5 Quick Fixes for Panic Symptoms

I’ve learned a few small, quick actions that help me during extreme anxiety, panic attacks, and episodes. They don’t cure, but they help.

  1. Splash your face. Cold water on your face jolts your system and tries to reset your body to a calmer mode. It also gives you a chance to be by yourself for a minute if you’re in a public situation and need to calm down.
  2. Take a mindful shower. Trying to tap into the reality of the present moment is the most powerful tool (outside of medicine and professional help) that I’ve found so far. Finding the present moment is an ancient Buddhist practice that western civilization has appropriated and renamed “mindfulness”. To take a mindful shower, do everything in slow motion and take time to notice everything you see, smell, and feel. Do not rush. Try to be as aware as you can that you are in a moment that leads into the next moment, and the next after that. In those present moments in your shower, the water is a certain temperature and it’s falling onto your skin. Your skin is soft and soapy. The soap has a pleasant smell. You are in the forward flow of time. The moment really can be enough to inspire wonder and ease anxiety.
  3. Read. If your mind is racing, reading will slow you down to one word at a time. This doesn’t always work for me, but if I’m manic I at least try reading before writing it off. When I’m manic I’m soaking up information at half the speed of light, and I’m actually pretty easily engrossed in whatever I read, even though most of the time I can’t concentrate well enough to read for long.
  4. Fidget toys. Play dough, dice, rubber bands, and anything small and tactile is good for fidgeting. Having something to do with your hands helps ease anxiety. My favorite fidget toy is called a Tangle, and you can find one here.
  5. Coloring. I had a friend recommend coloring to me, and I immediately wrote it off as childish and boring. I may have been right about childish, but coloring is very calming, and I’m not above doing something childish to make myself feel better. I recommend buying an adult coloring book and some nice colored pencils, just to have this tool in your arsenal.

Anything that can help me lessen the pain caused by bipolar I will try. I wholeheartedly encourage you to try lots of tactics to help ease your anxiety or pain, and when you find something that helps, keep that thing in mind the next time you feel bad. You are going to be the most help to you.

By Emily Harrington, The Goldfish Painter

 

My disclaimer:

I am not a doctor or any sort of mental health professional. I am a psychiatric patient with multiple mental illnesses that I have survived for 12 years now. My secondhand knowledge comes from doctors, psychologists, therapists, books, college courses in psychology, and the internet. My firsthand knowledge comes from the feelings, experiences, thoughts, symptoms, problems, and solutions that I have lived through. I know myself well, but again, I am not a professional. The information on this site is not a replacement for getting an actual diagnosis or professional help. Coping skills are fantastic, and I hope you learn some here and that they help you, but please seek and continue real medical treatment if you are struggling with mental illness. I wish you the best. You can do hard things.

Helped, but not cured

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With episodes, no matter how many tools I use, I still hurt deeply. I cannot be cured. The goal of medicine and coping strategies in my case is to ameliorate my symptoms, not eliminate them. I do have good days. Sometimes I can string them together for a while, but this is how my brain works, and I don’t get to trade it in. Sometimes the idea of living sick for the rest of my life makes me very, very depressed. It can even lead to a thought spiral, which in its own right can trigger an episode.

I can lessen my pain; I cannot eliminate it. Having to live in this consciousness has the unfortunate consequence of being aware that I’m in pain. It’s deep and broad, and sometimes I get swallowed up and go very far away. So far I’ve always come back.

I’ve tried to kill myself twice. The first was hanging; my neck didn’t break and I got caught and was cut down. The second was an overdose of lithium. I planned that one much more thoroughly, and it was not at all an impulse decision. I had to wait two weeks after I finalized my plan so that I could get my refill and have enough to take ten grams or 10,000 milligrams. Eight grams is the lethal dose. I don’t know why I survived, but I’m sure my liver is shot. The good news for me is that it’s only been two times that I’ve tried to commit suicide in the course of eleven years, and my last attempt was only two years into my diagnosis.

Almost everything is much easier now. I’m able to handle my episodes with more strength and sometimes even grace. There is a steep learning curve in bipolar and mental illness, and you have to master things like pharmacies, insurance, doctors, prescriptions, refills and of course your own survival skills that you build as you grow. I know now that I have to be my own advocate as a patient because getting health care of any kind is not a “customer is always right” situation. You either work the system the way it is, or you go without.

Not being cured of bipolar, ever, is discouraging in the extreme. I have to be vigilant with my meds, my exercise, my diet, my sleep schedule, and my mindfulness in order to stay alive. Then, depending on the day, I throw in some other coping tools to help whatever needs helping. I’ve made it to thirty-one years old and twelve years bipolar. I’m pretty damn proud of that.

