I’m standing in my bedroom, no different to any other day, we were busy, nothing bad happened and nothing has triggered me. Yet why do I feel disorientated and like the room is getting smaller?
Why is my heart racing and why is my chest and throat so tight?
I look around for my phone…I need to call someone.
I think I’m dying.
I panic because I don’t know who you’re supposed to call when you think you’ll already be dead by the time anyone can help you.
My throat feels like its either closing or filling up, I can’t tell and my hands shake uncontrollably.
My gaze follows the surface tops in the room; a dresser, the bed, the bedside tables.
I still can’t find my phone.
Now what? I glance at my fit-bit, as usually with my anxiety I can use it to calm myself down and breathe as I watch my heart rate slow. But after glancing at it, it gives me nothing…because my heart rate isn’t even registering because its spiked so suddenly because well…. I’m dying.
And well, I’m not dying. But it sure feels like it and I can’t tell the difference at this point. My thoughts race to Shaun coming home from work to find the kids watching Tv and me, a contorted mess on the floor after dying in my bedroom of a panic attack. And in the meantime a dog has eaten me. And the kids, well…they ate sticks of wood for lunch and pooped in dinner pots.
Despite realising I could be having a panic attack and that I was probably not actually dying. I still really need to talk to someone before I suffocate myself with my own thoughts. Maybe I’m having an allergic reaction and I am dying after all, I think.
I run furiously through the list in my head of people to call.
But I hesitate because, this is embarrassing, and by the time I call, maybe it’ll leave?
But with every second that passes, the rooms walls become heavier and the air becomes thicker.
I stand there in my room frozen in fear. I can’t get my head clear enough to tell myself that this isn’t permanent, so I only fear the panic more.
I fear the panic because I don’t know how it ends, do I pass out?
Do I go into cardiac arrest?
What happens when you don’t figure out how to calm a panic attack?
All these thoughts race through my mind.
A rattled mess of thoughts bumping into and fuelling one another.
I need to talk to someone.
Then I realise…I am not alone.
Not ideal but yes, the kids are here.
That could work.
I move myself down the hallway, feeling like I might faint or vomit.
When I finally find myself in the lounge room, my two children (aged almost 5 and almost 6) greet me “Hay mum” without glancing up from the TV. I stand there trying to decide if I really need their help. I’ve never sprung this on them before. What if they can’t help, what if they make it worse?
But my heart begins to race faster and my throat fills with invisible panic, so I ask them;
“Guys, I really need you to both come outside and talk to me”
Leto looks up and asks “Why?”
Harliquinn is already off her seat.I reply calmly “Because I’m freaking out a little bit, so I just need you guys to come outside now.”
“Okay” they both reply, Leto slides of the couch and they follow behind me as I make my way outside.
Sitting on the outdoor chairs, the kids take their seats around me. Their faces filled with calm concern, they wait patiently for me to calm myself enough to talk again.
They see my hands are still shaking.
“So, whats going on mum” Leto asks, watching me curiously.
“I’m having a panic attack, and it makes me feel scared and really sick, and I can’t breath and it feels really bad…” I tell him.
He walks over to me and climbs onto my lap, he nuzzles himself into my neck and places his palm on my cheek, “You’re the best mum ever” he coos.
My breathing calms enough for me thank him. I am super thirsty and ask him for a drink. “Sure”and he climbs off my lap, sideways smiles at me before going to the kitchen.
Harliquinn is sitting across from me on a mini armchair that we found in hard rubbish, she watches me for a moment before she says, “I know what that is (meaning the panic attack) and you’ll be okay, because you’re brave and everybody says so.”
I thanked her for being so supportive, and asked her to talk to me about her day because it helps me calm down, so she told me about how her friend didn’t play with dolls enough today on their playdate. Leto returns with my water and hugs me before asking if he can finish watching Pokemon, and Harliquinn sits on the mat in front of me and we chat about her day.
Soon enough, the shaking slows and my racing heart is only left with pride and joy for these kids. I sit and spend the evening building a magical house of Duplo, under a blanket with Harliquinn.
I couldn’t have been more thankful for my two kids being there for me last night. They knew exactly what to say, they had empathy and used their words to make an impact in a positive way. And when it was all said and done, they went back to their own things completely unfazed.
I have often wondered if I had been too open with my kids about my mental health struggles. I’ve worried so much about the amount of times I’ve cried in front of them, or the amount of times they’ve walked in and seen me in some kind of distress.
And even though we talk to them about feelings and emotions a lot, there is so much second guessing when it comes to parenting. I feel like you’ll never know how well you’ve raised them until they’ve grown, this panic attack experience proves that theory wrong. In fact, I completely underestimated them.
My openness with my kids only provides them with the skills to support someone who needs their support. It might even give them the courage to ask for help for themselves one day.
Talking to your kids about the natural feelings, emotions and responses in life is so important for their development. Perhaps, the key to well adjusted children are ones that understand the human condition.