02 Apr Please, Don’t Panic!
Not everyone knows this but I have suffered from two panic attacks in my life. At least there are two that stand out in my memory both for what it was like going through them and what I learned from the first that helped with the second.
I have always been a musician. I have degrees in music and at one time in my life, was a fairly regularly performing singer. Both of my panic attacks happened while I was singing. The first was in the early 80s when I was the guest soloist at a church service. This was a seemingly low pressure, small crowd, guitar and voice kind of gig that I had done thousands of times before but just as I finished my guitar intro, something happened. I could not catch my breath. I broke out in a sweat. I actually lost control of my mouth and lips as I felt them start to quiver uncontrollably. For the first time in my musical career, I could not finish the song. It was horrifying.
Fast forward more than a decade and many successful solos in between. This time the stakes were a lot higher. I was actually soloing with the local philharmonic. I was the bass soloist for the “Requiem” by Mozart; full orchestra, three other soloists, huge chorus, and nearly a thousand paying audience members. From the time the piece begins until the bass sings is a little while but just a few bars into the first movement, I felt that feeling that I had not felt since that day at the little church years before. I began to sweat and could not catch my breath. I felt the physical symptoms begin and the more I became afraid, the worse they got. I was terrified!
There was a difference. After my first panic attack, I started to study about them; what caused them and more importantly, how to manage them. Not only did I study, but I also practiced some management skills. I worked on my breathing exercises and I worked on a relaxing mental projection exercise that takes me to a place in my head of calm and comfort.
Though I was terrified, I knew what to try and thankfully, I had time before I had to stand and deliver. So, though no one knew it, I did leave the Singletary Center stage in the middle of the Mozart “Requiem”. My body stayed but my mind went to a spot in the Smoky Mountains that is a power spot for me. I was able to because I had PRACTICED going there so many times that I was able to even in the heat of oncoming panic,
So I got through it. It was not my best job but I sang every note and frankly, the big accomplishment was that I did not run physically from the stage! Even more importantly, since that time I have not had a full blown panic attack. I still feel it lurking around back there sometimes but now I do not feel so afraid because I continue to practice the skills that help. The knowledge that I am not helpless makes all the difference.
If you suffer from panic, you are clearly not alone. Second, there really are things that can help. Do some research or talk to someone who knows. But most importantly, practice your self-soothing and calming exercises even when you don’t need them so that when you do need them, they will be there for you.