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When Panic Becomes Dangerous

CW self harm

In theory, fear and anxiety are there to keep us safe. For the person who has been traumatised, this can lead to jumping at shadows, hypervigilism and flashbacks in ways that can really mess with your daily life. But still, the theory is good, the fear is learned, rational, reasonable and your brain is dealing appropriately with the threat level it is alert to. 

My panic does not exist to protect me. My panic exists to protect other people from me. It’s not a mystery how I got here – my ex did a very good job of persuading me that I was an awful person – cruel, manipulative, aggressive, unreasonable, ungrateful and causing him constant pain and difficulty. His words stay with me, and when I make mistakes, they loom large. It doesn’t help that this wasn’t my only experience of me being a terrible person, and it’s all there waiting for me any time I get anything wrong.

So instead of trying to protect myself, my panic has me hurting myself. Including having a lot of trouble eating or drinking. If I’m weak I am less of a threat to others. If I hurt myself, I’m not hurting someone else. At the worst extremes it leads to the idea that everyone would be better off if I didn’t exist.

It’s taken me a long time to understand this as a process. It’s not easy to think about the mechanics while it’s happening, and almost impossible to make any sense of it afterwards. But, I’ve had about a month now of intense panic, and that’s given me a lot of opportunities to notice things about the mechanics.

I’ve got a practical intervention in place – if I get the urge to hurt myself, I use resistance bands. At least that way the pain I inflict is helping me build stronger muscles, which I need anyway. Moving with them helps calm me, and I’ve managed to use them through really bad episodes where I felt that I did not deserve any kind of comfort or ease. This is one of the worst periods I’ve ever had for panic, but it’s also been the best managed around self harm and I feel encouraged by that.

I didn’t get here on my own. Not this episode, not this issue. I think this is often the way of it with emotional and psychological damage. The wounds come from outside. We don’t expect people to put their own broken arms into plasters or to sew up the gashes in their bodies. 

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