When I write about my experiences navigating a panic disorder, I usually cast panic as the bad guy. Panic is the enemy I’m battling. My nemesis.
Mostly, that’s how I feel about it.
I want to hug it about as much as I want to hug a prickly pear plant.
Yes, there’s a but. (I didn’t know about the “but” in the beginning. I learned about it later.)
But, here’s the thing… to become a Master of Managing Panic (which I am, by the way – and no you cannot see my credentials because they are classified), you have to be willing to look inward and recognize an uncomfortable truth – panic isn’t really some evil external force trying to suck you into its vortex of darkness (although it does often feel like that).
Don’t feel bad if that’s what you’ve been thinking… I believed that for YEARS. It took a long long time for me to discover the truth (you don’t become a Master of Managing Panic overnight, after all).
The awkward truth is this… your body did this to itself.
No, not with evil intent. And no, your body is not possessed by evil forces.
Believe it or not… your body is on a mission to save you, and panic – yes, panic – is your body’s Super Secret Emergency Ejection Switch.
I’ll bet you didn’t even know you had one of those.
(It’s all in The Handbook.) “When all else fails – deploy Panic (otherwise known as the Super Secret Emergency Ejection Switch, or S.S.E.E.C..”
(You don’t learn this shit until about year 11 in your quest to become a Master of Managing Panic, so don’t feel bad that you probably didn’t know.)
The thing is… it is also my earned RIGHT (as a Master of Managing Panic) to impart this secret knowledge to others – you know, so you don’t have to wait 11 years to get on the right path, like I did.
Panic is NOT your body’s first line of defense. Your body only reaches for the panic switch as an ABSOLUTE LAST DITCH RESORT after all other attempts to help you have failed.
It is only after the constant gnawing of anxiety in your gut has gone un-noted (probably for years), and the daily headaches were ignored (that’s what Advil is for, after all, right?), and you dismissed the mental distraction of having your thoughts go round and round in unproductive circles (and not only during your waking hours, but in your dreams), and the growing sense of doom that warns you that the world is a very, very dangerous place is brushed aside. Day after day. Month after month. (Maybe even year after year…)
It is only after all of these milder, less extreme attempts to bring your attention to the things in your life that are not working, the things in your life that are causing you harm, have failed, and you are plowing onward at about 90 miles an hour with minimal visibility and broken headlights, that your body shakes its weary head in defeat and brings its fist down on the Panic Button.
Panic is your body’s last ditch attempt to save you from destroying yourself – which is actually pretty cool.
There is a reason why it’s a last resort action – it’s a costly action. It carries a high price tag. It’s like ejecting from a 2 billion dollar super sonic jet before it crashes into the side of a mountain.
The jet is toast (that’s 2 billion you’re not getting back). You made it -whew! But man… you’ve got a LONG walk back home.
The recovery from panic can be a long road.
Why do you need to know this?
Because it is far too easy to lose more years of your life struggling against a phantom external force. (I know… because that is what I did.)
Panic feels like a horrible unfair thing that happened to you, robbed you of your life, stole your joy, and broke your mind. Of course you want to fight it… curse it – “Blast you, Panic!”
But the truth is… the sooner you can begin to identify the roots of your panic, the sooner you can begin to heal. If your focus is directed toward an external enemy, you can’t start the important work you need to do to mend yourself.
So, one day (when you don’t feel quite so crappy), thank panic. Because believe it or not, panic might just have saved you from yourself.
COMING SOON: Why people who are prone to panic don’t see the signs.