In my previous post--the writing of which was a harrowing experience--I predicted that it would take me 72 hours to pull out of the siege of panic I was under at that moment. By now, I know this pattern pretty well. Nothing about those three days was fun, but it's nice to have it confirmed for me that my instincts are good, and that 3 days is about standard now. It used to take about 2 weeks. This is definite improvement of my own mental abilities to fight back, and in the long-term recovery from my traumas.
You read Day 1 in real time--shear, unmitigated, relentless terror. Going to bed at the end of it is the best that Day 1 gets.
I wake up dreading a repeat of Day 1, but reminding myself all the while that dreading panic is the surest method to experience it. As a certain level of normalcy returns, this is the point at which the frustration really sets in, the fury at never knowing for certain what set me off. Mental wellness is a constant patchwork of bits that all have to be working at once in order to maintain stability. Are my meds out of balance? Is my potassium low again? Is my glucose (blood sugar) level far enough out of alignment to have triggered this? What's the date today--is an anniversary of a traumatic event coming up, or just passed? (You'd be astonished how often this factor is all it takes to explain an episode. This case, however, was an exception.) But the frustration doesn't help, either; it alone can exacerbate things, so let's get back to the business at hand. Watch how you're breathing, Jennifer. Yep, as I expected, you're taking quick, shallow breaths. Wonder how many days I've been doing that? I often don't realize, until the panic is upon me, that I've been anxious for some time, growing more and more fearful without consciously realizing it because fear is my normal state. Exercise your mind, Jennifer; force yourself to calm down, to recognize that there is no new threat, to choose peacefulness. All day long.
Light through yonder end of tunnel breaks. My rate of breathing has returned to a healthier state, and with it my adrenaline-crazed fight-or-flight instinct. I can feel panic at the edges of my consciousness; I know where to find it if I wanted to experience it again, but I'm back in some illusory control. My psychiatrist says that every panic episode is a chance to exercise, to practice these mental skills, to keep them sharp and in readiness. In other words, we've reached the "maintenance level," the point at which you know what to do when you get temporarily debilitated. And for many of us, folks, that's as good as it will ever be again. I live and I deal. But my body will never un-learn how to have panic attacks for no obvious reason. I did it, again, and each time helps me grow a little stronger. Now, if I just didn't have to do it at all...