Ten Ways to Manage a Freak-Out


Ok, so you know the times that I mean. You’re coming unglued. You can’t cope. Your heart is pounding. Your thoughts are racing. In fact, there are layers of thought, fifteen-feet deep. Crap. Wait, you don’t know what you’re thinking about. You can’t tease out just one thought. Sweat is beginning to trickle from places you’d rather not mention, at least not to someone you don’t know well. Ack! You can’t take it. The panic is mounting. Oh no! You’re freaking out, and since you know you’re freaking out, you freak out some more. You get up, since there’s no way to sit still. Suddenly, you’re in another room, but you don’t know why you’re there. Confused, you leave that one and find yourself standing in some peculiar spot like the middle of the hallway with your mouth hanging open. Your heart starts skipping beats. Uh-oh! Maybe it’s a heart attack. Possibly you’d call 911 if only you knew where your phone is hiding. Your breathing is erratic, your hands start shaking and soon after, your entire body.

WOMP! You’re having a “freak-out.” Otherwise known as a panic attack. Cripey!

So what do you do? Here are some tips. They’re only mine. They work for me, but I’m by no means an expert, so take them with a grain, or five, of salt. If they help you, great, if not, I apologize. :-)

1. Go find someone to talk to – about anything, anything at all. Find your phone and make a call to someone you trust, or seek out a neighbor. Don’t talk about freaking out, find a different topic. “Hey, can I have that Salsa recipe you mentioned last week?” “I’ve been wondering what you’re up to, fill me in.” “Got any favorite authors, I’m in the mood to read!” “Where DID you find that rug? It’s so, um, colorful.” This always stops my freak-outs. By the time I get off the phone or leave a neighbor’s house, I can think clearly again and all the sweat has done dried-up.

2. Find something to watch on YouTube. Go for something funny. Type in kangaroos, cats, dogs, turtles, beetles, funny babies, or Charlie Chaplin. AVOID the serious stuff. Make yourself watch a few videos until you start laughing. What pounding heart?

3. Clean something. There is nothing quite like cleaning to quiet a freak-out. Scrub your tub. When was the last time you did that anyway? Command your commode to sparkle! Throw out all the dead food in your fridge. It’s been laughing at you, wondering when you were going to get around to the task. The mayonnaise that expired thirteen months ago is mocking you. Go on, get rid of it. Oh, how ’bout your car? Could it use a good washing? And what of the inside? How many fossilized french fries can you find? Count them. :-) Right there is some amusing Panic Vanish!

4. Organize things. Your computer documents or photographs. Yay for folders! How about your linen closet, or your pantry? Put like with like. Organize your make-up or your tools. Straightening up makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something, so naturally, you’ll feel calmer afterward.

5. Run an errand. Go grocery shopping. Pick up the clothes from the cleaners. (Pardon me while I get side-tracked. Ask yourself why you have so many things that need to be dry-cleaned. Possibly you may be able to eliminate this errand if you stop the obsession with rayon.) Ok, onward. Get that gift for your niece’s birthday, you know you’ve been putting it off. Force yourself to go get it. What about your prescriptions? Do you need to head to the pharmacy? Any errand that gets you out of the house is a great distraction. And yes, you CAN drive while you’re having a panic attack, they don’t last that long. You know this. Pay careful attention to the road. Quit worrying about your heart rate. Use your Zen mind.

6. Go for a walk. Listen to music, if possible. If you can’t go walking because it’s 2 am, walk in your garage, your living room – any space will do. Walk in circles. Walk in figure-eights. Aim for a perfect square. See if you can pull off a heart shape. Concentrate!

7. Eat something VERY slowly. Ok, so you want to lose weight, yeah, yeah, we all do – well it’s not going to happen overnight. So, eat a small piece of candy, a cookie, a granola bar. Savor it. Mindful eating! I like to do this with my eyes closed. I won’t even look at the food. Well heck, it’s not looking at me! I take long, deep breaths while I’m eating and pay very careful attention to the flavor and texture of the food. My boyfriend was oh, so skeptical about this. He said, “There’s no way eating with you eyes closed makes food taste different.” Well, he was as amazed as I when he tried it. It’s an entirely unique food experience. When I’m done eating a cookie, slowly, mindfully, with or without my eyes closed, most of the freak-out is gone.

8. Go somewhere you wouldn’t normally visit. Try the zoo, a museum, the library, your local community center, or even your town or city hall. Yes, I’ve actually visited my city hall as a means of distraction. I wound up registering to vote! I was quite pleased I’d found someplace new to go and my freak-out went away. Plus, I now had a voter registration card on its way to my house.

9. Do something creative. Draw, paint, scribble, doodle. Make stick figures. Sculpt. Make something with Play-Doh. Make paper airplanes. If you don’t know how, do some research. Or make dots on a piece of paper and then try to connect them. Once you’ve done that, color in the shape and name it. Which creature is this? Which planet is it from? Ah, also try creating a maze. My neighbor does this whenever he feels panicky. He once spent 16 hours making a maze. Heh, heh, amazing! This is extreme distraction.

10. I saved the best for last. Of course, with practice, this one can PREVENT a case of the freak-outs but if you’re not there yet, that’s OKAY. Don’t rush yourself. Just breathe. In and out, very slowly, no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing. Just breathe. Count from 1 to 10. Then reverse, 10 to 1. Repeat. Really, this works, it’s Mindful Breathing, simplified. Ok, so if you couldn’t manage this one (and there are times when you can’t) BEFORE you had your freak-out, once you’re done with it, find someplace QUIET to sit and JUST BREATHE. Tell yourself that this was just a freak-out, it’s done now. If it had been a real emergency, you’d still be running from that saber-toothed tiger.

Rarrrrr!

Adrenaline, Cortisol – be gone – POOF!

Don’t Quit When You Feel Inadequate!


The feeling of wanting to quit sometimes is very nearly unbearable. It’s such brutal work to change destructive habits and so easy to give up. Yikes, the temptation! Better than all the best foods right when you want them. Better than drugs. Better than success. Because at least, if you quit, you know you’re right – about yourself. You’ll never amount to anything, and you know it, so why bother to continue!? So satisfying. What disgusting happiness it is to put oneself down. Ever notice how ironically wonderful it feels to shun yourself?

So, this not quitting thing, well, this is relatively new for me. I won’t. I can’t. I promised. I promised myself and I promised my beautiful boyfriend. He made me. Well, damn him!

(I’m laughing, really!)

And what made me want to quit?

Last night, I asked my boyfriend what he thought of yesterday’s post. He said, “It was okay.” Just okay? Nothing more? I wanted to quit. Just quit. Delete my blog. Be done. Wipe my hands of it. I mean, why waste my time if it’s just okay? I felt so inadequate.The feeling was intense and tossed me right back into the invalidating, shark-filled waters of my childhood.

Oh, those annoying self-harm urges! Even when you know why you have them, they’re still a nuisance.

In my very first readings about Borderline I thought self-harm meant only the physical. But then I realized, no, it’s not. It’s anything you do that in the end brings on exactly the opposite of what you really want. It gives relief, this self-destruction, because you’ve just validated yourself by invalidating yourself, but it’s temporary bliss. Later you feel worse. I wanted to destroy the thing on which I’ve worked so diligently. Not okay. Quitting won’t bring me what I want. It will only affirm, for a DAY, negatively positive thoughts, positively negative thoughts and (joke on me) make me feel smug – see, you knew you’d quit - and then what? No! No quitting.

I remembered my DBT skills, thankfully, right at that moment – when I wanted to punish myself. Oh, what a pain they are at times. Well they are! They can be immensely burdensome to remember, when you want to lash out at not just others, but yourself. I don’t know which feeling is worse. But use them I did. “What, wait, why was it just okay?” And, no, it’s not that I’m looking to be perfect, as much as I’m trying to avoid INADEQUATE. I was munching away on baked potato skins, while I was asking him, trying to keep my cool. DIFFICULT! Because really I wanted to yell and tell him what a terrible boyfriend he was for not saying something glorious about my post – so I didn’t have to feel inadequate. He hasn’t seemed to enjoy them much lately, so the feeling of inadequacy has been building. I was proud though, despite feeling inadequate, because I didn’t lash out and bash the poor guy and I didn’t self-harm. I asked a question. I was clarifying, using Opposite Action!

I was surprised by his answer.

“Well, honey, you didn’t write about your shrinking and I thought that was the cool part,” he said. Shrinking? Confused, I was. He saw the look on my face and explained. “You know…you told me, when you’d go visit the Itty Bitty family, how they’d shrink you, magically, so you could fit through that little door.”

Ohhh! Gulp…

Oh, yeah! Right. Shrinking! I did forget. Well crap. Okay, so I’m not horrible. Now here, in this, is the art of Borderline maintenance. It’s in the constant self-monitoring and positive self-talk.

Right, it’s okay, these are just feelings. They’ll go away sooner or later. You’re upset because it’s challenging to get out of the habit of putting yourself down. Hey, remember, you’re not four anymore and no one can MAKE you feel bad. You’re an adult now, not a child and you can handle this. You’re not inadequate. How silly you are for thinking that. You’re not horrible either. You didn’t do anything wrong. So, you forgot a part you didn’t want to forget, but no biggie. Life goes on. Continue with your blog, continue to share, continue to trace your illness – to help yourself and maybe others. Keep writing. You like it! Stop feeling bad now, you, and go on and enjoy the new journal you’ve just bought for yourself. It’s red, your favorite color. The creamy pages are scrumptiously lined, elegantly detailed with flowers at the top and bottom and you really like it. Don’t be down. Don’t quit. Stop feeling sad and write in that journal.

You know what I bought the journal for? To keep a Gratitude list. I’m sitting here laughing. Yes, specifically to keep a list of things for which I am grateful. So would I be grateful if I’d quit, just because I had a few moments of feeling inadeQUIT? Uh, no, I don’t think so. What would the first entry look like? How nonsensical. “Today I quit writing. I gave up on my blog. Yep, just got rid of it. Oh, because I forgot something, about shrinking.”

My boyfriend, he’s a good guy. He does his best to understand me, even when he’s terribly confused by my emotions. I AM grateful for this. So, I put those iffy, self-doubt thoughts on clouds and let them float away. Then I grabbed the cute, butterfly-adorned notepad that I’d also just purchased and inked out a message on the very first sheet of paper:

I know it’s hard to understand me, thank you for trying so hard. It’s not easy to keep going, to not give up. Giving up has always been easier. Thank you for trying to help me keep going. I love you.

Well, I am happy to report that my first entry in my Gratitude Journal is this: I am grateful that I did not quit! I did not give up on myself. I can survive that feeling called inadequate and I don’t have to look for the elusive perfect feedback in order to keep going. I am good enough to pursue what I want.

Love, compassion to all. And don’t quit when you feel inadequate. THIS is part of - the art of Borderline maintenance.

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