I feel incredibly grateful that I had a full set of tools at my disposal when paralyzing fear hit me because when it did it felt like I might die and I want to the tools and experience with you.
In February 2017 I was involved in a head on collision which left me with what we now know was a serious concussion along with the other physical trauma I had experienced. In the months following this collision I experienced black outs during the middle of the day along with memory loss and severe head aches. I will never forget the first time that it happened, I was walking from the skytrain to my house after a chiropractor appointment and I thought to myself “I need to do some laundry”. Then I seemed to blink and I was 10 blocks away leaving a store with laundry detergent in one hand and chocolate in the other and I had no idea where I was, how I got there or what I was doing.
Panic set in. Complete and utter panic because I had no idea what was going on or where I was and no recollection how I got there. My heart was racing, my breathing shallow and my mind was racing. I can’t completely describe the overwhelming feeling that I experienced but I felt like I was losing my grip on reality, my mind and time. I felt like I was dying would be the best way to describe it and I was completely alone.
In that moment I first concentrated on the one thing that I felt that I could start to control, my breath. I breathed in and out in long breaths even though my body wanted to take short, fast ones, this started to help me ground. I then asked myself if I was safe. My mind screamed “No, I’m dying” so I asked “is that true? Where’s the threat?” And I looked around and took in my surroundings. I was on the sidewalk just outside of a store that I frequent, there were no people around and no immediate threats. I really started to take in my surroundings while continuing to take long deep breaths. I touched the parking meter, I looked at the fruit and vegetables out front of the store, the yellow awning over the door, the pavement, I took it all in and breathed.
My mind was still racing “what happened?” “Is this going to happen again?” “Is this my new normal?” “Is this permanent?” “Am I going to die?”…. the thoughts and panic kept coming and all that I could think of to do was to ask if those things were true. The answer kept coming back “I’m not sure but it could be.” So all that I could ask was “But am I sure?”.
This felt like it went on forever but it could have been moments and it was all in my head. If you have not experienced anything like it I am so very happy for you as this was one of the most terrifying moments of my life.
After some time of breathing deeply, taking in my surroundings, touching things and engaging the part of my brain that was trying to take over I was finally able to calm myself down enough to ask what I needed to feel safe again and got the answer “I just want to be home”. So I started home slowly, making sure that I was crossing the street with a group of people. I continued to breathe deep breaths and engage the part of my brain that was still in a state of panic. I had read Byron Katie’s book A Thousand Names For Joy and there were more questions that I could ask (I highly recommend this book) but all I could remember in that state was “Do I know that to be true?’ And every time that I got the answer “I’m not sure but it feels like it” I would breathe and say to myself “I trust that I am safe right”.
It took me some time to get home and it was a struggle. When I finally closed the door behind me and curled up in a ball on my bed I finally felt a sense of safety. I breathed long and deep and continued to soothe myself, engaging my panicked brain and eventually felt safe and calm again.
Over the following months this happened a number of times, it’s hard to recall but the first one really stood out for me and with those tools it became easier and easier to work my way out of that panicked state. Although my memory has been foggy and patchy the last 15 months the black outs eventually stopped and I am happy for that. I am also grateful for the tools that I get to pass on to others that might help them in similar situations where the subconscious mind takes over and panics. The things that worked for me were
-breathing deeply and slow
-take in my surroundings
-look to see if there is a physical threat
-touch things around me
-Use my senses to connect to things around me
-engage my panicked mind asking “do I know this to be true?”
-ask “what will help me feel safe?”
-say to myself “I trust that I am safe.”
These things may be difficult to do in the moment but they are possible and the more that you practice the easier these tools will be to use. I can say this from experience as I have a good idea of what it feels like.