A guide for you, my friend, family or my partner written by someone who experiences these meltdowns, wanting your help and unable to ask for it.
Being on the inside of a panic attack or an anxious meltdown is a very isolating, desperate and scary experience. It’s difficult for me to empathize with what you may be experiencing as an outsider because I am struggling to manage my own emotions and attempting to compartmentalize the very essence of what may, or may not, have set it off. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m not thinking of you nor am I considering how this episode is affecting you.
Understand, first and foremost, that I want your help. Despite your lack of knowing what to do, specifically. I may just not have the capacity to ask for it.
Understanding Anxiety: A Metaphor
Because of the neurological connections in my brain that have been fired constantly, perhaps, for my entire life I may respond to stress by exhibiting symptoms similar to PTSD.
Think of my reaction akin to hiding in a bomb shelter. I know I cannot live there forever but for the time being, it is safe. It is my protection from the very real or, possibly, imagined threat or stressor on the outside. I can periodically peer out, assess the situation and deal with it in pieces. This, however, also makes it difficult for me to make any real decisions or take real actions.
When I run to my bomb shelter, think of our relationship as the ground my shelter is built beneath and surrounded by. If you fall away or retreat, it will make me feel exposed or threatened. The actual threat has nothing to do with the surrounding earth but your emotions and actions that are a reaction to the actual threat are played out within the earth.
Under no circumstances are you, the stable bedrock, responsible or accountable for the stress occurring above. You are an innocent third party.
If you assume responsibility, then you embody the threat. Think of that as the earth surrounding my shelter falling inward and crushing the shelter… and me. We all die. That won’t be fun.
You do not have a responsibility to be my superhero. You cannot protect me from every little thing, including myself and it’s not your fault that I am struggling.
So I’m having a meltdown or I’m spiraling. This information is to help you understand what to expect, what is happening and what I’m experiencing. Just help me calm my shit down and keep my damn cool.
Reacting to the Crisis
Depression, anxiety and panic attacks should be treated with the same mindset as the 8 year old version of me having just been launched off of my bicycle into a gravel pit. It hurts. It’s gross. Its frightening but it will pass. I will heal and in actuality, it’s not a “big deal” except for the apex moment of when it is happening.
Getting upset about it won’t make it go away. It just happened. Help me to take care of the business and let’s move on. I need to be in safe place. Help me clean up the blood and pick out those bits of gravel.
Here are four tips that will help during the moment of crisis whether you are with me or not:
- DO remain calm. You’re about to be my motherflippin champion.
- DON’T ask me to make any decisions. I will most likely be incapable of making any decisions at all. Whether it’s deciding if I want to go to bed, what I want for dinner (if anything at all), if I want a glass of water and so on. Assume that all of my decision-making faculties have been thrown out the window.
- DO take control. This can mean telling me to, straight up, brush my teeth, have a shower, eat dinner, put on something comfortable like pajamas. Taking off the pressure of having to make any decisions and having the foresight to complete simple tasks is HUGE.
- DON’T assume that I can ask for what I need in this moment. As mentioned before, I may not have the capacity to ask for anything specific let alone for help at all. Also, don’t assume that you need to read my mind. You do not, just try your best. You know me. The mere acknowledgment and attempt already relieves much pressure and stress.
Suggestions for When You are Present
Disclaimer: Forgive me in advance but I would suggest confirming with me prior to any physical contact. I may not be able to answer fully so take cues from my body language.
- If you want to touch me. It needs to be in a connective fashion. Either face to face or skin to skin. A light embrace or a hug and alternate that with back rubs or running fingers through my hair.
- Cuddling up under a blanket in a quiet, warm and low lit atmosphere can be very relaxing.
- If you’re my partner, kisses can be connective but don’t make out with me. At least not just yet. Everyone is different but keep it to “platonic-ish” kisses on the, forehead, hands, shoulders, etc. Gauge my body language. As my lover and given some time and calming energy, a mild makeout session may very well start getting me to pump the stress brakes and slow me down. Don’t “snap me out of it” by being overtly sexual.
- It’s not necessary to whisper but speak calmly to me.
- Distract me. Distract, distract, distract. Once the initial episode is over, distract. Music will, most likely, be too emotionally triggering. Comedy, cartoons, etc.
- Read something to me. Anything. Read me the damn instructions for making Mac-n-Cheese.
- Tell me to take a shower or a bath.
- This one is important and yes, it makes me feel selfish, DON’T FLIPPIN FALL ASLEEP. I will probably hate you forever*.
* – not really but it will feel like I do.
- Tell me about your day. Tell me every mundane detail of it. Tell me dumb facts about animals or celebrities that you learned recently. I most likely will not return conversation but I am listening and I do care. Your talking is very helpful and incredibly soothing.
- Give me a glass of water and graduate to tea, warm milk or even hot water with lemon and honey. NO ALCOHOL and nothing super sugary, caffeinated or creamy.
- Tell me you love me. Tell me I’m okay. Tell me “it’s” okay.
- Breath with me.
- Make sure I’ve eaten in the last few hours.
Suggestions for When You Cannot be Present
- Hearing your voice can be instrumental. I may, purposefully, not answer my phone. Leave me a voicemail. If you don’t know what to say, again, tell me about your day.
- Take a picture of yourself, where you are or what you’re doing. This can also be instrumental because it indicates that you have stopped what you were doing and are thinking about me. Bring me back into a moment I was recently with you.
- Any form of affirmative statements. “I love you”. “I’m here for you”. “I got you”. “We’ll get through this”.
- Be available. If you were going through something, you know I would be there for you. If you’re at work this is an exception. I understand and am reasonable. Just don’t tell me or enact that its “not your concern”.
- Help me make a plan. Help me not dwell on what is happening but what will happen next. Don’t ask me for help making decisions. Take the initiative to make the decisions about what is going to happen for the rest of my day, with or without you. This will give me something to look forward to. Knowing that I will be taken care of is almost as good as a hug if you were present.
Remember that everything you do is deeply appreciated and that I may not thank you at first. This IS my thank you in advance. It’s not my pretty side but thank you for holding my hand through it.