A couple of weekends ago, a very dear friend to me had his first ever full blown panic attack…while in my car. I pulled the car over, he opened his door, and “fell” out onto the parking lot. He was flashing back to when he was a passenger in an accident 8 years ago, when the vehicle he was in was hit by a drunk driver. He was so disoriented that he started walking home, while swerving all over the sidewalk and almost into the 2-lane each way busy street. Thankfully, I was able to convince him to sit down in the grass, in the shade as it was really hot. Because his mind was playing tricks on him, sitting in the grass was confusing him even more because his previous accident had been in the middle of winter. But at least he was safe.
It took almost two hours from when the panic attack started to getting him in the car and back to his home. Took another two hours to bring his blood pressure down, calm him and get some food and drink in him because of the amount of adrenaline going through him. He was actually having *physical* symptoms as part of this panic attack…where the two body parts that had been injured in the first car accident actually swelled up so I put ice packs on them. I kept calmly letting him know that it wasn’t 8 years ago. That he was safe.
He was mixing up timeframes, between the accident from 8 years ago in the middle of winter to the day this happened…on a hot sunny day, so that was confusing him even more. When I was finally able to get him to retain that he was having a panic attack, he kept saying that he’s stronger than that. Strength has nothing to do with panic attacks. You can still be the strongest person on the planet and a panic attack can take you down in the matter of seconds.
In my early to mid 20s, I had panic attacks on a very regular basis so I was able to recognize it in someone else. I always hated when people around me would tell me “just breathe”. Gee, thanks. Like I hadn’t already been trying to do that, while I’m hyperventilating! The best thing someone could do was hug me, tell me I was ok, and look after whatever stuff (ie: purse, etc) I may have on me at the time.
The irony of the timing of my friend’s panic attack is that I had just submitted an assignment the night before for my “Abnormal World of Psychology” course about mood disorders, including panic attacks…which I got 100% on so apparently my experience and my textbook learnings “worked” in a real life situation AND an academic paper!