I find with all that has been swayed by the main-stream media and social media today, it is easy to get caught up in believing what we hear is the actual truth. There was a time in which I suffered from a debilitating panic disorder and agoraphobia and I can say that every time my flight or fight radar fired off, I really believed that I was in real danger. My brain played tricks on me, mostly prompted by psychosomatic responses of my brain signaling my body to cause physical symptoms.
When a lion is out in the jungle preying on a deer, and the deer realizes that it is in danger, it literally runs for its life. The deer pants, his heart raises and goes into high alert and panic mode. A human suffering from a panic attack is nothing short of this fear-based response.
What I didn’t know back then was that my panic attacks were actually a part of a set of triggers. I had no idea what those triggers were at the time, but later when I learned what they were, I began to understand that they were associated to people or scenarios that I experienced that were a resemblance or mirrored my traumatic experiences in my childhood and the dismantling of my family bond that left my father dead, my young mother in a grieving depression, and me as a toddler being sent to live with my maternal Indigenous grandmother.
Through research and experience I soon discovered that our eyes are truly the windows of our souls and they are constantly recording our environment like camera taking snapshots. They send signals to our brains and our brain compartmentalizes everything. Those snapshots get put into categories that create stories that ultimately set off emotional responses. One day while at the park, I had a panic attack. My heart started racing. My hands became clammy. I began sweating and feeling like I was coming out of my skin. I couldn’t understand because I was out in nature in a very relaxed environment that was sure to reduce stress.
Later, in a therapy session when I expressed to my therapist what had happened to me at the park, she asked me to describe everything I had seen. I told her that I saw a woman playing with her baby on a park bench. A man was over to the right, all by himself, grilling burgers on a small hibachi. Although this seemed to have nothing to do with me or why my flight or fight mode would go off -- it actually was! This scene represented the dismantling of my family unit. The man grilling by himself to my right represented my father and the woman towards the left of me, represented me as a baby being held by my mother. My brain was trying to compartmentalize my story and this is what became my main trigger. This was a trauma I never dealt with or came to terms with and a story that has haunted me since I was seven-and-half-months-old. This brought up an interesting question for thought. Can a seven-and-a-half-month-old experience trauma and hold onto trauma?
Panic attacks are usually associated with an underlying emotional trauma or experience that the suffer hasn’t come to terms with. I had not come to terms with it because as a child who had not learned to speak and express myself, I had no way of knowing how to deal with it or process it. I held onto this emotional trauma inside my body, carrying it with me throughout my childhood, adolescent and then into adulthood.
I do believe your body purges out what is not healthy for you or doesn’t serve you. Today, I look at those emotional roadblocks as my body trying to heal itself. My body was definitely trying to talk to me and communicating with my brain. I know now as I have matured and learned how to navigate emotions in a whole new light, this is actually a blessing. We are just not trained on how to listen to our bodies or take inventory of our inner thoughts. Most of us walk through life on auto-drive.
As we evolve more in understanding psychology and study more about emotions, we are understanding more about how the body and mind are inter-connected. Many therapists now believe that babies can experience trauma and that their first traumas are going through their mother’s birth canals to be born. This is also the first time that they are separated from their mothers, which is a traumatic experience for a baby.
I have always said that we are not given life skills from a young age on how to deal with our emotions. We do not know how to master them and in most cases, they master us. Everything is about Ying and Yang, the balance of both the good and the bad, or the negative and the positive and just like we experience happiness or joy, we will in our lifetimes experience pain and suffering. In school we are taught subjects like Math, Science, History and English. We are even taught sex education. Why would we not get life skills education? Why would mental health not be part of our children’s curriculum? Learning that some depression or defeat and sadness in our lives is part of life and it is important for us to learn how to deal with them, and be given the tools on what to expect and how to process and navigate emotions.
We all have those ends of the world days, and as someone who has suffered from depression and grieving depression, I know that it is healthy to allow myself to feel those feelings as part of my healing process and I also know when it is time to not allow myself to go down the rabbit hole of depression. This really is a practice, and it has taken my three decades to get here, but it was mainly due to not having the education I needed to understand how to deal with the situation. The other part which is a major part is based on perception. What we know about perception is that perception is reality. I suffered more than I needed to because I believed that when I had negative feelings and felt those palpitations, that immediately meant that I was going to have a debilitating panic attack.
There is a way to talk yourself out of it, but it takes some serious work and learning how to master the mind and flip the script. We have to be willing to feel that pain, and like a puzzle figure out what those triggers are. A good therapist can help you do that. If you are in recovery, then a sponsor or an alcohol and drug counselor can offer advice. We have to move past the stigma around mental health. We all have feelings, most of us hide the negative ones out of fear of shame, but it takes far more courage to speak your truth and that truth will set you free. You are worth doing the work to get on the other side.
Reach out, read, research, meditate, chant, take mental notes and daily inventory. In Buddhism, they believe that suffering exists; it has a cause; it has an end; and it has a cause to bring about its end. In our stories lies our truths and we have the power within us to find that truth, heal ourselves and live in a state of happiness. Do the work and you will see the results, even if you fail at first, keep trying and you will get there.