Pushing through Panic Attacks

So my depression episodes tend to be pretty bad and my ability to do things fails. Completely. I’m functionally useless and I just sit at home and surf the internet or read trashy sci-fi or good Victorian romance novels until the depression episode lifts. If I’m lucky, I may brush my teeth every two or three days.

This isn’t a good place to be, so I of course try to force myself to do stuff. Unfortunately, if I try this, I usually trigger panic attacks (or anxiety attacks). The panic attacks aren’t pleasant at all – they feel as if a hand is clenched around my heart, an extreme desire to run away or hide from people, a feeling of terror. It’s bad enough that when I get panic attacks I back off from whatever I was trying to do.

But, this means I don’t get much done.

Cue to 2019 New Years and spending time on one of the Reddit bipolar sections (there’s good stuff on Reddit, by the way). Here’s my conversation with a very together person.

Me: I’m off topic, but what do you do to manage your depression? I’m having no success with this.

PMPositivity: Therapy and a lot of it! CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] taught me a lot of skills to manage it, for example forcing myself to do things that I can’t even imagine doing in that moment. Stuff like making my friends drag me out to have fun despite my protests about lethargy / not being in the right mood; Going to the gym (really good for depression; Picking up a new skill (painting!); Throwing myself into schoolwork ; Finding new youtube channels i enjoy (personally really enjoy braille skateboarding)

Making sure you do things ‘normal’ people will do will eventually drag your mental state to a level where you’re almost with everyone else, and from there it just becomes so much easier.

Me: Do you trigger panic attacks when you try to force yourself to do things? This happens to me.

PMPostivity: It does, but something that’s really helped me is that the panic is ALWAYS worse than doing it. I’ve never once done something with the intention of bettering my mental health that I ended up regretting. Even if it’s a shitty exercise or if I get yelled at by a random stranger on the street while trying to go out and have fun. Nothing is ever worse than what your brain imagines, and getting started is the hardest thing. Once you’ve gotten that down, everything is so much easier. After doing it enough times, it becomes a non issue.

That same night, I tried the advice. I had been invited to my parents for a dinner with some other family and guests. It was a small thing – eleven adults and some kids, people I’ve known for all my life. I didn’t want to go because I was just coming of a major depression episode and still a bit depressed, but I thought I’d follow the advice. This is what happened.

1 Well, the first thing that happened was that I forgot about the invitation completely, because that’s what happens when you’re depressed. I was only reminded when my dad called me about it two hours before I was to be there.

2 After the phone call ended, I realised I was annoyed that my dad called to remind me. Since I had forgotten about the invitation, I had already planned my evening and now I had to rejig all of it to be at the dinner.

I was also annoyed because (a) Didn’t my parents know that I dislike dealing with people when I’m depressed? and (b) Here I am trying to catch up on all the undone things for the last six weeks and my parents want me to chat and socialise!! and (c) How was I to socialise when I needed all my energy and focus just to do basic tasks like feed the dogs. There wasn’t any thought capability left over to ensure that I acted properly in a group, or to hold a conversation.

I was actually carrying on this argument with my parents in my head and I was really pissed off.

3 Although I had decided that I would go instead skipping the dinner like I usually would, it did mean that I had to force myself to get organised and leave the house – which then triggered a panic / anxiety attack.

At this stage the panic attack was reasonably mild, but I couldn’t focus very well and so I kept doing random tangential tasks that had nothing to do with getting dressed and leaving the house. Things like sweeping the house and fertilising the indoor plants.

It’s not that I was putting off going to dinner – it’s just that when I’m having a panic attack, what I know I should be doing and what I actually do don’t match up. I can’t focus properly and I’m using most of my mental capacity to prevent from panicking so tasks just happen randomly.

Anyway, I left home more than an hour late.

I still was in a panic attack while getting to my parents, so paying attention while driving was difficult, and I had poor manual coordination, and I was twitchy. Not fun.

And I was still having the churning angry thoughts about why I should be going to dinner.

