A couple of weeks ago I was inspired to start sharing parts of my personal story in an effort to build a strong relationship with my readers, and hopefully inspire any of you who may have gone through something similar. If you’re new to me or this series, you can start with Part 1: My Post-Partum Journey. The story below about my first panic attack takes place shortly after.
It took me about a year to fully recover from my postpartum depression with my first daughter and then took me an additional 2 years to feel confident in my ability to balance the demands of being a mom while working full-time. In those three years, I got the courage to try again for a second baby, but I could not have anticipated the breakdown I would have after having her. I learned so much about myself and how to cope with anxiety after this event, so I wanted to share those lessons with all of you straight from the pages of my diary. *Deep Breath* and here we go…
The delivery of my second daughter was the polar opposite of the first. I had to have an epidural due to a dropping platelet count and the whole experience felt much more like a medical procedure than the natural childbirth I experienced my first time around. No bloodshot eyes from the delivery process and no apparent colic from this 9 -pound baby! All was going well until the 3rd day I was home with her. Feeling sleep-deprived and hormonal, I went to the basement to get some rest following a feeding session. As soon as I finally fell into a deep sleep, my partner came to the basement with my screaming and crying infant in tow. For some reason, she was ready to eat again and she was absolutely inconsolable while she was waiting.
In my strange theta state, I remember having the thought “I can’t do this again”. This thought played on a loop, repeating over and over in my brain before triggering my first ever panic attack.
I had heard clients over the years describe to me their panic attacks, but the feeling I had inside that night I will never forget. I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin, my heart was beating so fast I thought it was going to come out of my chest, and I could not settle myself. I started pacing outside in the middle of the night and could not shake the feeling of pending doom that came over me. After spending over an hour trying to breathe and calm myself down, I caved and left for the emergency room.
Riddled with shame for seeking this help despite being a mental health professional, I saw a psychiatrist who gave me a high dose of an anti-anxiety medication that literally knocked me out for several hours. To the surprise of the nursing staff, the minute the medication wore off I immediately returned to a panicked state. This went on for 24 hours and I was sent home with anti-anxiety medications and a diagnosis of acute panic disorder…fun times! I struggled with this anxiety on and off for 1-2 months before I returned to my baseline state. In that 2- month period I learned so much about anxiety that turns to panic and was gifted a newfound empathy for anyone that has experienced it.
If you have been following me for some time, you probably know that I teach that our thought patterns create our feeling states. What I didn’t know then that I know now is that my panic attack started with the initial thought, “I can’t do this anymore”. My brain immediately went to the past and focused on the stress and postpartum depression I went through with my colicky daughter and it triggered a stress response within me.
My brain did not remember that I had in fact gotten through the difficult time with my first daughter and instead only obsessed about the pain of going through it again. I attached to these thoughts and believed them to be true, blocking out any evidence that I did have of my strength, resources, and capabilities. When those initial waves of anxiety hit, I resisted them and the anxiety ratcheted up the more I resisted it. The attachment to the thought+ the resistance to the feeling=a full-blown panic attack!
So, what I want to offer to you my readers is to know that you are not your thoughts. By attaching to your thoughts, you call in the feelings that come with them. If you start to FEEL a negative emotion, instead of resisting it, acting/reacting to it, or avoiding it, try instead ALLOWING it to be there, even if for a little longer than you normally would. When we allow our emotions we grant ourselves access to the thoughts that created them in the first place. Once we have access to the thoughts, we can remind ourselves that they are optional; that even though we are thinking and feeling a certain way, we can choose to believe something else.
If I could go back in time I would have told my sleep-deprived self that even though I believe “I can’t do this again”, you can choose to believe that you can, even if it means relying on others, getting some coaching, therapy, and medication if necessary. Instead, I attached to my thoughts, resisted the feelings that came with them, and panic occurred.
Next time you find yourself attached to a negative thought that creates tremendous distress use this formula to balance and integrate two opposing ideas:
Even though I believe & feel X, I choose Y. It sounds simple but it’s highly effective. I am now able to allow anxiety so that it doesn’t turn into full-blown panic. If you want to read more on how to feel, here are a couple of old blog posts that will help:
If you or someone you know struggles with this, please feel free to share this blog or reach out to schedule a connection call so we can talk on a more personal level about how I can help.
Mind Your Strength,
Melanie Shmois, MSSA, LISW-S, is a licensed social worker, holding a Master’s Degree (MSSA) from Case Western Reserve University and a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. After spending 2 decades helping others achieve their mental and personal goals, Melanie worked with Master Coach Instructor, Brooke Castillo, and became a certified Life and Weight Coach through the Life Coach School.