“I’ve got a bad feeling about this”- Luke Skywalker
Let me ask you something. Have you ever been scared? I don’t mean like ‘BOO’ scared. I mean terrified to your very core, paralyzed with fear, drop to your knees, can’t breathe, and think your heart is about to explode inside your chest kind of scared? A fear so deep and real your breathing quickens, you start to sweat, knees become weak, and you‘re kind of sure you are going to either throw up or pass out at any moment. A fear that consumes you to a level so deep that you actually lose the ability to piece together any sort of logical thought, and you have absolutely no clue how to make it stop. I have felt this level of fear, just recently as a matter of fact. This attack on my soul came up so quickly and so unexpectedly that it caught me completely off guard. I never saw it coming.
“Fear is the Path to the Dark Side”- Yoda
So where exactly did this happen, do you ask? Was it in a basement fire, fighting through thick smoke and heat? Maybe during a high angle rescue (did I mention I’m terrified of heights)? Or perhaps the moment when a staircase gave out from under my feet accompanied with a feeling of free-fall for what seemed like forever? Where exactly is this hell on earth located? What if I told you it was in the lobby of a movie theater at a local mall, alongside my entire family. Would you believe me?
“Be mindful of your thoughts. They’ll betray you”- Obi-Wan Kenobi
I used to think you only got scared in scary situations. Like a dark alley, or an abandoned factory, or better yet a graveyard, at night, during a full moon, on Halloween. But what do you do when you look around, only to find yourself surrounded by friends, family, and familiar places? And yet every single cell in your body is telling you get out; run, grab everyone you can and flee like your life depended on it. This was the situation I was faced with just the other day. One that I feel needs to be explained further.
“For my ally is the force, and a powerful ally it is”-Yoda
You see, I am a HUGE Star Wars fan, always have been. Remember, I was an impressionable young boy growing up in the 80’s, and Star Wars was EVERYTHING, hence the references to ‘The Force.’ I mean the idea that there was an all-knowing power that moved around us and through us was fascinating to me. Oh, how I wished I could have become one with The Force, I would have been a hero! Looking back you can certainly see why I was drawn to the emergency services. I always wanted to help; to be the ‘good guy.’ You can imagine that now as an adult how excited I was to see the new films. And despite keeping to myself a lot lately, I was really looking forward to seeing my two favorite movie makers (Disney and Lucas Films) work together. What could possibly go wrong?
“The force is strong with this one”- Darth Vader
So off to the movies we went, to see Rogue One. Everything was set up for an incredible time. My parents were there, my nieces, and of course Jackie and the kids. Twelve of us in total I believe. There was the usual organized chaos of popcorn and pop purchases, where everyone was sitting, and all the excitement that goes along with this type of event. It should have been an incredible evening. But it certainly was NOT.
“Don’t underestimate the Dark Side of the Force”- Darth Vader
It was at this moment that everything came crashing down. I remember the looks on the faces of my family members, it was like they could see that there was something wrong with me but didn’t really know what to do. And the most confusing part was the more I realized there was nothing to worry about, the more panicked I became. It was almost as if I would have preferred if there WAS an actual emergency. If that were the case, I would certainly know what to do. By now most of you guessed what I was experiencing was a panic attack. Panic attacks can be one of the many side effects of PTSD. If you have experienced them before, you understand that the feeling of fear is indescribable. It’s the kind of fear that reaches back into the very deepest corners of your mind and truly rocks you.
“Now I know there is something stronger then fear- far stronger. The Force”-Kana Jarrus
Now keep in mind that although panic attacks were a relatively new occurrence for me, this was not my first one. So I kinda knew what was happening, even if I didn’t know WHY it was happening. I knew that my focus and primary goal was to get my shit together. This meant finding somewhere quiet (in this case a bathroom stall), taking deep breaths to slow my breathing, and attempting to regain control. Every bit of my ‘fight or flight’ instinct was in full force, and since there was no real danger to fight, I wanted to run. And yet as much as I wanted to run away, I forced myself to stay. Eventually, I was able to come out of the bathroom, eat my overpriced popcorn and pretend to watch the movie. It may not seem like it to some, but that in itself was a HUGE accomplishment.
“Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them”- Obi-Wan Kenobi
So as embarrassing as it is, I feel it necessary to talk about this. With PTSD, having an anxiety or panic attacks is not uncommon. It’s not a sign of failure or an indication that all your progress has been erased; although it may indeed seem like it at the time. It just is what it is. After all, (and I quote) ‘after a traumatic experience the human system of self-preservation goes into permanent alert as if waiting for the threat to return at any moment.’ Having panic attacks may just be a part of your life now, but that doesn’t mean they need to control you.
“Never tell me the odds”- Han Solo
Also, you MUST understand that these panic attacks are not always a bad thing. It’s times like this that you learn how to control fear, and just as importantly the ability to identify genuine fear from perceived fear. Take the time to actually understand what bothered you to the point that it set all of this in motion. Panic attacks force us to face what it is that bothers us to the deepest parts of our core; forcing us to face our issues head on. And that is NOT a bad thing. Fear will always exist and try to shake us from our right path. The more we understand it, the further we can move away from it and return to safety.
“Do. or do not. There is no try”-Yoda
So harness your personal power. Pull from your inner strength.
For fear is weak compared to the Force, and remember, the Force will always be with you.