I remember every detail about my last panic attack. I was wearing an Aerosmith t-shirt, I had my hair pulled back, and an unexpected confrontation with a stranger triggered the attack. As a result, I couldn't get calm for the rest of the day. Make no mistake, there are a set of struggles only moms suffering from panic attacks can understand, including how one episode can impact you and your ability to parent for the rest of the day.
I've suffered from panic attacks since I was a child, but they increased in frequency when I was pregnant and postpartum. When you feel like you no longer have control over your body and, in some instances, your life, it's easy for panic attacks to take over. Even now, and with the help of therapy and mediation, I feel like I'm always on the verge of losing control again. I'm afraid that even the slightest inconvenience can send me into a panic-inducing spiral.
I don't think anyone can really understand what it's like to live with anxiety and panic attacks unless they've been through it. And even people who do live with anxiety and panic attacks can't necessarily understand what I'm experiencing, or visa versa. We're all impacted by and respond differently to this kind of stress. But there are a few things we all need, of course, and that's empathy, understanding, and support. So with that in mind, here are just a few things only a mom suffering from panic attacks can truly understand:
In my experience, panic attacks are like tsunamis: they come in strong currents that may last a few minutes or up to an hour. My husband doesn't always understand what's happening when I go from calm to panicked in 30 seconds, and he probably never will.
I know most of my triggers — public spaces, large crowds, feeling confined, confrontation, facing a fear, and general anxiety that doesn't let up — but sometimes there's a new trigger I don't see coming.
You Can't Manage Them Away When Your Kid Needs You
Therapy has helped me learn how to manage panic attacks, but those tips and tricks usually go right out the window when I experience a serious panic attack. All the deep breathing, visualization, and "talking it out" in the world can't really help me. And what makes it that much harder is that my kids don't stop needing me to parent when I'm in the middle of an attack. I've had panic attacks for decades and still can't always find a way to manage them in a way that lets me keep parenting to what I consider to be the best of my ability.
People Think You're Being Dramatic
As a mom, I want to appear strong for my children. I want to be the person they go to when things are tough. I am that person, and I'm proud to be that person, which is why the idea that someone suffering from panic attacks is just "being dramatic" is so upsetting. Trust me, this isn't some mommy group online drama, people. This is real life, and I work hard to manage my anxiety and panic attacks for the betterment of my children and my mental health.
You Can't Tell Your Kids What's Going On
I believe in having age-appropriate conversations with my children, and I don't want them to grow up thinking people with mental illness are somehow weak. I am proud to push against mental health stigma and share my experiences with my kids... but when they're ready to hear them.
When my children were really young, and especially when they were babies, I couldn't tell them what was going on with me or why I needed a few minutes to myself. Not being able to explain what was going on with their mother was so, so difficult.
They're Impossible To Plan
You know what children rely on? Schedules. They like consistency in their days and, if I can get my kids on a schedule they're more likely to thrive (or at least behave). You know what I can't put on a schedule, though? Panic attacks. I can't plan them into my day or decide when it's more convenient to feel like I'm having a heart attack and dying, you know? They're so disruptive, and I know that when they disrupt my day they disrupt my children's day, too.
They Make It Difficult To Make Mom Friends
Big school functions? A trigger. Talking in front of crowds? A trigger. Going to a school get-together in the hopes of making a mom friend is exponentially more challenging when you suffer from panic attacks. I want to be outgoing and personable for my kids' sake, but talk about stressful.