I had a visit from an all-too familiar feeling last week. It had been over 20 years since I experienced the “aura,” that tiny bit of time just before you get body slammed with a panic attack. Everyone familiar with panic attacks knows that creepy, threatening sensation just before you lose control. If at that point you let the feeling overwhelm you, the monster will mightily oppose being placed back in the jar.
One of the many reasons I’m grateful I overcame panic disorder is I no longer have to experience that horrible moment (I thought). “I’m back Jack,” is more or less what I remember a voice hissing at me as I writhed in pain on my hospital bed. It was day 2 of my intestinal blockage drama. On that day, cramping with pain, I began to think about the gravity of my situation, and panicky feelings emerged instantly. I recall the instant clearly. I probably thought the equivalent of “oh no! and quickly put into practice many of the things I created in my past to overcome panicky feelings.
The object is to take your focus away from your sensations by focusing on your surroundings. This is a form of mindfulness I practice by keying in on particulars. I placed my focus on hearing at first and tried to identify and locate each sound I heard of which there are many on a busy surgery recovery floor. The thought I might need surgery was part of the fear package that presented itself to me as I lay exhausted with pain and very vulnerable. As soon as I recognized what might happen (panic attack) I began to listen intently like a safe cracker to every sound. And later I began focusing on accessories the folks were employing with their scrubs. I looked intently at hair patterns and at fingernails and counting my tubes. Counting my tubes was a task for a couple of days. Outward focusing also helped me tune out pain.
And I used humor when I was able, cracking jokes and generally engaging as brightly as possible all those who were tending my needs. It worked. I work. All the things I put into place for my and now your recovery from panic disorder are what helped get me through a scary health crisis. I had intestinal surgery 15 years ago that left scar tissue and a few narrow passages and my now forbidden fruit is mixed nuts. I was in constant, sometimes intense pain for 4 days. No sleep, no food, no drinking water (bits of ice). Now there was a test of the constitutional. It’s day 4 after my release and I’m feeling a little frisky. I rode my bike to the store and ate real food all day.
Hydrology Department officials met recently at the site of the blockage on the Lower Mathias River to discuss possible causes of the crisis. “We think it was either vandals or beavers that caused the dam-up,” said Department engineer Holly Goforth. She added, “We’re going to implement new rules against placing limbs, branches, clumps of leaves or grass or any densely packed materials into the Lower Mathias. We hope that helps, but the fact remains: that beavers can’t read signs.”