Monthly Archives: November 2012

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are VERY scary.  You may experience your first one completely out of the blue and even if you’ve had them before they usually don’t give any warning before they strike.  Sometimes you know you’re stressed/worried/grieving/upset/desperate but at other times your life might feel as though everything is going along smoothly.

Recently I came across the following article written by James Gummer and posted on


3 Things Panic Attacks Don’t Want You To Know

Sunday started out with a panic attack.

It wasn’t little butterflies in the stomach like right before a first kiss. It wasn’t the feeling of anticipation as a roller coaster slowly climbs the big hill before the drop.

This panic attack felt like I was about to jump off a cliff while being chased by clowns. Not cute clowns—scary ones. The kind of clowns that were in the paintings at my paediatrician’s office when I was a kid. The clowns that smiled at me smugly when I was getting emergency asthma shots, unable to breathe.

Panic attacks are my suffering at its most profound. Over the years, I’ve become an expert on them.

I was 29 when I had my first major panic attack. I was sitting in a hotel room in Sunnyvale, California, getting ready to drive to the beach, and I couldn’t decide whether to eat at a local restaurant or wait until I got to Santa Cruz.

Bang! It hit me out of nowhere.

That’s how it happens for me. I can handle a major crisis like a medical emergency or aiding in a car accident with unthinking grace. It’s the day-to-day living that sometimes gets me.

Suffering the breakup of a romantic relationship a few months ago brought the panic attacks back out of hiding. Instead of going through a depression, I felt riddled by anxiety.

A lot of the anxiety had to do with the fact that I was going to have to deal with my ex in a working situation. It was compounded with the awful things I was telling myself over and over again in my head. It was extremely painful and maddening.

At least I have some skills and resources for dealing with panic and anxiety, and I’ve gotten a lot better at using them.

I’ve found meditation and present moment awareness to be effective in dealing with panic attacks.

There are lots of different kinds of meditation and lots of different techniques we can utilize.

If we think of a panic attack as a villain who steals away pieces of our soul, these are the three techniques that he wouldn’t want us to know about.

1. Acceptance

One of the most powerful things that you can do in the midst of a panic attack is to accept it. I know that seems to go against all rational thought.

Don’t I want the panic attack to go away? Sure I do. But noticing the panic and accepting that it’s visiting me is the first step. Realizing that I’m having a panic attack instead of being lost in the dream of panic creates some space to work with it.

One way to work with it is to lie down on the floor and feel the anxiety and panic flowing through the body. Accept that it’s there. Feel it completely.

I notice my chest feeling tight and my heart pounding, notice the sweating or feeling of being light-headed or dizzy. I let the anxiety develop completely, inviting it to overcome me like a wave of uncomfortableness.

Yes, it can get pretty nasty. But usually at the point when I feel like my whole being is going to explode from so much anxiety, something almost unimaginable happens: a release.

The panic begins to fade, moving away from me like the tide slowly going back out to sea. I’m left a little tired, a little drained, but also relieved.

It’s important to know that a panic attack won’t last.

Nothing lasts forever—not pleasant things, not unpleasant things, not panic attacks.

It’s not necessary to lie on the floor.

Sometimes I find myself in certain social situations where being stretched out on the floor would look just plain nutty. This technique works just as well sitting in my truck, behind a desk, or hiding in a bathroom stall. We do what we must.

2. Breathing

A lot of people say to take deep breaths when you’re having a panic attack. I think this is sound advice, but I like to put a slightly different spin on it.

Take a walk.

That’s right. Go walking.

Walking is awesome because it gets the blood flowing, the heart pumping, and if it’s a brisk walk, it forces you to breathe more deeply.

Sometimes I feel like my anxieties and fears are chasing me, but I’m walking away from them. Other times, I just feeling like I’m burning off some built-up energy that has nowhere to go.

Running would probably also be helpful, but I will only run in the event of The Zombie Apocalypse.

3. Naming

Another really effective technique that I practice is to name the feelings and thoughts as I’m having a panic attack. I learned this technique from listening to Tara Brach’s podcasts on iTunes. It’s super effective and very simple to learn. (*Note: Tara Brach’s podcasts are free on iTunes.)