By Emily Harrington

How To Help Yourself When You Hurt: 11 Skills to Self-Soothe

Everyone struggles sometimes, and often they feel alone; only you see through your eyes. Feeling alone can be hard. For whatever kind of pain you have, you’ll need tools to cope with it. Family and friends are a good place to start, but for many, that’s not an option. Instead, you have to rely on yourself to get through your rough times. The biggest benefit of therapy I’ve gained is learning the things I can do to help myself. I’m going to share with you some of the tools that have collectively saved my life.

  1. Mindfulness. Mindfulness means mentally being completely aware of the present moment and not passing judgment on it, simply accepting that this is how it is. It’s the most beautiful feeling I’ve ever had. It feels sacred. I don’t believe in god, but I do feel the feeling that people associate with a higher power. My supposition is that we have a natural chemical in the brain that produces a sensation to which we ascribe the presence of god. That god-feeling is in the moment every time I go there. I say I go because it feels like a transition into another place. It can be difficult to reach that place sometimes. There are several things I do to get to a mindful state. One is to pick an object and examine it thoroughly. Think of the fact that it’s made up of atoms and is actually mostly empty space. Or think of where it came from, who or what made it, who has touched it, what may have happened to it in the course of its existence. Expand that awareness and sense of wonder slowly outward, until the whole universe is dancing for you and with you. There are exercises you can do to practice mindfulness. It is a tool; you have to practice it. My favorite two are washing dishes slowly, as if they are sacred, or taking a very slow shower and trying to be mindful of all the things you feel, see, hear, and smell.

 

  1. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Unfortunately, you’ll need a trained professional who knows how to do this work, so it’s not available to everyone. If you have access to a therapist or psychologist, ask if they know how to guide you through EMDR. You do most of the work by yourself in your head. There is very little guidance by the professional, which is why I’m bending definitions and putting this in the category of self-care. You can read more about EMDR here.

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How I Went Crazy

When I was eighteen, I felt on top of the world. I had won several contests for my singing, graduated in the top five percent of my high school class, and been accepted into the most prestigious voice program in the United States. When fall rolled around, I trotted off to Oberlin Conservatory to begin my adult life. It was glorious for a while: the people were socially advanced and forward-thinking, there was a free exchange of exciting ideas, everyone was friendly and smart, and there was world-class music surrounding me everywhere I went. My first two months there were the happiest I’ve ever been.

At the end of October, I turned nineteen and, unbeknownst to me, my functionality began slipping away. At first, it felt like the color was draining out of me. I felt I was slowly becoming invisible. I was no longer a person in a body; I was as ghost staring out of an eye-height portal at the world around me. Depression was setting in and anxiety was creeping up, but I didn’t know yet to give them those names. By the time I came home for Christmas, all I knew is that I wasn’t okay.

I started having pain in my stomach and severe nausea. I went to the doctor several times, got misdiagnosed every time, and began missing a lot of things around me, like class or parties. This was very straining for my relationship with my first girlfriend, who wanted to help but couldn’t. Many people take not being able to fix you very personally. I was falling into a deeper and deeper depression all the while.

One night I had to take my girlfriend to the hospital for severe flu-like symptoms, and I stayed there with her overnight, watching Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” on her computer while she slept. Toward dawn, the colors became very vivid and then started spilling off the screen into the air and onto my hands. After about an hour of this it was time to take my girlfriend home, and once I got her home and into bed, I sat in the middle of the room holding my phone. It buzzed and I threw it against the wall because I thought it had bitten me. I left the room because I didn’t feel safe and I thought it might come back and bite me again. I walked downstairs and watched a little girl playing under the piano in the practice lounge. I got under there with her, but she disappeared and reappeared across the room. This did not sit well with me, so I went outside. Outside the sky was the brilliant blue of a sunny winter day and full of giant fluffy clouds. I could hear them whispering, and even though I couldn’t make out the words, I knew it was about me. I ran into the nearest building looking for a safe place to hide.

I woke up in a closet with no shoes, no socks, no key card to get into any of the buildings, and no memory of how I got there. I went back to my dorm (someone let me in), found my phone which luckily had not broken, and I called home. I told my mom I was not okay and needed to come home. I spent a couple weeks in the psychiatric hospital in my hometown and finally got my diagnosis. Bipolar II, mixed-state, rapid-cycling, with psychotic features. Hooray.

By Emily Harrington

 

The Goldfish Painter