4 Even after all this, I nearly didn’t make it. Before I knocked on my parent’s apartment door, I seriously considered turning back and going home – the idea of having to deal with people instilled so much fear in me that I wanted to flee.

The only thing that allowed me to knock on my parent’s door was what my friend had written – the panic is ALWAYS worse than doing it.

5 Of course, people were already having dinner by the time I arrived. My late entrance put me on the spotlight and I froze – I literally couldn’t say hello to anyone. I quietly got some food and sat at the table, not talking to anyone, not even my aunt who was sitting next to me. So much for being social.

My hands were shaking while I was eating because of the panic attack. However the attack slowly subsided over the next 15-20 minutes. It was a pretty odd time. I was at the table and I could hear the conversations going on, but I couldn’t really follow them and I didn’t try to join in them. If anyone tried to talk with me I could give only the most basic answer. And I tried to draw the least amount of attention to myself and hoped no one would notice me. I really didn’t enjoy those twenty minutes.

Once the panic attack subsided, I was able to hold a conversation and my conversational ability got better as as time went on. But there were limits. I could only deal with one or two people at a time and I couldn’t interact with the group as a whole. When most of the people left the dinner table to sit on the porch, I stayed back with two people to talk. And that’s how I spent the rest of the evening.

I figure that at my best that evening, I was running on about 40% of my social skills.

Interestingly, my capability of thought wasn’t impaired. I could and did discuss economic issues and I talked about how the banking system would be changing in the future. But only with one or two persons.

From my point of view, it was a lot more effort and thinking to interact with other people. Apparently, socialising with others is a complex activity and takes a LOT of thinking, on the spot, to do it properly. When I’m mildly depressed, I’m spending most of my energy and using most of my thoughts to monitor myself and to maintain some ability to function. I just don’t have enough processing power left over to socialise properly.

Did I think it was a good thing that I went for dinner?

When I left that night, I thought to myself that I didn’t particularly enjoy the evening. I’d much rather have stayed home and played on my computer.

But at the same time, I was out with people and that WAS a good thing. Long depression episodes and frequent depression episodes have royally screwed up my relationships with close friends and family. And my wider social networks with casual friends and acquaintances have pretty much all failed completely. Getting back out there and meeting people was useful if perhaps not so enjoyable.

I will probably have to continue doing this in the future. I probably still won’t enjoy it much, and I probably will continue to get panic attacks, but building back out my social networks is necessary.

I’d definitely practice on friends and family first. And I’d get a few people to warn the others that when I show up to an event late and when I’m fairly unresponsive for the first hour, that’s normal for me.

Hopefully, as my friend said, “making sure you do things ‘normal’ people will do will eventually drag your mental state to a level where you’re almost with everyone else, and from there it just becomes so much easier”

First published 4 Jan 19.

6 thoughts on “Pushing through Panic Attacks

Add yours

  1. Hi there,
    I read your post because I am seriously anxious about being around people… Having to converse intelligently, having to be social. It amazes me that some people enjoy being social. They need to be surrounded by people all the time. If they have free time they fill it with parties, lunches, meeting for coffee etc…. That all scares the shit out of me.
    If I didn’t have to earn money or be a good mum, I’d be in my bed all day watching TV or getting lost in the Internet… I love to research new topics, I love learning….

    I try not to have time free to think. For me, thinking is dangerous, I overanalyse ever little interaction I have.
    I find it amusing that people with depression are so self-absorbed, we spend so much time thinking about themselves, when invariably they hate themselves.

    I have always hated that my depression affects my loved ones negatively… so

    1) I tend to smother my depression… I push myself to fulfill all my daily responsibilities, and I’m so cheery… But come 9pm I need to collapse into bed.

    2) I take 600mg of antidepressants, I take my mood stabilisers, and take sleeping tablets. A lot of people say the pills make them feel like a zombie. Yes, at first… But I was very fortunate to be on a private health insurance (I was an accountant & it was an employment benefit). I was admitted for a 2 week observation at a clinic. The psychiatrist tweaked and tried diff meds diff doses diff combinations, until I was able to be me, with the manic edges shaved off. Without the meds I’m like a weird exentric emotional artist with a violent temper. so the world is a better safer place thanks to the pills.
    The mania is still there and I can tell when I’m going into a depression so I send myself to my bedroom. Sleep is a great help. Things never seem as bad after a good sleep.

