Posts Tagged ‘panic attacks’

This blog entry continues from yesterday.

One reason I have so much trouble feeling safe and protected is because I have had abuse lie dormant and then resurface. My mother went 10 years without abusing me and then attacked me again after my father died, so a part of myself is always on alert for when the other shoe is going to drop. No matter how much time has passed without being abused, a part of me lives in fear of it happening again.

For the most part, I do a good job knowing what my triggers are and how to diffuse them. However, getting blindsided by the theme park has rocked my confidence in my ability to keep myself safe, which leads to my feeling the need to take more control, which is what prompted my focus on control this week.

The thing is that I was objectively safe at Legoland. Nobody hurt me there. Nobody was even rude to me despite my terrible attitude in my triggered state. However, being immersed in a “land” of something that is clearly a trigger for severe trauma (based upon my severe reaction) has caused the traumatized child in me to feel extremely unsafe.

I have always loved to travel because I can let go of control and feel safe because I am physically far away from the threat. Now that part of myself fears leaving home because who knows what terrible trigger is lurking out there? I am working hard to dismantle this pattern. I don’t want to spend my life looking backward and navigating the landmines of potential triggers.

I am sick to death of my life being controlled by my childhood. I lived in the trauma for ~ 20 years. I have lived longer without the trauma, so why do the bad years get dibs? The war is behind me – I am so tired of living in a foxhole now that the war has ended.

I really want to move forward. I did not invest all of that hard work and money into healing and therapy so I can still feel unsafe most of the time. The little girl inside is screaming that the “safe” part of the world just got much, much smaller, but I am fighting back – I am not giving up something I love (traveling) because of one big trigger.

The other thing is that I am not going to put a bunch of work into trying to recover the memory this time. I remember enough to have a pretty good idea of the level of trauma associated with the Legos. I don’t have to relive it to heal this. I am sick to death of reliving past trauma – I haven’t really gotten “new” information in years, just more of the same. My abusers were sadistic bastards who tried to break my will, but they didn’t succeed. I want to move forward, not continue focusing on the past. I think it is enough to acknowledge that Legos are a trigger, accept that the trauma was really, really bad, and compassionately move myself forward. I never need to put myself around Legos (and certainly not Legoland) again, but I also don’t need to live in fear of them. They are just Legos.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Traveling to new places has been a wonderful way for me to let go of control and enjoy the moment. I loved visiting Los Angeles last year. I felt so free and safe … so far away from home and not responsible for doing anything but having fun at Disneyland.

This year did not go that way. I did not know that Legos trigger me until I walked into Legoland and had a complete meltdown. In retrospect, the signs were there. I had been very excited about our trip. Then, when we added that theme park to our agenda (my friend’s younger son is very into Legos), I kept procrastinating scheduling the trip and really was not looking forward to it any longer. Hindsight is 20/20 – I just thought this was spillover for all of the other stuff I was dealing with at the beginning of the summer.

I had no idea that I was triggered, but I felt the intense need for a Xanax as soon as we entered the gate. I thought it was the crowds at first. I was slammed with intense hatred – I hated every single thing about the place and kept visualizing blowing up all of the Lego statues.

Outwardly, I kept b@#$%ing about how juvenile the place was. (Our boys are nine and ten – it looked more appealing to the kindergarten crowd in my fully biased opinion.) Inwardly, my skin was crawling, and I wanted to use my fingernails to peel it off my body. I got angrier when I learned that it is a “dry” theme park (most theme parks do serve alcohol) because I wanted to stay inebriated the entire day. I kept counting down the hours until we could leave. I was lightheaded and immersed in anger and shame.

I was so incredibly triggered afterward – so much so that my friend kept bringing me rum punches. (I haven’t had that much to drink in years.) She had no idea why I was being so intense about the place. I told her that I simply could not go back. I would do anything she wanted – lie, cheat, steal – but I would not go back. (We had two-day passes.) I wound up spending the next day seeing the new “Harry Potter” movie while my friend took the kids back. For the next few days, I struggled with very strong suicidal and self-injury urges.

That experience really shook me, and I have been prone to triggering and panic attacks ever since, which is why I am putting so much focus on staying in the moment, reminding myself that I am safe at this very moment, etc. Being slammed by that intense of a trigger without having any idea it was coming has really rocked me. More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Last weekend, I was in a very dark place. However, I managed to pull myself out on Monday by putting all of my tools into practice. I am no longer concerned about being “abandoned” over the Christmas holiday. Whenever the thought even crosses my mind, I know how to fight it.

I was OK on Monday and Tuesday, but then I started getting jittery on Wednesday and then feeling anxious on Thursday. My sister also had a panic attack on Thursday night. I thought this was perhaps another “disturbance in the force” outside of myself, which is frustrating because I do not yet know how to fight that. When the problem is not within me, it is much more challenging to know how to fight back within myself.

I stayed anxious all weekend. I used Xanax to sleep at night, and I found myself compulsively overeating for several days. I couldn’t tell you why – only that I felt “off” and anxious, and eating soothed that feeling.

On Saturday, my sister mentioned in passing that her university’s graduation was that day, and she was reminiscing with her children that it was exactly one year ago that she was the one graduating with her Bachelor’s degree. I did not think much of the comment at the time – no dots were connected.

