Panic attacks, Good Friday, and Easter Day.

I didn’t write a blog last night because I was tired. It’s been a big week, with a thousand things going on, and as many demands on my consciousness. This week, too, is taxing: Ash Wednesday service and singing – to say nothing of its reality – looms huge in its centre and I find myself wishing for a break from everything.

Yesterday was difficult. Sometimes it’s easy, and I feel that I’m becoming stronger, working through this. Sometimes the joys of life overwhelm its darkness, and I celebrate healing and the reclaiming of my life. Other times, like yesterday my mind whirls and my flesh jumps and those responses I can’t control – fear and the strange dislocation of dissociation – overcome any rational attempt to tell myself that I’m safe, that no one will hurt me, that the fight-flight-freeze response to danger is no longer necessary, because there is no danger. The problem is, that little almond of cells responsible for the fear response doesn’t connect to the rational, intelligent upper levels of my brain – and so no amount of soothing self-talk helps.

Sometimes I know what triggers it, and my overblown reaction to the clenched fist or unexpected touch on the shoulder can be easily explained. Other times there’s no explaining it: some minute trigger, recognised only by the automatic processing of my instinctual brain, which sees tiny indicators that once pointed to danger and screams fear! Sometimes it can be controlled; other times it can’t and I descend into the unconstrained spiral of a panic attack.

Yesterday I managed to control it – just. I got through the singing and didn’t need to bail, and my friend put her arm around me and held me tightly, and I continued to dwell within the family love and friendship the choir shares.

I’d like this to go away. I hate my brain’s reaction – even as I understand it’s been damaged by ten years of abuse and fear and danger. I hate the fact that I can’t singing without risking a response I can’t control, and I fear that the singing of Ash Wednesday and Lent and Easter will be hard even as I hope that I won’t be. That each time it will get easier, and the chemical reactions of a slightly-screwed-up brain will lessen, and that fear will cease to grip me quite so lividly.

And I think I have reason to hold onto that hope. Not because of anything about my own strength or resilience – although I’m aware of the importance of those things. Mostly, though, because we’re approaching the season of Easter. And that after the torture of Good Friday, and the bleak, empty grief of Holy Saturday, comes the incredulous joy of Easter Day.

I can hold out until then.


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