“Panic attack – sudden onset of intense apprehension, fear, or terror that occurs without apparent cause. A panic attack is diagnosed based on the occurrence of at least four physical (somatic) or psychological symptoms. Physical symptoms may include shortness of breath, palpitations or accelerated heart rate, chest pain or discomfort, choking, dizziness or faintness, trembling or shaking, sweating, nausea, abdominal distress, numbness or tingling, and hot flashes or chills. Psychological symptoms may consist of a smothering sensation, a feeling of unreality, a fear of dying, and a fear of “going crazy” or losing control. The intensity of panic attacks is variable, ranging from severe to relatively mild, and most attacks last about 10–15 minutes. There are three different types of panic attacks, known as situationally bound (expected to occur in specific situations), situationally predisposed (may or may not occur in specific situations), and unexpected. Thus, a panic attack does not necessarily precede or follow a stressful situation.” https://www.britannica.com/science/panic-attack
Yesterday was beautiful day here in Northern Ireland and I was determined not to waste it. After an early morning session at the gym followed by my Kriya (breathing exercises) I headed down the coast, had a quick coffee with my Mum before heading off to the beach for a stroll and then driving down to Donaghadee to sit on the harbour wall and watch the guys fishing. I checked out a few of the local bars on the off chance that a couple of friends might be out and about. No beer was going to be involved as I was driving. No joy.
As I headed back to the car I felt the trembles start deep down and I knew what was coming next. Normally, believe it or not, driving calms me but as I hit Hollywood I was in full blown panic/anxiety mode with that old insatiable friend of seeking oblivion. I wanted to consume as much drugs and alcohol as possible and nearly stopped at the nearest bar to quench the beast that often haunts me. I fought it with all the tools that I had at my disposal and managed to get home safely.
It had not subsided and the easiest cure would have been to nip down to the off licence for a few beers. Again, I fought it. I stripped off down to my shorts and headed to my lovely secluded back garden with a blanket, pillow, phone and headphones. I spent a whole hour and half listening to meditations (two in a row) and Mantra’s/Chants via my Sattva App – https://www.sattva.life/apps
This horrible feeling of seeking oblivion left me during one of the chants and I felt my heart slow down and my breathing got back to normal. All I could think of at the time was Martin Sheen in ‘Apocalypse Now’ when he got smashed in the hotel room, pouring whiskey down his neck and not knowing where he was. I know that feeling all too well and I’m determined never to cross that line again.
During my six years in prison, to combat this, I took Beta Blockers. They worked but left me in a permanent sort of fugue. In my efforts for better health over the past few years and to stop taking tablets I’ve knocked the Beta Blockers on the head and relied solely on the natural remedy of breathing. It’s not easy but it does work and doesn’t have any side effects.
I’ve tried to rationalise imprisonment and its affect on those of us who have experienced it. I’m still at a loss but what I do know is that it has nearly killed me on several occasions during and after. The stripping of identity where one becomes a ‘non person’, the pettiness and psychological warfare of the institution fuelled at every juncture by institutional need only exasperates and exposes any weakness a body may have.
My early blogs describe the trauma of release and coping with life after prison and I vividly recall the fear of the real world. As I type this now, I realise that after three years it has not left me. The thing is, I’m not alone. I’ve been, hesitantly, compiling a paper for a journal whereby I combine the blogs of previous prisoners (with my own) of life after prison and a common thread is already starting appear. Panic/anxiety attacks and depression feature heavily.
I’m also compiling a presentation about Prison SMART with the view to delivering it to universities and government. http://www.prisonsmart.eu/ Who will listen? I’ve listened to so much crap over the years it leaves me breathless. Is this a trigger for my own anxiety? I don’t know and to be honest I’ve given up trying to figure out what the causes are. I was listening to Professor David Wilson interview Noel ‘Razor’ Smith last night and it dawned on me that there is no one answer in mainstream prison. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07npxwx
This might be obvious to most academics in criminology and psychology out there. The constant is prison. Prison is the one true constant that has surpassed history via global and industrial change, survived in society via endless shift in government and sits as the bedrock for nearly all human failings of an alleged civilised society. Why on earth do we believe this? What can we do to change it? The answer for me is in each and every one of us. Learning how to get rid of the desire for revenge and cause as much hurt to someone who harms us is top of the list. I know a lot of people might think it’s all airy fairy and that perhaps it’s ‘not my problem’. I’ve listened and read enough for now and I’m going to do my very best to make a difference. Is this out of self interest and getting my fifteen minutes of fame?
The answer is no. I simply do not want anyone to feel how I felt yesterday because they did something wrong, that they feel so bad that they go back to their old ways or at worse decide to get rid of the pain for once and all. I’ve got to go now as my daily exercise beckons and I’ve got a bit of running around to do with my Dad. So, even though I don’t have the answers I’ll do my best to create some and leave you with a little thought.
“If people get sick, we take them to the hospital and give them the right medicine to get better. If people’s behaviour is sick, we bring them to the prison, but we forget the medicines.” – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar