Today, we went to an aquarium and I found myself in a state of such physical panic as to be utterly unsettling. I was dizzy, my heart pounded, I was sweating and nauseous, headachy and generally feeling under assault.
The thing is, Mike didn’t really register it. I did some Instagram stories as I went round and found it soothed (or distracted) and taking Elijah to the fish he knew from either Octonauts or Finding Nemo was similarly distracting.
However, this was a physically panicked feeling akin to the panic attacks I used to have that used to leave me screaming and banging my head off the wall.
So, what’s changed?
Firstly – I know my triggers.
Crowded spaces make me panic; driving into the car park today it was obvious it was going to be busy. It was a massive car park, and there were NO spaces. Like people parked on verges full. Then someone approached us in the queue to sell us her ticket because she struggled with anxiety and it was triggering her big time.
So, it was likely to be bad!
Also, lighting and noise make things worse and it was patchy lighting with a huge amount of noise thanks to the volume of people
Secondly though, I know my management strategies.
The most obvious is, get out.
Whatever you are panicking about, get away from it. This is great in theory but not always practically possible. When you have a toddler who has been promised an aquarium visit and it has taken you fifty minutes to drive there, you don’t turn back at the door!
Also, once inside and able to see how bad it was, the tide of people coming in behind us was such that attempting to leave that way would have been the stuff of nightmares, so onwards!
However, other management techniques include distraction!
Whilst the presence of the toddler might have encouraged me into this state it also encouraged me in it. Pointing out various Octonaut featured sea creatures proved very successful!
I also distracted myself by making Instagram stories of how I was doing. Which, once out of the situation seemed a bit ‘out there’ but as a friend said “you just need to find a way to breathe again and if that’s telling a bunch of randos about it why the heck not”. Which honestly, at the time, was what I needed. So why not indeed?
I also played a bit of Harry Potter Wizards Unite which was entertaining!
The thing is, I was surprised by how internal the panic was. It was as big a panic as I have had in years, yet my own husband didn’t realise it was happening. I felt it physically but something about knowing what was happening and almost being prepared for it to happen enabled me to get through it without it exploding out in the violence to which I am accustomed.
It was a strange experience. Sort of like an out of body thing really. It just reinforces to me, how little we know of someones internal life from their external presentation. It also reminded me though, how far I have come and how incredibly useful it is knowing what is happening when the panic hits, my triggers and how to manage it. These tools have been over a decade in the making but they have literally transformed my ability to live life fully.
I enjoyed the aquarium, because Elijah loved it and went home with a shark, but I have to say, I will not be rushing back anytime soon…