not to lie to myself that it is not that bad at all, just to be able to tolerate it.

But I know it from my own experience, that it is possible to experience and welcome the pain, and I truly believe that this is the only way to move forward, by accepting it and understanding it.

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