Sunday, 8:45 p.m.
The door swung open as I collapsed to the floor. Every sound was deafeningly loud. I had no control over my limbs. All I could do was stare into a toilet bowl full of yellow urine and toilet paper. Gross, echoed between my ears. I felt a yank at the nape of my neck. The backward sensation woke me up as my vision went from hazy to full focus to hazy again.
Half-conscious and dry heaving, the green tea I had earlier was the only thing that came up.
Air came into my lungs slowly. The same hand that was holding my hair let go and reached to flush the bowl.
I leaned back against the bathroom door, rubbed my hands down my face, and sighed.
Before I found myself puking in yellow toilet water, I was in a room full of girls. Angry words, eyes, body language, and furrowed (perfectly groomed, tweezed, and waxed) brows made my heart thud in my throat.
I felt like a frog without my croak.
I kept telling myself I was fine. Until I wasn't. The room's exposure was increasing. My mouth was uncomfortably dry. The weight under me disappeared and my head was as heavy as a bowling ball. Lungs sat tightly inside my chest as they stubbornly refused to release. "I'm gonna pass out," I said to the girl next to me.
The room went white. I felt an aggressive jab at my shoulder. My vision was still hazed over and everyone looked like those digital, blank-faced, watercolor portraits from Instagram.
All The Coping Skills In the World
In the days after this sickening experience, I tried to think of what I could've done differently. I had counted the moles on my skin- 28. Traced the groves on my purse.
I counted 5 things I could see (the pirate mural to my right, circle clock on the wall behind me, the fancy-red Victorian curtains, the projector illuminated in front of the room, and a glitzy chandelier).
4 things I could touch (the hem of my dress, the clasp on my heel, my purse, my phone, and my car keys).
3 things I could hear (a girl pleading, the clicking of my heels, the sighs of the girls who wanted to go home).
2 things I could smell (my mask breath and the stale, humid September air).
1 thing I could taste (bile I would later throw up).
None of it made sense. I had used every coping skill I knew. I had prayed for peace.
I understood the assignment. So why was I failing?
DANGER: "I'm Going To Be Fine"
This thought is the most dangerous mantra a therapist can ever give their client. It's dangerous because its always true.
Some people feel great relief at this truth. I am not one of those people. I'm the person who demands an immediate fix. The truth that "I'm going to be fine" doesn't relieve me of the present pain. To me, the thought is torture. It tortures me as I wait for the "fine."
The error is this: we have told our minds that we are going to be fine. Which suggests that we are presently not fine.
And BOOM. The thought is formed. The feeling follows. Our bodies react to this information. Fight-Or-Flight has been initiated.
What works (for me, at least) is replacing this thought with an incompatible behavior. For example, I can't overthink if I'm singing a song. Singing a song requires focus and memory. There is little-to-no room for mental multi-tasking.
Or humming. Humming a song always works for me because it again, requires focus, but more importantly stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is partially responsible for the fight-or-flight reaction. So it would make sense to address it first.
I can't promise that these tricks will work for you, but I can affirm that they work for me. They've stopped panic attacks at their peak. So they are definitely worth a try.
All The Peace,
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