Monkey Mind Panic Attacks

Since I know you love hearing about them.  I am writing about my most recent panic attack which was yesterday at 2pm.  It lasted until just after 4pm.  This post will give the reader a picture into what a panic attack accompanied by chronic illness feels like.

In brief, if we named panic attacks, I would name this one like an interesting flavour of ice cream.  I’d name this panic flavour, Monkey Mind Panic.  Caution, contains nuts (pun intended).

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Monkey mind, a phrase I picked up a while ago, is “from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin’en 心猿 [lit. “heart-/mind-monkey”], is a Buddhist term.”  (Wikipedia)

I imagine the monkey habitat at the zoo.  A deafening, dizzying, cacophony of “Ew Ew Ah Ah.”

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Racing thoughts obviously go along with every anxiety disorder.  They play a particularly powerful role in the anxiety before, but also during a panic attack.

During a panic attack, it’s like an argument erupts in my mind.  The mind does not heed the warning, Don’t Feed The Trolls.

I wanted to tie this into chronic illness.  It might explain why I had the attack.

Here are some of the contributing reasons:

  1.  I have issues getting around my apartment.  I was spending the day and this night on my own
  2. I regularly take some serious medications, one of which is for my anxiety disorder.  I had run out on the weekend and the pharmacy didn’t deliver until later
  3. I have on-going concerns about my recent surgery.  I feel frustrated that the surgeon’s office has not returned my calls
  4. I have a phobia of vomiting and choking.  My stomach was off from a Meatloaf I made that was too fatty (I went on one of those Everyone loves Bacon kicks)

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So I add bits of those ingredients together and add the secret Monkey Mind ingredient that I called Existential Freak Out No. 9 aka “Oh my god, I’m going to die.  I am dying.  I need an ambulance.  I should call one.  I don’t need an ambulance.  I should be seeing the doctor more because there must be something they don’t know about.  I’m too young to die.  Everybody dies!  Yes, but no one is especially good at it…”

Okay, okay, take a breath.  STOP!!

And this is the quiet moment when the Monkey smiles at you and starts peeling a banana.  It’s gotten its way.

 

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This is that moment of lucidity, the calm inside the eye of the tornado.  It’s here that I remember that I talk a lot about mindfulness.  I give myself a nervous laugh at the irony.  The irony makes me feel more human and asserts that I’m not the only one who might be feeling this right now.

At this point I did what I needed to do.  In that moment, I need to calm my stomach, so I took a stomach medication.  I also needed to deal with the Monkey.  I did this by getting up, changing my perspective, hobbling around on my crutch and tidying up in the kitchen for just five minutes.  Then I took some breaths, called the pharmacy to ensure my medications were coming.  I then sat and waited.   Things were winding down, I was exhausted but I had to stay awake.  I decided to grab one of my journals and a Sharpie and make a list of words I knew in French.

My medication came and that solved the other physical issue.  I made myself a tuna sandwich.  Then I fell asleep.

So take what you will from that!  Can you relate?

 

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Bad Day vs. Bad Life vs. Irrelevant

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I woke up today.  Period.  Full stop.

It’s mid-morning and I’m feeling very rough.  My IBD is acting up, my therapist thinks I hate myself, and the Zapruder film seems to have been altered.

Basically, I woke up and automatically went on autopilot with a heading set for misery.

Recently, I saw this meme, which I initially found reassuring:

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But of course, I’m not simple enough to just appreciate the sentiment for what it is.  I started thinking, “But wait, some people have had pretty tough lives.  What if it is actually a bad life?”  Can you relate?

Life not being fair is an understatement.  And this morning I felt angry.  I felt angry at people who had intentionally hurt me, people who had just abandoned me, people who discriminated against me, the poverty of a disability income, the flaws in the medical system, AND SO ON

Here’s the deal.  When we get in this state of mind, we’re increasing our suffering.  The mind thrives when it has a problem.  We make ego identities about being victims or survivors.  If we weren’t miserable about something, we’d feel miserable that we have nothing to complain about!  Such is the monkey mind.

Yet, we are human.  If we are constantly fighting negative thoughts, we put pressure on ourselves to believe and be something fake.  So I am telling myself, and you, to relax.  It is okay to feel angry.  It is okay to feel hurt.

Resisting all negative thinking will only strengthen it.  For instance, if I tell you not to think about elephants, what can’t you help but think about?  Elephants!

In Vipassana meditation we are asked to be aware.  Yet, there is a difference between naming what is going on and making judgments about life and self and others.  Acceptance and it’s subsequent “peace” comes, not from somehow liking a bad circumstance or event, but simply allowing it to be, as it is.

The path that neither resists nor attaches is the path toward equanimity.

So, will my day get better?  It’s actually irrelevant to ask or answer that question.  Peace is not found in a good day or any type of day.  Peace exists apart from the form of our lives.

 

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