If you don’t live with post-traumatic stress disorder or have never experienced panic attacks, here are some things you might not know — but I’d like you to:
1. Everything matters, no matter how small. A trigger is a trigger. Never assume the smell of a single candle being blown out will not trigger someone, even if fireworks don’t trigger them.
2. Panic attacks — unless you have had one, you have no clue. In the middle of a full-blown panic attack, you cannot breath, and you truly feel that you may die. Sometimes you wish you would. You get cold and sweat, while perhaps vomiting or losing control of your bladder and bowels, which is bad enough if you’re in your own home, forget if you’re at work or out in public.
3. Please don’t touch someone in the middle of a panic attack even to sooth them, unless you ask first. It could make it worse. Even though we may look like we need a hug, it may be the last thing we need. Ask. We might need space.
4. Avoid saying things like, “You’ll be OK,” “Just breath,” “I don’t understand why you are so upset,” “You’re embarrassing me, pull yourself together.”
5. Please don’t make it about yourself, even if it is your fault that you triggered the person having the panic attack, by accident or without knowing their trigger.
6. Please don’t stare or stick around and hover – ask the person having the panic attack, can I get you blanket or pillow, a glass of water, is there someone I can call, do you want me to go in the next room and check on you in a few minutes, can I get you any of your medications? Do you need to go to the ER? Do you need some air? Do you need to leave, is it too crowded inside for you?
7. We don’t want your pity — while the panic attack is happening or after the panic attack is over, we are tired, exhausted, an emotional wreck and still jumpy and perhaps embarrassed. Please don’t pity us, it will only make things worse.