My First Real Panic Attack at Age 61

panic stress (2)

I needed to read Jana Greene’s post about grace and weakness.

I don’t like to feel weak. I’ve spent all these years trying to be strong and building my skills. So, why, at age 61, with all my training and experience, did i have my first real live panic attack?

I’ve heard plenty of people talk about panic attacks and how bad they can be. I’ve secretly wondered, Do people really need to go to the emergency room? Does it really feel like a heart attack? Are you really being attacked? Can’t we call it something else, something less invasive? Can’t you just take some deep breaths and calm down?

Now I know. Now, I’m humbled.

If it hadn’t been for my years of meditation and breathing practice and my supportive, former EMT husband watching me closely, I might have gone to the emergency room. My chest hurt worse than ever before, and it was hard to breathe. Years ago, I’d gone to the urgent care place with chest pain shortly after my first husband left. It turned out to be stress and acid reflux, but I don’t remember that being as intense as the pain I felt during my first real panic attack couple months ago.

Chest pain is nothing to guess about. When in doubt, get medical attention.

The first good news is, that I know what triggered it. I felt challenged, then I felt cornered and I was hungry.  Since I’m hypoglycemic, I can get shaky and irritable when I’m hungry. It’s best not to challenge me when I’m hungry. Fortunately, I can take steps to minimize exposure to these triggers. I can maintain my boundaries and use the “broken record technique” by simply repeating, “this is not a good time to talk about this.” If I’m able, I’ll offer an alternative time, but simply repeating my boundary is enough.

I’ve been trying not to feel embarrassed about feeling weak, and leaning more toward feeling humbled and gifted – the other good news – explained in Jana’s post . I’m reminded that I’m never going to have it all together, because I’m human. Some weakness will always pop up to humble me and lead me to God’s grace.


Ending Toxic Relationships

Emotional Abuse

Sunday, I wrote about taking a break from the mostly bad news. Watching or listening to too much bad news can be toxic. So can some relationships.

You can ask for what you need to make the relationships better, and sometimes healing happens. But sometimes you just have just have to save yourself.  If you’re lucky, you are in a position to tell the other person or people to leave, but sometimes, its not that easy.

It should have been easy for me all those years ago; I wasn’t even living with the guy! But the grief of divorce left my self esteem so low, I created my own barriers of denial. The insane belief that I could make the sick rebound relationship work and the subconscious belief that I had to make it work, kept me stuck. I’m still amazed that I stayed in it for that long miserable year experiencing all five of the signs above. Afterward, it was like waking up from a bad dream. At least I learned to have more compassion for people who stay in toxic relationships.

Here are some things I learned that might help some one end a toxic or abusive relationship, whether with a partner, a relative or a once upon a time friend.

1. Make a list of pros and cons. What are some good things about the relationship? What does it provide for you? Does it make your stronger or wiser? What are the bad things? Does the stress of the relationship make you physically sick, does it make it hard for you to focus on your responsibilities? What percentage of the time are you happy and comfortable? Do you feel safe emotionally and physically?

2. Build Your Self Esteem. What are your strengths? What are you good at? What was your best subject in school? What have others complimented you on? What does God love about you? What activities do you enjoy? Take time for those things that feed your soul.  And know this:

You are a creation of God and deserve to be treated with respect.

3. Build your support network. If you don’t feel safe, contact domestic violence agency for counseling, services and resources. Find people who support your goals and nurture your spirit. Look for a church or support group that’s a good fit for you. Or strengthen your bonds with an existing faith community and supportive family members and friends.

4. Plan your exit strategy. You may or may not want to tell the person you are ending the relationship, but if you feel safe doing so, be clear about your needs and your boundaries. Clarifying boundaries may be more important for you than anyone else, so put your boundaries on paper to make them accessible to you. Do you want zero contact? Do you want to meet only in public places? If it’s a close relative, can you tolerate 5 minutes of respectful conversation by phone? In many cases continued contact with a toxic person is not healthy or realistic, so a clean break may be best. If you feel any danger, consult with domestic violence experts and create a safety plan. An example of a personalized safety plan can be found here: )

5. Free yourself when you are ready. Trust your intuition. Take the steps slowly or quickly depending on what feels right to you.  Maintain your boundaries and distance. Maintain and strengthen your support network. Enjoy your  life and be safe!

Bird taking off

Do you have a story about leaving a toxic relationship? What gave you the courage to leave?


Next week, we’ll take a look at ways to keep your sanity when you find yourself temporarily stuck with a toxic person or situation.