The first time I had a dissociative panic attack, I described it as my soul being pulled into a dying body so their soul could live on in mine. I was young and known for having a big imagination, so it all was chalked up to my dramatics. Many years later, I know this phenomenon to be dissociation.
And I still can’t adequately describe just how it feels.
The reality is, dissociative episodes, be it panic attack related or not, are surreal. How can you describe what it feels like to not be present in your body to someone who has never experienced it? I’ve done my best to explain it when asked, but I always seem to fall back on the description that I dreamed up when I was younger. It tends to leave people with more questions than answers.
Like, how do you deal with it?
As someone who deals with dissociative panic attacks, I can tell you that a lot of the time I still have difficulty coping. Seeing as dissociative panic attacks are essentially panic attacks, it makes sense to treat them like that. Following grounding exercises, meditation, all that sort of stuff. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes you’re just not in a place where the ordinary solutions will help.
Other times you have to get creative and try some of the more off-kilter methods. From holding icy water in your mouth to eating a warhead, these methods require a different sort of preparation, but they work. These techniques act as a form of grounding, overwhelming your senses and bringing you “back to earth.”
My personal favourite method, although seasonal, is to stand outside in the bitter cold and talk loudly to myself, running through basic information I know; I don’t recommend doing it around people, they tend to give you funny looks.
But it works.
And that’s the thing about dealing with dissociative panic attacks. Not everything works for everyone. For example, grounding exercises that rely on observing the senses have little effect on me, while working wonders for others.
With time, you learn how your mind works. You learn your triggers, where the panic comes from and what snaps you out of it. You discover whether or not you can wait it out, or if that will drive you up the wall with fear.
Nothing is more terrifying than feeling disconnected to your body in the middle of a panic attack.
You learn the ins and outs of who you are. That’s how you deal with any mental health issue.
It takes a while and you may need professional help, but that’s alright. You know yourself best, even when it feels like you aren’t you. Dissociation doesn’t have to be debilitating.