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Healing from Complex Trauma and Childhood Trauma

How I stopped having panic attacks after having 60 in 2 months

How I stopped having panic attacks after having 60 in 2 months:

My journey to begin healing has been and continues to be a difficult one. To begin to heal, the first thing always begins with the awareness. Once you are aware of your awareness, the healing has already begun—even though it may not seem like it at the beginning.

At the beginning of my journey, I was sleeping 2-3 hours a night, my body waking me up every hour in the middle of the night, sweating, crying, unable to feel my legs, my whole body shaking. My nervous system was triggered constantly, in a state of hypervigilance. I was having a panic attack everyday, many times calling my doctor’s office or a cardiovascular center at my university.

To begin to heal, I had to face my situation head on. For so long, I had suffered from cyclical anxiety and depression—working myself to the bone towards academics or school, anxious but loving being in that sympathetic state, and then crashing from the stress it was causing me. For a long time, I had tried to deal with it tangentially—finding therapy, trying regular talk therapy, trying CBT, trying to reconnect with my family in Europe. Yet, none of them really “fixed” the issues I was having, or lessened my suffering. In my depression, I would often feel hopeless or destroyed, crying for 4 or 5 hours at my worst. 

With the panic attacks, my suffering reached its breaking point. I had to treat my healing like my full-time job, no matter the consequences financially or academically since I was still in school—the consequences of not doing do were too great.

What did this entail? The first entry to taking care of my mental health meant finding a therapist. This is all I had heard about in society in terms of regulating my mind, nervous system and many in the health profession that I was seeing for the physical symptoms of my panic attacks suggested it.

As it stands, it is the responsibility of the patient to find what kind of therapy they want. This should not be how it is, but unfortunately, that is how it is in today’s society.

For example, I wasn’t even sure that my panic attacks were caused by my trauma or what was fueling them. To find out what therapy I wanted and what therapist I would want, I began using my skill of pouring myself into my academics as an escape from my pain towards something else—reading about trauma, panic, anxiety, stress, and different types of therapy. These books are included here under my Resources page, but the main one I began with that gave me a really good overview of the therapies I could look for was The Body Keeps the Score, an amazing resource to me. Honestly, at the time, hearing about other people’s traumatic experiences and PTSD was too triggering, so I only read the second half of the book focusing on the treatment of PTSD (the first half focused only on understanding PTSD and its impact on people, which is very important still but was too hard for me to read), which was infinitely helpful. I learned about a lot of the therapies and resources I briefly write about under Resources and decided that EMDR would be a good fit for me to be able to heal from my traumatic experiences.

I contacted between 50 and 100 EMDR therapists, meeting with 30 of them, feeling I was a good fit with 10 of them. Then, I narrowed it down further based on insurance needs, schedule availabilities, modalities they offered, and different personality types. My therapist, whom I saw for about 1 year (until I couldn’t because of insurance issues), was an invaluable tool for me. Even as I continued to develop other tools to heal, tools I could use more independently, EMDR became the root of my healing, upon which the rest of the tools were built. My therapist was amazing, providing me tools I could use on my own and even suggesting books etc.

As I did this, other tools become an integral part of my healing. Meditating, which I describe in more detail here, yoga, EFT / Tapping (and other vagal nerve stimulation exercises), and even feeling more connected to nature with daily walks and really meditating with nature, feeling my ego dissolve as I felt the connectedness of the whole world, helped me immensely. I describe a lot of these tools in more detail on my Resources page here. I even decided to travel and vacation to Central America and become really connected to nature there, which was incredibly healing—despite the risks of doing so as I was afraid of having a panic attack on the place, which did happen unfortunately. Diet became really important to me, making sure I was eating a lot of plants, a lot of greens, and less refined carbohydrates—which made the anxiety that I had that would often manifest itself in my gut and stomach lessen significantly.

Other resources I began to use were various types of breathwork, including Wim Hoff and Holotropic, and saunas (including infrared ones) and cold plunges. More details on how these work can be found here under my Resources- Tools Page. I started using writing and journaling as way to understand my thoughts and malleably direct them in the ways I wanted them to go to, a very slow but necessary process.

With all of these tools, I haven’t had a panic attack in more than 1 year, and my cyclical anxiety / depression has stopped. This doesn’t mean that my healing is “done”; I don’t think it ever will be. And even for people who don’t have PTSD or Complex Trauma, everyone needs certain things that makes them happy, that makes them feel whole, heard, seen, happy. Perhaps for me and for others with Complex Trauma, these things may need to be more targeted towards the nervous system or regulating the mind and body. These resources are the ones that I continuously use, even today, to heal; to feel whole. The degree to which I use each tool is constantly shfiting, from one day to the next, from one week to the next. I may meditate more one day than the next; I may do mostly yoga one week and mostly meditation the other week.

The key here is not exactly what you do but that you do something at all and how you do it—your intention. Finding what works for yourself is a process, as it is for anything. What worked for me may not work for you. Some things that I tried were not that effective for me—I also tried neurofeedback, which didn’t work as well for me. Acupuncture did help me, but it would sometimes put me in extreme fatigue for 2 or 3 days and then I wasn’t able to even attend meetings for my job, which means that it just wasn’t feasible for me to do acupuncture despite how it could help sometimes. I offer my experience as something that I hope others could find inspiration from or ideas about things to try for themselves to heal—without saying what anyone should do or what will work, for I don’t know as everyone’s mind and body are different. I only hope that some of my experience can provide some idea of something to try for yourself, or at least some sense of hope that you can get better—and that you are not alone, that others have had difficult experiences following trauma as well.

Posted: 05-03-2023