In the midst of the panic attack, I focus on any feelings or thoughts that are arising and name them either out loud or silently to myself. I sometimes even grab a notebook and write them. For instance:

I feel tightness in my chest

I feel my racing heartbeat.

My mouth is dry, my head aches, and I’m a little dizzy.

I feel like I’m going to fall off of a cliff.

I’m feeling bad about feeling bad because this anxiety destroys relationships.

I feel like no one is ever going to love me again.

My jaw is clenching.

There’s a knot in my stomach.

I feel like a loser.

I feel like I don’t belong here. 

I feel like I suck.

I’m afraid I’m going to fail.

I hear a pounding in my ears.

I feel unqualified, unworthy, unnecessary. 

Once again, it’s helpful to remind myself that this is a panic attack, that it will pass, but it needs to be allowed to.

I remind myself that this awful time in my life will pass like all the others. How do I know this? If I look back over the course of my life, I can see it.

I’ve had some great times. They’ve passed. I’ve had some awful times. They’ve passed, too. I can see that everything before this has passed.

This also will pass. It has to.

These simple techniques can work, but you have to put them into practice.

It’s like learning to play a musical instrument or a sport; the more you practice, the better you get at it. If one of the techniques isn’t working, I switch to another one.  I believe that, in the moment, we always pick the right one.


Having experienced panic attacks myself, I feel that James’ explanation and suggestions for managing them are very useful.  If you’ve ever suffered from these debilitating events, give his methods a try.  What have you got to lose?


Codependence is an emotional and behavioural condition that affects a person’s ability to have healthy, mutually satisfying relationships.  It is also known as “relationship addiction”; people with codependency often form relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.

Most codependents come from dysfunctional families.  In these families problems that exist are not acknowledged.  Family members don’t talk about or confront the problems and as a result, they learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs.  They focus on simply surviving and develop behaviours that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions.   They are unable to confront uncomfortable situations with others because confrontation can lead to emotions boiling over and that is too frightening to contemplate.

A co-dependent person will place the health, welfare and safety of everyone else before their own.  By doing this they lose contact with their own needs, desires, and feelings of self worth.

Co-dependent behaviour

People who are co-dependent always look outside themselves for things or others to make them feel better. They find it hard to be authentic, hiding behind a mask that they eventually come to believe is real.  The truth is they have no idea who they genuinely are.  They gravitate towards relationships with other dysfunctional people; those who may be addicted to drugs or alcohol or suffer from mental illness.

They invariably take on the role of caretaker in any relationships they have, but the caretaking eventually becomes compulsive and defeating.  Codependents often become ‘martyrs’.  Wives cover up for alcoholic husbands; mothers make excuses for wayward children; or a father might never show his son or daughter that antisocial behaviour has consequences, but instead pulls strings to keep them out of trouble.

Codependents like to be in control, believing that if everyone else would just change and do what they tell them to, everyone’s lives would be wonderful.

Codependent people tend to:

  • Have an over-developed sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • Confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
  • Do more than their share, all the time
  • Feel hurt and/or resentful when people don’t recognize their efforts
  • Have an unhealthy dependence on relationships. The codependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship, to avoid the feeling of abandonment
  • Exhibit an extreme need for approval and recognition
  • Feel guilty when asserting themselves
  • Have a compelling need to control others
  • Not trust themselves and/or others
  • Fear being abandoned or alone
  • Find it difficult to identify feelings
  • Be rigid and have difficulty adjusting to change
  • Have problems with intimacy/boundaries
  • Suffer chronic anger (often unrecognized)
  • Be dishonest in communications
  • Have difficulty making decisions

Some questions to ask yourself if you think you might be co-dependent (NB: only a qualified professional can make a diagnosis of codependency; not everyone experiencing these symptoms suffers from codependency.)

1.  Do you avoid arguments at all costs?
2.  Are you always worried about what other people think of you?
3.  Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?
4.  Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?
5.  Are other people’s opinions more important than yours?
6.  Do you find it hard to adjust to changes at work or home?
7.  Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends and not you?
8.  Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
9.  Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?
10. Have you ever felt inadequate?
11. Do you feel that making a mistake reflects badly on you?
12. Do you find it hard to accept compliments or gifts?
13. Do you feel humbled or ashamed when your child or spouse makes a mistake?
14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?
16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss?
17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?
18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?
19. Do you have trouble asking for help?
20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?

