Friday, March 9, 2018

Happy Birthday - Here's Your Panic Attack

A co-worker and friend of mine had a panic attack this week.  It was extremely scary for him and quite debilitating.  Fortunately I was able to help him because I too have suffered from panic attacks.  

About 7 years ago...on my birthday...I experienced my first panic attack.  Its an experience I will never forget.  I was walking in the Chicago Midway airport toward my gate when I felt my pulse pick up.  I thought maybe I had had a little too much soda and the caffeine was messing with me.  As I walked a little farther I felt myself getting short of breath and my heart racing.  No matter what I did I couldn't settle down.  It was the feeling of needing to run straight out of the building and into the fresh air.  I even considered that I was having a heart attack.  

Now, let me tell you how the typical male mind works.  I was in the middle of my first panic attack, not knowing it was a panic attack and actually afraid I was having a heart attack, and I was concerned that I would miss my flight.  I knew that the flight to Memphis was the last flight of the night and if I missed it I would miss my morning training and have to answer for it.  Heaven forbid anyone know what was happening to me!  So I boarded the plane and passed out as soon as I sat down.  

Those who have never experienced a panic attack don't understand the overwhelming signals your mind is getting.  Its like a circle of people pushing you from one side to the other, screaming in your ear, and slapping you faster than you can defend yourself.  Its a feeling that you are going to die, while knowing that you are not really going to die.  The signals to your brain don't match anything that is happening.  

A problem with panic attacks is that they may not seem to make sense.  My opinion goes like this:  when we try to swallow our issues and anxieties we push it down.  The next time we push it down.  And again.  And again.  And eventually there is no more room to push it down.  Just like a garbage bag, if you keep smashing garbage into it, you will run out of room, and the next time you mash more garbage in, the bag splits.  I personally believe that a panic attack is when the brain makes the decision that its filled to the top with stress and it decides to kick some back.  

For a long time I feared the panic attack.  And my anxiety LOVED THAT!  It basically fed on itself.  I got anxious about having an attack, which made me more likely to have one.  The more I had, the more afraid I became, and the more I had, and the more afraid I became, and the more i had.  it was a disorder that fed itself!  

Caregivers are especially vulnerable to panic attacks.  We worry every minute of every day.  And when we don't worry, we worry that we aren't worrying.  Its a vicious cycle.  It leads to panic disorders, depression, physical ailments, and suicide.  

So how do we combat this?  How do we keep ourselves from becoming so overwhelmed?  For me it was about owning it.  It sounds easy enough, but most humans hate to admit their weaknesses.  We might be afraid that people will look down on us.  Men are afraid to look like they have any weakness at all.  We might be afraid to compromise our jobs.  The problem is that hiding it makes matters much worse.  Its an added pressure when our garbage bag is already full.  I found that being open about it helped.  As a matter of fact, when I opened up about it, other people admitted they had the same issues.  Still others offered to help me through my vulnerable situations.  People didn't judge me like I thought they were going to.  Once I came to terms with it and opened up about it, the anxiety lost much of its power.  

Here is my advice to those fighting anxiety and panic; you have to take away the power that it has over you.  By admitting it, owning it, and dealing with it head-on, you fight back.  It wants you to feel afraid and ashamed so it can come back on you.  When you talk about it and comes to terms with it, it loses its grip.  I've already told groups that I speak to that I have anxiety and to simply ignore me if I pass out, and we laugh about it for a minute, and suddenly the anxiety loses its grip. 

Anxiety wants you to lose your faith, shrink in fear, and empower it.  Do the opposite, have faith, stand tall, and take the power away from it.

Be well and God bless.    Tom

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Fixing the World

Many of us are facing these difficult times wondering how things will ever turn for the better.  I look at Tyler, and I look at Samantha, and I wonder what things will be like in 5 years, or 10, or 20 if we as a society remain on the course that we are on now.  It seems as though our willingness to care for each other is at an all-time low.  Somehow we have become empowered by finger-pointing and disrespecting one another.  Caring for each other is seen as a "weakness" for some strange reason.

How do we fix this?  Where do we start?  It is such a big world and there is no way a single person can even make a dent in all of the problems we face today.

We fix the world one neighborhood at a time.  Most great movements are started from the ground up.  We may not be able to control what happens states away and countries away, but we can control what happens in our back yards.  It simply requires a willingness to be different.  It requires a small group of people to decide that they want to live differently than the rest of the world is living.  

Our neighborhood is a good example for others to follow.  When there is a significant snow, nearly everyone fires up the snow throwers and clears the driveways and sidewalks.  Young kids walk the streets looking for people that they can help dig out.  

Another great idea that we have done here is to have a neighborhood Facebook page.  On that page we alert each other to dangers, buy and sell from each other, and help each other find lost pets.  We've used it to collect canned goods for families in need.  We've collected clothes for homeless families.  We've raised money for school events.  In the process of doing all of these things we've gained a sense of pride in the power of a good neighborhood.  We have community yard sales, and Halloween is like a block party.

There is incredible strength in the power of a community.  When a community watches out for each other and helps to report problems, the word gets around.  When a community takes pride in the appearance of their yards and common areas, it catches on.  When people next door to each other CARE about each other, it multiplies.  Over time the community gets a reputation as a "good neighborhood" where people want to live.  

We can't change the world, but we can demand respect and compassion in our own homes.  We can be good neighbors, and good stewards of our streets.  And if we do those things, we can change a piece of this world.  With God's help maybe one piece will connect with another, and another, and another.

Be well and God bless.    Tom

Friday, March 2, 2018

Meeting Nicole

Robin, Samantha and I were waiting in the foyer of our favorite pizza place tonight, anxious to sink our teeth into some pizza and fries.  The door to the restaurant swung open and three ladies stepped in out of the blustery winds outside.  One in particular hollered out very loudly about the weather outside, almost to a degree that my initial reaction was to feel slightly annoyed.  But then I immediately realized that this was a special young lady.  And at this very moment I met Nicole.

Nicole immediately exclaimed that she was going to a horse show tomorrow!  She wanted to know our names, and she was overjoyed to see pictures on Samantha's Ipad.  Most of all it seemed she just loved the interaction.  In so many ways she reminded me of Tyler.  They both enjoy long car rides, they both enjoy looking at pictures, and they both have times where their speech volumes can peak at pretty high volume.   Best of all, they both seem to enjoy their importance to other people.  They like being liked.

Her Mom was very open about talking with us and sharing a little bit of their story with me.  We were happy to share Tyler's story as well.  As it turns out they are both the same age and live in similar size residential homes.  Its amazing how much we had in common in just a ten minute interaction.  I was very proud of Sam and how well she interacted with Nicole as well.

Once we were seated in a booth, Nicole's family was seated in the booth next to ours.  Every once in a while I'd look up and Nicole would get excited and wave.  She even stopped and sat with me for a moment on the way back from a potty break.  I think I had made a friend for life.

On our way out we stopped to show them a picture of Tyler, and Nicole grabbed my phone and yelled "Oh my..I LOVE him!".  We smiled and talked about that all the way home.

As I've said before, I've gotten to meet so many wonderful special needs families in my travels.  It's comforting to make contact and assure each other that we are not alone out there.  

I can honestly say I will never forget Nicole and her family.  They are the very definition of grace, beauty, and dignity.  I'm proud to have crossed paths with them, and I hope Nicole has the greatest horse show ever.

Be well and God bless.  Tom