Have you ever had a panic attack?
They’re absolutely, 100%, no doubt about it, HORRIBLE. You can’t catch your breath, your pulse rate goes through the ceiling, your heart is like a jack hammer in the middle of your chest, and you feel like you’re going to die.
And it’s all an illusion. There’s really NOTHING wrong with you, at all, but it FEELS like the world is ending and vultures are sitting on your shoulders.
I had a series of them about ten years ago when my life partner was becoming seriously ill. One of the lovely things about them is that they seem to come totally out of the blue. With the first one, I was driving merrily along The Great Highway of Life in my little Honda and WHAM!!! “Danger, Will Robinson, danger, danger! Be afraid! Be very, very afraid.” I somehow managed to get myself to the local emergency room where they examined me and gave me an extremely professional shrug of the shoulders.
“Nothing’s wrong with you, man. Blood pressure’s normal, EEG’s normal, you’re incredibly sexy and good looking.”
Well, they didn’t really say the part about being sexy and good looking but I’m sure it was on their minds.
I couldn’t believe it. I was dying and it was just . . . in my head. Hmmmm . . .
Once I figured out what was going on I did a lot of research on panic attacks. There are some interesting theories out there about what causes them, but nothing definitive. Breathing into a paper bag can help. Benadryl can help. My favorite piece of advice was, “Think of something else. Sing something happy.” Oddly it works.
But I want to go back to the part about them being illusions. The Moon card is all about psychological illusions. As I said in my original definition:
Think of seeing the world under the light of the moon rather than the sun. Shadows and light blend into one another and our eyes and mind see things that aren’t really there. Or maybe they are.
There is a tendency for the unconscious, unexamined contents of our minds to come forth when The Moon is present.
What I eventually figured out about my panic attacks is that I was living in an illusion and my subconscious didn’t like it. Not at all. My partner was becoming increasingly, seriously ill and I was trying to stay very upbeat about it and reassure her – and myself and her children – that it was nothing to be concerned about, that if we just kept a positive attitude we’d get through it and she’d be just fine. My subconscious, on the other hand, was looking at it and saying, “Holy shit! Carol is really, really sick. You need to pay attention to this, Dan!”
And, when I didn’t pay attention to it, my subconscious said, “Okay . . . well how about this? How about if I throw an absolute screaming fit and make you FEEL like you’re dying? How about a nice big fat panic attack or three? Will you pay attention now?”
I paid attention. The panic attacks stopped.
The point is that there is something in our psyches that is always watching over us and warning us if we go too far off track, if we get too disconnected from reality. Eckhart Tolle calls it, “the Watcher.” Jeffrey Schwartz calls it, “The Wise Advocate.” I’m referring to it here as, “the subconscious.” It’s reality based, it’s dispassionate, and it will always blow a very loud whistle if we get too delusional about what’s really going on in our lives. Some of us may have panic attacks, some of us may start having inexplicable accidents or become very anxious and distracted or angry. It’s our inner guidance system saying, “Pay attention. This is serious.”
It’s also a great defense against narcissistic gaslighting. The term gaslighting is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, where a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality. Gaslighting is standard operating procedure for narcissists at a certain point in their destructive relationships.
As Doctor Ramani explains in this video, narcissists will eventually begin to treat you like shit and betray your trust in every imaginable way. It’s what they do. BUT . . . just to make it a little bit worse, they will always tell you that you’re just imagining it.
They put you down in front of your friends – you’re just imagining it!
They devalue or ignore your opinions – you’re just being delusional!
They screw around on you – you’re just being paranoid!
There’s actually an old joke in Texas where a woman walks in on her husband while he’s in bed with another woman and he says, “Now, darlin’, who are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes?”
It’s a funny joke but that’s precisely the level that narcissists operate on. And it makes their partners crazy, just like in the movie.
But that’s a good thing. That’s our subconscious, our Watcher, our Wise Advocate, saying, “Something here is very, very, wrong. Pay attention.”
And, if we can manage that shift in perspective, if we can say, “Wait a minute . . . maybe I’m NOT crazy, maybe this really IS happening,” then our so-called symptoms are suddenly transformed into very healthy warning signs. If I’m depressed, if I’m angry, if I’m anxious – and, yes, if I’m having panic attacks – something is out of whack in my life. Something in my conscious life is out of synch with my Watcher and my Watcher is ALWAYS right.
When we do that course correction and bring our conscious perceptions back into alignment with our subconscious Watcher, the symptoms disappear. It’s not necessarily because anything in our environment has changed or gotten better, it’s simply that we’re being honest about what’s going on and there’s no longer a split in our consciousness.
We’ve achieved integrity as defined by the dictionary: the quality or state of being complete or undivided. Which is way better than feeling like you have an elephant sitting on your chest and you’re about to die. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t panic and carry a towel.”
And you’ll be alright.