Saturday, 15 March 2008

Panic attack - what should a carer do?

This morning Marie took herself and the children out in her car around our town, calling at friends' houses and local shops. She hasn't done this for a while, so it was a good omen.

In the afternoon, I had to drive about 25 miles away today on a family matter. As usual, the kids wanted to go "with daddy" too.

"Are you stopping on the way? What are you going to do with the kids?" asked Marie.

"I'm going to call in at a shopping centre on the way" I told her. "The weather is too bad to do anything else."

"I'll come too." said Marie. Encouraqing. Even though I knew that the shopping centre I intended to stop at was the type where you could park outside each store. It was the first time in ages that she had wanted to go to shopping anywhere.

So some time later, I pulled up outside a large store, parking about 5m from the entrance. We all went in. Marie had her usual aid, a large shopping trolley. Marie wasn't able to permeate the back end of the store, so I left her to explore that part of the premises in which she was comfortable, while the children and I carried on down the store. A few minutes later, my phone rang. I could tell from her voice, before she said "Help me, I can't get out of here!" that Marie had heightened anxiety. The children and I quickly went to the front of the store. The problem was that Marie couldn't get out of the store while holding on to her trolley. We helped Marie, who was exhibiting all the signs of an impending panic attack, to get outside, complete with trolley. The children and I then went back to our shopping activities.

A couple of minutes later, the phone rang again. It was Marie (no surprise there!).

"Why didn't you come outside with me?"

"Because I knew you weren't in any danger."

"Yes, but you knew that I was having a panic attack."

"Yes, but I knew that you weren't in any danger."

"I've been panicking out here. I couldn't get to the car. I've been screaming. People out here were looking at me as though I was a demented lunatic. I can't stand here all day!"

"Ok, we'll come out now."

When we got outside, we could see that Marie had eventually managed to get to the car. She was sitting calmly inside.

Nothing more has been said about this incident, but I would like to know from panic panic attack sufferers - should I have behaved differently? Your opinions, please.


SarahC♥ said...

Perhaps you should have gone with her? We KNOW we're NOT in danger, but mid anxiety/panic NOTHING is clear, at that moment we want to get as far away from what is making us feel like that and to be left outside a shop, alone, wouldn't have been my soloution.

Hope she is feeling a bit better today. On the positive side, good for Marie for driving around AND going shopping. :)

Rachael Hale said...

Hi Robert
Sorry to hear Marie had a bad time, its such a horrible feeling for anyone to go through, well done to her for going though.

I agree with sarahc&hearts, maybe you should have gone with her, made sure she was settled and feeling better.
Obviously the fear is in your mind, but when your in the grip of a panic attack or about to have one, the fears are very real.

But its hard for someone to know what to do when someone is having a panic attack. I think sufferers react differently for instance when i was having a panic attack or feeling anxious i wanted my mum with me but i didnt like her talking to me. I would just want to be silent. It would oftan result in me snapping at her.

Aff said...

It's a real double-edged sword. I don't think I've ever experienced a REAL panic attack, or certainly not on a regular basis, but I can see both the positive and negative of your actions.

On one hand, Marie needs to learn that anxiety WILL eventually subside whether you are there or not and you running to be her aid and escorting her to safety resulting in lessened anxiety reinforces the link in her mind that less anxiety is directly related to you being around.

On the other hand, you not being there when Marie said she needed you may cause Marie to go backwards and remember this when she next considers facing an anxiety.

I guess if it were me, I would initially be very, very angry with Mrs Aff for 'failing' me but in time, I'd see that it was for my own good and that I needed to learn how to deal with certain things on my own.

But like I said, I've never had regular, full-blown panic attacks.

Oh, by the way: 'Mind Over Mood' is the book I was talking about a couple of weeks ago.

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Gary said...

Hi Robert
I have had Panic Attacks and they are very real and can be extremely frightening but not dangerous, but from my experience with them i wanted to be near my wife for reassurance, and it did help, but it's difficult for a non sufferer to understand them and i know you meant well and you would do anything for Marie, but she will have been terrified! i had to learn how to deal with panics, and i think everybody has their own way of doing it, but credit to Marie for trying, she needs to keep it going.

Rachel's Diary said...

Robert you aint done anything wrong... but as a sufferer I know when that feeling off impending doom comes up from the pit of your stomach and all those symptoms kick in involuntary all I ever want is someone i know to reasurre me and distract me and talk to me, I dont want to be held or touched or pitied just need a BODY! preferably someone I know although i have stopped pure strangers before for help... the last time i did this was last May, I stopped a car and asked for help and they took me to my mothers. you do so well with what u do with marie, she is doing well too xx

Robert said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. They really helped.

