Mindfulness and panic attacks : some insights from Debra Campbell.

We are not problems to be addressed or sentences to be corrected. (Our) fault lines have a beauty and history that reach back before words.  They must be honoured.  They can’t completely be talked away, although this can help.  They won’t be bulldozed into non existence.  The past that put them there cannot be changed .  It can be tolerable, even good, to sit with the fault lines, with ourselves, in the courage and grace of being with what is.  Although the cliffs of the fault lines are dangerous, their genesis holds many clues about our personality formation, the wisdom of our feelings and some cautionary tales.

Mindfulness is a way of living with more awareness and less judgement, connected to a deeper sense of self.  In great panic and anxiety, alone on the cliff face, it can be the cable that holds you from plummeting and that gently reels you up from a fall.

The above excerpt is from the chapter on Mindful Love in Debra Campbell’s book Lovelands. In it she addresses a client, Alex’s panic attacks which were crippling and entirely overpowering in their severity.  I must say suffering the same up to two or three a day meant that the information in this chapter moved me to tears by the end.

Debra worked with Alex to develop a mindfulness practice which would allow Alex to stand present with himself through the abject terror of his panic attacks.  As Debra explains there were fault lines and deep fissures in Alex’s development.  His father had never fully parented him, leaving him with out a feeling of safety in life.  As  a young child, Alex had watched terrifying movies with his Dad which makes me feel his father must have gone through some kind of terror that he was passing onto his son or at the very least showing a lack of protection to his son’s developing consciousness.

Alex became obsessed with the darker side of life, this was what his childhood had opened him up to but his father had never really provided him with the support or resources he needed to cope in a life in which he often felt unconsciously overwhelmed.  In end Alex needed help with this and with Debra’s  assistance, guidance, support and love over time he learned how to self parent.

Staying mindfully with ourselves is the deepest form of self parenting.  But often we need a guide or midwife along the way for our soul, for alone we often get sucked into deep crevasses and fault lines not of our own making especially if we lacked attunement, protection, guidance and support in childhood to deal with big feelings.  Mindfulness practice gives us a  way forward to breathe and focus on the love in our hearts that can contain the fear, emptiness, loneliness, frustration, confusion and pain, a way of seeing that they are residues of a deeply unconscious past that can dog us well into adulthood, a painful past that doesn’t need to be a life sentence but does need to be understood.

Mindfulness can help us to become aware of some of the story lines we are running around our fear, and a deeper understanding of how our fear of our fear is the most challenging issue, keeping us stuck and preventing us navigating the crevasses which have lessons for us, without getting stuck there.

Often the origin of the attacks stems from a combination of factors or from being under too much stress for too long.  An exhausted soul’s fight or flight mechanism may mistakenly smell unseen danger everywhere, becoming hyper vigilant and increasingly activating the false alarm of panic with little or no reason.

Understanding when and why this is happening to us is very important.  The connection Debra makes in this chapter between being too overwhelmed often and left with out protection speaks to me of emotional neglect.  I got an enormous insight into my own panic attacks in this chapter.  I was moved to tears.  In the end Alex made friends with himself in the midst of his attacks and life became less frightening.

Concluding the chapter Debra has this to say :

Mndfulness helps you find the capacity to be with the inevitable pain that life dishes out.  Of tremendous value to me was finding such a practical everyday way to become less afraid of my depressive and anxious demons that drove me relentlessly back to my faultlines.  I had found a way to make friend with every part of myself and see every thought and feeling as an event, neither good nor bad, unless I decided it was so.

She ends the chapter by saying mindfulness, in opening her insight into her flaws also enabled her to glimpse new hope and possibilities not by trying to shut the door on or run away from them but through looking them closely in the face and not being turned to stone like Medusa.

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