We’ve all at some point of our lives experienced a panic attack. Life has a way of doing that to even the most well adjusted person. It may be due to something as simple as realizing you may (or may not have) put the wrong zip code on a fed-ex package, left your phone at home or prematurely hit “send” on what could be considered an “angry” e-mail. It of course can also be caused by something serious like losing your family, your job or discovering you’ve been the victim of a ponzi scheme, leaving you to wonder how you’re going to pay for Christmas. Regardless, at that very moment it feels like it’s “all” over. The walls are collapsing, the fat lady is singing and as Chick Hearn used to say, “This game’s in the refrigerator! The door’s closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard, and the Jell-O is jiggling.”
Typically these moments last for anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes. Or at least that’s what I thought until I got divorced. Suddenly these moments of overwhelming fear and anxiety had the potential to last days, sometimes even weeks. It could become a nagging chronic sense of underlying doom. At times even crippling. A feeling of emotional vertigo that you can be forced to carry through every waking moment as you attempt to regain control of your life. It can be triggered by watching your ex-wife drive away with the kids for the first time or a bank statement. But when it hits, it’s hell.
What I came to realize was it’s simply a matter of cause and affect. That as your life shifts to new realities and unfamiliar territory, the stability and structure you’ve come to rely on has the potential to quickly go “bye bye.” Adjusting to a divorce can present the potential for a string of negative events that can make it feel like it’s all spiraling out of control. It’s actually not unlike being at the top of a roller coaster, sitting in the front seat. There’s that freakish split second when you realize, like it or not, your’e strapped in, and about to plunge.
So what to do? Hmmm. Good question. As a guy, chances are you tend hold on to things. Maybe it’s anger or for no good reason, a towel rack your ex decided she wants. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, sometimes all you can do is acknowledge and move on. You can hold on to the anger and let it consume you and affect every aspect of your life, INCLUDING your relationship with your kids and yes, your ex. Or you can practice the fine art of recognizing that the towels can hang on the bed post for a while.
It may sound funny, but sometimes the best way to gain control is by letting go of it.
Accept change. And by change I don’t mean Fiber One cereal instead of Fruit Loops. (Fruit Loops now provides fiber by the way, says so on the box). No, I mean big stuff. I’m not a psychologist, or therapist, but I can tell you from personal experience, that most likely what’s causing your panic attack can be traced back to something you’re desperately trying to hold on to that’s actually keeping you from growing. It may be the lifestyle you had when you were married and have tried to maintain. It may be lingering feelings for your ex. It may be your core sense of family that’s been stripped away. It may be the simple fact that you’re in unexplored territory against your will. Whatever it is, try to determine what it is that you’re holding on to and start considering ways of letting it go.
I’ll say it again, take control by letting go. Accept change. Life happens for a reason. Acknowledge that some of the things going on in your life are not what you planned on or wanted. And realize that may not be a bad thing. Take a good hard look at the cards you’ve been dealt and, for a while, be happy with a pair of eights. It’s no royal flush, but it beats nothing. And for God’s sake, stop convincing yourself that everyone else has a natural straight. Because chances are they only have a pair of fours and are convinced you have four aces. Bluff if you have to, but get through this hand and prepare for the next one, because a new one will be dealt soon. But first you have to get through this one by making the most of your pair of eights.
So don’t panic. Easier said than done I know, but do your best to ride it out. Talk to someone. Maybe a financial advisor, a friend, a therapist, the dog; anyone who’ll listen. As guys we have a hard time opening up,
but it helps. Sharing the fact that you want to take a step forward is actually the first step forward. You’ll also find yourself empowered through the knowledge you gain through those conversations. So start talking.
And while you’re at it, consider the fact that it may actually be exciting to wipe the slate clean and start over. A dear friend of mine told me that a panic attack is a last ditch effort by your sub conscience to hold on to your old life. It means you’re growing, evolving and ready to let the old life die in favor of building a new one. It’s a scary step, but perhaps your mind is telling you it’s ready to move on and has already started letting go without you. Maybe your panic attack is a sign that it’s time to prepare for a move.
I’ve always found liberation in purging. Getting rid of the crap that builds up in storage. Keeping up with all that “stuff” requires way too much energy. The same works in your head. Purge the crap. Get rid of it. Let it go! Kick it to the curb. Strip yourself of the baggage both emotionally and monetarily and start renovating and preparing for a clean slate. Put your energy toward more productive things, like building a new life. Don’t get me wrong, I personally think it’s healthy to hang on to a few things. I mean, we don’t want to completely lose touch with where we came from, but get rid of the excess. As soon as you do, I’m pretty confident you’ll start to feel some traction and like you’re in control again, which in turn will lead to fewer panic attacks.
And ironically, it’ll be because you accepted the fact that you’re NOT in control, and decided to let go.