On a post some time ago, I asked whether I was a carer or an enabler. I had found out that some of the things I had been doing to make Marie's life as normal as possible had actually made her worse. The coping mechanisms I had instigated/colluded with enabled Marie to become more agoraphobic! I don't want to make those mistakes again.

But now I can see that I acted wrongly on Saturday, and if a similar situation arises again, I'll know what to do.

Thanks again, guys!

Now I'm off to make a grovelling apology to Marie!!

Robert said...

Aff -

Marie WAS angry with me for not stopping everything I was doing and staying with her. However, her anger was short-lived (always is - one of her endearing features).

Thanks for the book title - I'll look it up.

Coffeecup said...

Oh what a tricky situation! When I've panicked in the supermarket I've usually just been handed the keys and had to make my own way back to the car and wait. Sometimes it's been terrible, agitated in the front seat in bits, wondering if I'm gonna stop myself opening the door and run screaming across the car park! It's not a good place to be at that moment in time. However, I don't believe that you did anything wrong. You cannot stop everything whenever this happens and it's upto us as the sufferer to learn to take control and calm ourselves. Like you say she wasn't in danger. Suppose the very worst would be a major freak out and some embarrassment. Sod everybody else though. Seems that indeed Marie coped very well, and should be praised for her achievement. It was an excellent lesson, though not a happy one, the outcome was really positive!

Dawn said...

Hi, I've just found your blog and find it interesting as I too am agoraphobic, though not so bad as I used to be.

Poor Marie, how awful she must have felt and that's what made her angry with you. It's hard to know what's best to do, but I think trying to get someone to 'tough it out' isn't necessarily a good thing where this illness is concerned. Yes, the anxiety may well lessen eventually but the memory of the fear will last much longer than the memory of any lessening of it. Or at least that's how it used to be with me. And if Marie feels she can't rely on you when she does go out, she may just stop going. I don't mean this as a criticism of you, just giving you the benefit of my own experience. :-)

One thing that has helped me enormously is EFT (emotional freedom technique). It has some connections with NLP (which I read didn't help Marie) but it's something anyone can easily do themselves, without having to visit a therapist. Put simply, it involves tapping on certain points of the body while visualising the problems caused by the illness. It has helped me enormously, to the point where I'm not sure I should describe myself as agoraphobic any longer. I no longer feel ill whn out and about and shopping is once again (after 30+ years) a pleasure. For anyone interested, just visit this site

I didn't have to buy anything, just downloaded the manual and started tapping. I don't know if it's still free but hopefully it is. Please ask Marie to try it; forget about the failure of NLP and try EFT - it may just work. I had tried just about every other thing that exists to try to get rid of my agoraphobia but to no avail. I've no idea why EFT worked but it did. I hope it helps Marie and anyone else who reads this and gives it a try. BTW, it's not just for phobias, it can help all sorts of illnesses, so maybe some others will try it too. (Sorry if I sould like a saleswoman, but as it's free (or was) that's not the case, and anyway I'm not involved with the site in any way other than as a visitor and a very grateful user of the method.)

Best of luck to all!

Dawn said...

Re my post above - sorry, Robert, but I hadn't read your previous blog entry about EFT and so didn't know Marie had already tried it. I'm sorry it didn't prove as useful to her as to me, but would encourage her to try again. Of course it may not be for everyone, but since after all this time it helped me I really feel I should tell everyone about it, just in case it helps them too.

john said...

ya know what, i think you did the best thing ever. Its good for her not to just know in her head that she is not in any danger. but to actually experience it. Its just what a psycho would ask a sufferer to do. To experience panic with out any help.

Being with a loved one during panic is reasuring... however its so easy to rely on that person to always be there. I used to hate being on my own, until my parents started going out and leaving me at home (they had to live there lives after all). Then i just had to deal with it on my own, and it really helped me. It took a while but it did work. I have been on my own for over a week before while my parents have been on holiday.

Trust me, what you did, I think was the best thing for her.

Robert said...

Hi Dawn & thanks for visiting!

Marie hasn't written off EFT yet. Right now she's concentrating on exposure therapy, but she intends to combine that with EFT in due course. And when that happens, I'll post about it!

Robert said...

Hi John -

Marie didn't agree with you! I just don't know. I see where you're coming from, though. The problem I have is that Marie wouldn't go ANYWHERE if she stopped trusting me, so my actions are limited. I can't make her fight her agoraphobia - she's got to want to do that herself.

Good to see that you're feeling positive at the moment :)

Anonymous said...

Hello Robert,

I try to way up the situation. I always remain calm and remind her that she does not need me, then sometimes do as you did but if I think the episode may result in a bad memory either calmy and patiently go to her, or preferabley calmly tell her that I will come to her when she calms down. This is great as she has a way out but actually she has to make some progress to take it. You need to be consistent or she will think that getting more flustrered will make you change your mind, but you can compromise by going to her if she calms down a little bit.