Getting Some Perspective

Anxiety is not logical. I know this. Nor does it respond to the application of logic (for me, anyway.) Things most anxiety sufferers hate hearing are:

You’ve got nothing to worry about!

Your life is good, you shouldn’t stress out so much!

That’s because panic and anxiety aren’t the product of realistic, logical fears and worries.   That’s not to say it can’t be triggered by real situations, but anxiety and panic disorders don’t require it.

That being said, I had a harsh bucket of perspective thrown on me at work earlier this year. It didn’t help my anxious state (again, it doesn’t respond to that kind of thing) but it did give me some perspective to allow me to be grateful for my life. *note: this post could be triggering for some people because it discusses the aftermath of domestic violence and a description of a distressing panic episode.

As some of you know I am a nurse & I work on a trauma unit. That means I care for patients following a variety of traumatic accidents… falls, car wrecks, fights, work accidents, stabbings, shootings, and a whole host of other situations leaving people with a lot of pain and injuries.

I want to share the story of a patient we had on our unit awhile ago (details masked to protect privacy, obviously.) That particular week I was having a rough time with my anxiety (I go through cycles). This included feeling that hum of anxiousness at work. Not full panic attacks, but that static of belly flutters and racing heart that pops up periodically through my day. It’s like a lingering threat of panic.

I’ve worked on my unit for multiple years and because of that newer nurses come to me for help when they are concerned about their patients. This night I had a relatively new nurse ask for my help because she couldn’t figure out how to help her patient. And, it was a tough situation. The patient was medically stable, the problem appeared to be emotional… which sadly doctors don’t consider to be as much of a concern.

This patient had been shot in the head by her significant other about a week before. As if this wasn’t traumatic enough, the injuries had caused her to become completely deaf. The only way to communicate was by writing messages to her. Considering the situation, her injuries were not nearly as bad as they could have been. The injuries were not life-threatening, her appearance was not damaged and her cognitive functioning was intact. That is quite amazing. However, the complete loss of her hearing is horrific in many ways. Plus, there is the trauma of being so grievously injured by someone she was in a relationship with.

When the other nurse asked for my help it was because the patient appeared to be panicking. She was agitated, throwing anything she could reach (not at anyone – just throwing them around the room), unable to stay still, crying, shaking her head with her hands pressed against her ears… and the worst part was she kept her eyes clamped shut. She wouldn’t open her eyes to see us or see messages we would write to her, trying to understand what was wrong or what she needed. We would put a hand on her arm and she would shake it away or vocalize loudly (like a loud cry or moan). Nothing we could do would comfort her. It didn’t seem to be pain. It seemed to be panic. She kept saying “tell them to knock me out”… it was awful.

I can’t imagine being locked inside your own mind, unable to hear anything but your own thoughts while panicking. The fears she must have been facing, the chaos happening in her mind… and the inability to take comfort from anything in her environment.

I’m sad to say that her immense distress and panic, almost triggered my own. I had to extract myself for a few minutes to calm my own internal buzz… but I also contacted the doctor to request medication to help calm her. I am a big advocate for patients experiencing anxiety in the hospital. It is just as important to control as pain is, in my opinion. So despite my own anxiety reaction, I continued to help in the way I could. And eventually we were able to help her become more calm. But, it was awful. Our hearts just went out to her.

Being a nurse, you want to help and it’s awful when you see such pain but don’t know how to take it away. I’ve had patients experiencing panic attacks before and I’ve done my best to talk them through it, guide them through some breathing exercises and comfort them by explaining it’s understandable and ok. But, what do you do when you can’t communicate in any way to the person panicking?

After finishing work that day I kept thinking of her and hoping for comfort to come to her as she heals physically and emotionally.

Even though it’s not logical, I couldn’t help but to think I didn’t have the “right” to be anxious. This woman had every right to be anxious. Everything in her life was upside down, with no easy resolution (I don’t know the rest of her story, but even if she has every resource available to her – her entire life has been changed). She had a new disability, she had injuries that needed to heal, she had a relationship that came to a horrific end (at least I assume).

My life is pretty good. Sure, there are stressors and things that could be better, but over-all I don’t have much to complain about. I have a good job, a good marriage, wonderful pets, friends I can depend on…. and yet I deal with awful anxiety and terrible cycles of panic attacks. WTF?

But, I have to give myself a break. Panic and anxiety aren’t logical. What I can do is remember what wonderful things I have in my life and be grateful for those things. And I’m going to send out a little wish for that patient to have the comfort and support she needs as she builds her new life.

-Miranda

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