    My advice to you is….
    Stop overanalysing
    Try the meds
    Never make big decisions during an episode
    Take 10 deep breaths
    Consciously relax every muscle in your body


    1. Janie,

      Thanks for your post! Lots of good advice there for everyone 🙂
      Also, glad that your meds and your activities keep you stable.
      Woo hah!


  2. I am sorry a lot of you are going through so much but remember you are trying and not hiding under the covers everyday and that is awesome:) You are all great people with something to deal with a lot of others don’t have to deal with and most should get themselves more informed about BP to understand what you deal with daily. My Separated husband has bipolar. He met someone that was 100 percent well not someone that got sick in the marriage with Epilepsy and 3 bulging discs that made me walk really bad and fall a lot. I have lots of pain i just ignore it best i can but i embarassed him and he wanted a divorce. So he made me move. Not like him, but he went off his meds and once i was in a tiny apt. he changed his mind about the divorce and just wants to stay separated so he can stay in the house i put so much money into. 30 years together since i was 20 years old. Pretty sad as i looked into everywhere to find new medications that would work for him, i dedicated myself to helping him. But that was 5 years ago i have a good lawyer and a fantastic Boyfriend that does not call me a cripple. I know a lot of people with Bipolar and wonderful people:) I am not good around people as too many can bring on seizures??? Bright lights the same thing so in store i wear dark glasses looking like a rock star and so does my boyfriend (what a pair we are 😉
    I do understand what you all go through only in a different way as i get panic attacks too and prefer to stay home but prefer to stay home too, But i push hard to go out really hard. I recently had to start using a scooter, too much falling down out of the blue and people staring at me making me feel like going back in hiding…I need driving lessons with what i got i have even knocked down displays in stores hehehe…
    We should all be proud of ourselves as we are warriors and very strong people as we get up everyday to greet the day:)
    Happy New Years Everyone, All the best life can give you all to everyone,
    Smiles Jacie H..


  3. Lovely post. It genuinely helps to know that we are not alone…. Every day is hard, but we are warriors!

    Here’s a song written by Charlie Chaplin – he also learnt to keep on keeping on through the dark bits….

    “Smile, though your heart is aching,
    Smile, even though its breaking,
    When, there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by,
    If you…
    Smile, through your tears and sorrow,
    Smile, then maybe tomorrow,
    You’ll find that life’s still worthwhile,
    If you just Smile. “


  4. Reading the last bit on here, with reference to Charlie Chaplin SMILE, I think it is very important in life for both Child, Teen, Adult. I cant help feel sometimes, that some percentage of society get on a negative too easy, without really making an effort. I myself is a survivor, I basically was not allowed to sit and mope in life, I was given responsibly to get a job as a teenager, work around the house, look after my siblings, I even got club started in my street for other kids missing out on things. Support without being complained to all the time. This taught me to be creative in my thinking, Build my Happiness, look for my own creation in what makes me feel good and alive. So, I took this into adulthood, it helped in challenging jobs, relationships, parenthood, study at university, travel, all these areas in life I saw negative people who used others and friends on a POOR ME BANDAD around their forehead. I could see it in their eyes, the way they talked, moved, treated their partners, kids, bosses, everything was an effort where they made no effort to change. Most people I’ve meet, who have had a very hard challenge in life, death, murder in the family, bad sickness, for example, know they have to GET ON, make the most of it. How do children from War torn areas of the globe survive?, where do they go for support, they know hen they come to another country, they have to start over again and they make the most of life. Some have lost everything, family members, their country, their minds, their souls, BUT they make an effort. These people I have seen work hard, never do crime, and are positive and greatfull. They make a society healthy again by their efforts. This is just anther angle on this whole discussion on depression and the mind we use in modern times. I love fresh air, its great for our souls, on the face, sun shine is good for our skin, nature is a good healer.
    Thank you for reading.


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