If you identify with several of these symptoms or are dissatisfied with yourself or your relationships, you might consider seeking professional help.

How is Codependency Treated?

Because codependency is usually firmly based in a person’s childhood, treatment often involves exploration into family of origin issues and their relationship to today’s destructive behaviour patterns.  Treatment can include education, experiential groups, and individual and group therapy through which codependents rediscover themselves and identify self-defeating behaviour patterns. Treatment also focuses on helping patients to get in touch with feelings that have been buried during childhood. The goal is to allow them to experience their full range of feelings again.

A lot of change and growth is necessary for the codependent and their family. Any caretaking behaviour that allows or enables bad behaviour or abuse to continue in the family needs to be recognized and stopped. The codependent must identify and embrace his or her feelings and needs. This may include learning to say “no”, to be loving but tough, and learning to be self-reliant. People find freedom, love, and serenity in their recovery.

Hope lies in learning more. The more you understand codependency the better you can cope with its effects. Reaching out for information and assistance can help someone live a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Suggestions for where to get help:

The Meadows Treatment Centre, Arizona, USA

Bridge to Recovery, Kentucky and California, USA

South Pacific Private Hospital, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Malvern Private Hospital, Melbourne, Vic, Australia

Gats Counselling and Treatment Services, Adelaide, SA, Australia

Set Yourself Free Programs, based in Sydney Australia but available via Skype

CoDA (Co-dependents Anonymous), worldwide

Al-Anon, worldwide


“Facing Codependence” and “The Intimacy Factor”, by Pia Mellody

“Codependent No More” and “Beyond Codependency”, by Melody Beattie

(c) Jane Gillespie 2012

Emotions are scary!

I am being reminded how true this is because I’m still battling bureaucracy on behalf of my daughter who requires funding into specialized accommodation.  We applied for the funding for an existing placement in January this year and still haven’t heard anything.

I have run the gamut of fear, sadness and anger that at times has become rage, making me want to commit violence!  My instinctive reaction has been to eat; to try to suffocate the fear this emotion brings up for me.

Anger when overtly expressed, was not acceptable in my family of origin.  Oh, there was plenty of passive aggression happening; when displeased, my mother would withdraw into coldness and Dad would stomp outside to chop the hedges within an inch of their lives with great big clippers – “snip, SNIP, SNIP”!  Once when I was nine I transgressed and Mum didn’t speak to me for a week.  Everything was relayed through Dad or my sister.  I felt as though I’d been banished and would far rather have had it out with her and cleared the air.

Then when I was 12, and my sister who was 16, went to the pictures one night and didn’t come home until 2.30 a.m.  Dad was standing at the door and slapped her across the face so hard that I’m surprised she didn’t get whiplash!  I saw this happen and was so traumatized by it that I instantly decided that I had to be the peace maker of the family from then on.  I was the original Good Girl for the next 40 years, trying to protect everyone from ever being angry with anyone else.

It took me until my early fifties before I learned how to tell people what I was feeling without thinking the world would end.  And it took a few more years to learn that people have to sort things out for themselves and it’s not my place to intervene if I’m not directly involved.

Knowing all this hasn’t really helped in the situation I’m facing now because I’m afraid of allowing myself to express how frustrated, upset, grief-stricken and yes, angry, I am at how slowly bureaucracy works.  However, I have recognized my old patterns and am doing my best to follow the wise words of the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference”

I have enlisted help from as many quarters as I can to achieve the desired outcome.  I have expressed my fear and grief that if something positive doesn’t happen soon a life may well be cut short and the result has been a surge of support from people who are in a real position to help.  I’ve talked to my therapist, I’ve written in my journal, I’ve written letters to powerful people and threatened to go to the media – and I’ve eaten chocolate!  I know I’m not alone and that is the best thing.

Every day I pray that a resolution will be achieved very soon so that my beloved daughter can receive the full-time care that she needs to live a full, healthy life.

© Jane Gillespie 2012