Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Having Panic Attacks? Here's What To Do.

The panic attacks started when I was in my late teens. My first happened at an ice hockey game. The whole building felt like it was caving in. My breath shortened, my heart raced, the lights around the arena made me dizzy. My mom took me to the car and I sat in the back seat trying to catch my breath, trying not to pass out. I thought for sure that would be my last night on earth.

More than ten years later I'm still dealing with these things. Sometimes I won't have an episode for a couple of years and then out of nowhere they'll make an appearance. The only constant I've found within them is that they're always a surprise. Even in my happiest moment, a panic attack can show up.

After a decade of brain battle, I've found some ways of coping, especially since they often happen when I'm alone. Try them out and see if they lessen the experience for you.


It took me a long time to get past the whole I'm-about-to-die/I'm-having-a-heart-attack feeling. These are classic characteristics of a panic attack and they're what sends you spiraling down the rabbit hole. It's hard to climb out of an attack when your body is telling you it's shutting down, and it's not as easy as deep breathing to get past the physical drama.

To tell you the truth, if I'm already to that point, it's best I take medication to get a grip, and it might be for you too. Nowadays, I do my best not to let my brain get that far into the negative thinking. 

I've dealt with panic attacks so many times that I now know what they feel like, what they look like, and I can immediately take action before my brain goes into the darkness and my body follows.

Notice patterns in your own panic attacks. Does something spur them on or are they random like mine? What does the onset feel like? How does it progress? 

Mine start with shortness of breath, like I can't catch it. If I don't take measures to calm down after the onset, my heart starts racing and my brain goes to crazy town trying to figure out what's about to happen - will I have a heart attack? Will my lungs collapse? Can we make it to the ER? 

Of course all of those things lead to more panic which leads to more physical manifestations like chest pains and tingling fingers. 

So the big takeaway here is nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand.

Easier said than done, I know. The last thing you want to do is deep breathe and chant some mantras when you feel like you're about to take your last breath. 

But do your best to get your thoughts in order. Gently remind yourself that you're okay, that your body is healthy and will get through it. Tell yourself that there's no need to worry and that the panic will pass. 

Take a few slow breaths. 

I find that sitting up and rocking back and forth with my head in a pillow helps me. I know it seems like the cliche crazy person thing to do, but whatever. It works!

Also, try redirecting your thoughts. Is there something else you can focus on? Something positive that happened during the day? A homework problem or creative task you can think about? If there's someone around to talk to, have them help you refocus. When my sister had panic attacks, I'd talk to her about something she was excited about or make her laugh. Eventually they'd pass if we just kept the focus on something besides the panic.

On the opposite side of refocusing is stilling your mind. Meditation helps loads with this and I urge you to start a meditation practice. I like Dr. Joe Dispenza's guided meditations.

When the scary thoughts come, let them pass over you like birds flying overhead. Acknowledge them (you know they're there), but look at them as if you were on the outside and had no attachment. See them floating by like clouds.

The short and sweet list to keep handy:
  • Notice patterns within your attacks so you can identify what's going on before things get out of hand.
  • Slow your breathing.
  • Sit up, lie down, stand up, whatever feels best to you.
  • Redirect your thoughts and/or keep yourself busy with something else. If talking it out helps, find a friend or family member to help you.
  • Acknowledge your feelings and thoughts, but let them pass over you without attachment. Clear your mind.
  • If all else fails and you've been prescribed medication, go ahead and take it. I don't generally condone pharmaceuticals, but they can offer help at certain times. 
Anything that's not on this list that helps you get through your panic attacks? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

This Little Light

I used to have a notebook full of things I wanted to write to you about. Pages of lists. Things I was going through and knew that one day I'd figure out and help you figure out. And if not figure out, at least let you know that it gets better.

Love + heartache + passion + loneliness

Dreams + sadness + beauty + grief

And I had these dreams of guiding you through the darkness, letting my words be our light.

And yet, sometimes I don't know what to say. Sometimes all I know I can say is keep going. Because I know you'll do it your way...I did. No matter what advice people gave me, it was my journey and I had to figure it out.

So yes, keep going. The light gets brighter. Even in the darkest holes there is a light in the palm of your hand that grows and grows if you keep looking at it. 

But you have to keep looking at it. When there's darkness all around, keep looking at it.

It will be easy to sit there in the dark thinking this is just who I am. This is how it has to be. This is what makes me different. 

You might think you won't be able to do anything without the dark. Write, paint, sing, love. In some ways it fuels you and if you let that go who will you be? What will you create?

But that little light is just as powerful, and if you crawl out of the dark with the light in your hand, you'll see you're still unique. You're exactly who you need to be. 

And you will create. You will love. Even better than before.

Friday, September 13, 2013

An Unlikely Letter

via weheartit

Long after I stopped printing new issues of Ex-Grrl, I received a letter from a guy in prison. Most of it was illegible and seemed like words strewn together in ways that didn't make sense, but the main message was that he had read an issue and was thanking me for my words and for inspiring him. 

Inspiring him to get through another day in prison? Not sure, but my little ol' zine somehow made its way into an out-of-state prison and into the hands of a down-and-out soul. Who knew? 

So here's the thing - you never know who you're reaching. You never know whose life you're helping. Even if you never hear a word, I can guarantee you've reached someone. You've made a difference. And it's okay if it's just one person. 

If my words only helped that one guy in prison not clock a guard over the head that day, I'm happy.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Love From the Inside Out

Photo Source: We Heart It

I was once addicted to a guy. Yes, like nicotine addicted. And when he called me babydoll and told me I was his dream girl I fell down, down, down a rabbit hole that was harder to get out of than quitting cigarettes. 

The thing is, there weren't many instances when he made me feel like his dream girl. And I needed to feel that because I was too blind to see my own worth. I looked to him for validation. I sought his acceptance. Was I beautiful enough? Was I the best girlfriend in the world? Everyday I needed that hit. I needed to be validated, and when I wasn't, I spiraled into tears and self-hate. 

He wasn't a great guy in the first place, but no guy, not even great ones can give that kind of validation. 

Many tears and heartbreak later I learned that love starts from the inside out.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Butterfly Effect

I remember this one summer when I wore the most ridiculous skimpy top and slathered carrot oil on my skin thinking I'd get tan, when all that really happened was that I got super burned. 

That summer I was also hit on for the first time by a girl. It was really subtle and awkward. We were sitting on a picnic table and she kind of scooted towards me and reached out to touch my hand and I didn't know how to react so I just looked off into the distance and pretended I didn't know what was going on. 

On that same day I met a blond-haired boy named Myles who wanted me to smoke weed and kiss him under the bridge. I didn't do either. 

I listened to Hole on my discman pretty much that whole day and I swung on the swingset long into the night and pretended I was flying into the stars. 

I look back on that day and wonder what would have changed had I kissed that girl or smoked weed or not gotten sunburned. Would anything be different today?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

life through heart-shaped glasses

A journal entry from 11/9/00

Life can be strawberry sunshine rays dancing on cloud 9. Life can be pink elephants chanting love songs and starry-night baseball games. It can be super nova galaxies swirling cotton candy on sticks. It can be watermelon- lipped girls and hardcore stage bois wearing shiny devil tails and blue hair in a can. Life can be rosy-cheeked flower petals and love in a bottle and shimmer- winged cats. Life could be raindrops on hot summer days and sticky ice cream cones melting on classic t-birds at the drive in. Life should be lipstick and bubblegum and fast, red cars. Life should be cherry popsicles and honey biscuits and deep scarlet nail polish spilled on white carpet. Life might be love. Life should be peace. Life can be. Life is what you make of it. Make it good.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Summer Poetry for Pale Girls


I want to be swallowed by the blazing lion

whose tongue flicks and burns brown spots
into my skin, licks the pale imperfections
of my body and warms the winter-rain veins.

I wrote that poem in 2005. These days, I don't care much for burning my skin and having leftover brown spots from the tans that didn't last. I'm perfectly happy being ghost white. It is my beauty.