Then, on Saturday night, I had a flashback dream that told me exactly what my problem is – It has been one year since I forced myself to see my mother/abuser again after a six-year hiatus. I only did this because my love for my sister outweighed my aversion to seeing my mother, and my sister invited us both to the graduation.

In the dream, I relived the moment of my mother hugging me. It wasn’t a complete repeat of the place, but it was a repeat of the emotions. I was having to spend time with my mother, even though I did not want to. I was making a real effort to be polite even though I wanted to run screaming from being anywhere near her. Then, she wanted a hug. I did not want to give her one, but I believed I had no choice, and my friend (who came with me last year to the graduation to be my “buffer”) stood next to me watching and letting me make the call. She had no way of knowing that there was no choice – only compliance because I never feel like I have a choice in my mother/abuser’s presence.

She hugged me thoroughly as I tried not to touch any part of her. A part of me wrestled with whether it would be easier just to let go and embrace her hug, but the larger part of myself had flashes of all of the ways I had been hurt in childhood by her body touching mine. The hug seemed to go on forever. As soon as it ended, I forced myself awake. My heart was racing, and I was very shaky.

It took me a couple of hours after being awake to tie it all together – Seeing her again was traumatizing, and her hugging me added to the trauma. I know all of you are thinking, “Duh!,” but I guess I never really made that connection. I saw it as facing past trauma, not as adding more trauma that needed to be processed.

I had so much drama trying to get home (our flight was canceled due to weather), and then I faced a breast cancer scare as soon as I returned, so I never took any time to work through my feelings and reactions to the trauma of seeing her again. I just wanted to put it all behind me…and now it is back on the anniversary of that newer trauma. Oh, joy!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Throughout my life, I have struggled with panic attacks. I rarely get them any longer since I started the child abuse healing process. However, I got them with regularity throughout my adult life before then.

I still remember the first time I had one. I was in my teens (maybe 14), and my body would not stop shaking. It scared me because I did not know what was going on. To my knowledge, there was no trigger involved. My baseline was always anxious, but suddenly I could not hold it in any longer.

I remember calling out to my father from the hallway and asking him what was wrong with me. I kept shaking – violently shaking – and I could not stop. I was hyperventilating. I thought I was losing my mind. My father had no idea what was going on with me, either.

After that first time, I had panic attacks with regularity. About every two or three months, the anxiety would build to a crescendo, and then the panic attack would come. I would lie in my bed, and the shaking would begin. It would start with my head and move down to my entire body. My body would jerk so violently that my headboard would thump against the wall and disturb everyone in the house. It would get harder and harder until it felt like my body was going into convulsions.

I would hyperventilate while my body shook. I would usually cry because I was so frightened. This would go on for about ten to fifteen minutes and then abruptly stop. My body would feel relaxed, and I would then feel soooo much better. I would sleep better than I had in weeks.

I heard other people talk about panic attacks, but theirs did not sound like mine. I never heard about another person having a similar type of panic attack until I read the book, Safe Passage to Healing, by Chrystine Oksana, who is also a ritual abuse survivor. Finally, my panic attacks made sense.

I finally worked up the courage to talk about my panic attacks over on Isurvive, which is a message board for child abuse survivors. One of the members explained to me that my panic attacks were a normal (and effective) way of managing my overwhelming anxiety. She explained that wild rabbits are routinely traumatized by being chased by numerous types of animals. When they get away and are safe, their bodies shake. This is how they work the adrenaline out of their bodies and succeed in going about their lives, even though they are traumatized routinely by being chased with the potential of being another animal’s lunch.

I don’t know if the comparison is correct or not, but it does make sense. I think the panic attacks were a way for me to manage the overwhelming terror from the ritual abuse memories.

Related Topic:

Trauma Tuesday: Panic Attacks and the Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Storm clouds (c) Lynda BernhardtI used to have panic attacks on a regular basis after suffering from child abuse. They only stopped after I did the hard work of healing from the child abuse. Until then, I had panic attacks every couple of months. I knew this was not normal, and I had no idea what caused them. I only knew that I felt much, much better after having one.

I would feel the anxiety building up for several days before having a panic attack. I knew that the only way to relieve the anxiety was to allow myself to have a panic attack. I got really good at holding myself together until I could be alone and let loose.

I would lie down in my bed and start to shake. At first, it would only be my knees. Then, the shaking would travel to my thighs and calves. Next, it would move upward until every part of my body was shaking violently. Sometimes, I would shake so hard that the headboard would beat against the wall. I would often jerk my head rhythmically, kind of like head-banging into the air instead of into a wall or pillow. I would hyperventilate and force myself to breathe more deeply. Otherwise, I would get lightheaded.

This would go on for 10 to 20 minutes until it ran its course. Then, I would just stop. My body would feel amazing. All of my muscles would feel very relaxed, and I would sleep more deeply than I had in months (or since the previous episode).

I never told anyone about my panic attacks because I was embarrassed by them. I did not understand why I had them, and I feared it meant that I was crazy. I have since learned that some other child abuse survivors have them, too.

One abuse survivor told me that wild animals shake their bodies like this to release the adrenaline. She said that rabbits are constantly in danger, but they cannot function if they are in a state of terror all the time. So, after they are chased and escape with their lives, their bodies shake to release the adrenaline, and then they go back to normal.

I wonder if that is what my body was doing. Was I just releasing adrenaline? I don’t know. All I know is that I had panic attacks for decades, and I don’t anymore now that I have healed.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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