What does a panic attack feel like? And how does it feel to be the spouse watching helplessly? In today’s Not Crazy podcast, Gabe and Lisa discuss the old days when Gabe struggled with regular panic attacks — many of them in public. How did they handle these moments? Would they have done anything differently? Click the player below to listen!
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Computer Generated Transcript for “Anxiety” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Lisa: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a psych central podcast hosted by my ex-husband, who has bipolar disorder. Together, we created the mental health podcast for people who hate mental health podcasts.
Gabe: Hey, everyone, you’re listening to the Not Crazy podcast. I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and I’m here with my co-host, Lisa.
Lisa: Hi, I’m Lisa.
Gabe: Once again, you say this every single week. I just told everybody you were Lisa. You can’t say hi, I’m Lisa.
Lisa: Ok, look, I give up. I don’t know. I need you all to help me out. Can someone in the audience send me something better to say? OK, email me at show@PsychCentral.com. And tell me what I should be saying.
Gabe: Why don’t I just hire them if they know what to say?
Lisa: Oh, harsh, man, harsh.
Gabe: Why am I going to hire you? I just. I’m going to get a new co-host.
Lisa: Yeah, right.
Gabe: You’ll be applying at show@PsychCentral.com.
Lisa: Send your resume.
Gabe: Since you already know what to say. I don’t need Lisa.
Lisa: I just don’t have that part. I’ve got the rest. Sort of.
Gabe: Lisa, I just I bring this up because, I know I’m not your boss, but if my boss, my partner discussed firing me, I’d have an immediate panic or anxiety attack. That the anxiety would be so high it would just like I don’t even know. And yet you’re just sitting there like, who cares?
Lisa: Well, I mean, it’s not that big of a deal, you know?
Gabe: All right.
Lisa: I mean, it won’t kill you.
Gabe: What? That’s not the only factor that we should consider.
Lisa: But it should be.
Gabe: The world is not. But, it’s not because. But you are very Zen. And of course, the difference is, I have panic and anxiety disorder. And you do not. What is it like for you? What’s it like for you to be told that you’re going to be fired and just not care? Because I don’t know what that’s like. I have
Gabe: I am already e-mailing every boss and customer I’ve ever had, asking them not to fire me. And it didn’t happen.
Gabe: It didn’t even happen.
Lisa: Well, I guess you’ve told me in the past. I just didn’t care enough about things. I think I just don’t care about things.
Gabe: You’re not worried that I’m going to fire you. And you also think that, well, if I get fired, I’ll find something else to do. You’re not having a panic attack or anxiety about it. This is your personality. You’re a very calm and chill person. You just chill, you’re uber chill.
Lisa: When have you ever thought that? When have you ever thought that I was chill? You don’t think that.
Gabe: In regards to this specific thing,
Lisa: In terms of losing a job? Yes.
Gabe: You are chill.
Lisa: Yes, yes, absolutely. Yeah, because it doesn’t matter.
Gabe: Whenever customers threaten you, whenever bosses threaten you, whenever there’s a rumor that you might be downsized, you’re just very laid back.
Lisa: Yeah, I don’t care about that.
Gabe: I start crying immediately.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. You care about that a lot. Yeah.
Gabe: I do, and I think well, what did I do wrong? How did I? It’s very time consuming to constantly worry that I’m screwing up. And the panic attacks are. Well, they’re horrific.
Gabe: They’re obviously horrific. I mean, I, my heart starts to race. My vision gets blurry. I sweat through everything. It’s. I do a lot to avoid panic attacks by avoiding situations.
Gabe: You don’t have to do any of that. You can, you would make a good lawyer in a way that I would not. I’m a much better arguer. But you’re unflappable.
Lisa: Oh, that’s so nice of you to say. To be fair, there are some situations I avoid because I don’t like them.
Gabe: But we’re talking about panic and anxiety. Everybody avoids situations they don’t like, Lisa.
Lisa: I’ve actually wondered about this because it’s not so much that I don’t have panic or anxiety as it is that I don’t care about most things. And the example I always give, you’ll remember years ago when we were married, there was one month when we were having trouble paying our mortgage. And you were really freaked out. And I said, yeah, this isn’t that important. I said, we don’t need to worry about this. I don’t know why you’re so upset. This isn’t the end of the world. It isn’t going to kill us. And you said, oh, so what? So as long as we still have our health, we just don’t have to worry about anything? And I understood that you were trying to make some sort of sarcastic point, but yeah. Yeah.
Gabe: I wasn’t making a sarcastic point at all.
Lisa: Yes, exactly. As long as you have your health, you do not have to worry about anything.
Gabe: But most people don’t go from perfectly healthy to unhealthy. There are steps. And one of the steps that puts you in harm’s way is not having a safe place to live.
Lisa: I know you told me all that at the time.
Gabe: I put a lot of value on being able to pay my bills because I don’t want to be evicted. I don’t want to be homeless.
Lisa: I didn’t want any of those things either. I just said we weren’t going to die from it. We could make it to the other side. It wasn’t the end of the world as long as we were still alive. It didn’t matter.
Gabe: You know, Lisa, this reminds me of there’s a very old you know, it’s or what’s a, what’s a word for, like, wisdom?
Gabe: No, not adage.
Gabe: Yep, proverb.
Lisa: Proverb, okay.
Gabe: There’s this old proverb that says that the reason a bird can sleep while resting on a branch is not because he has faith in the branch. It’s because he has faith in his wings. And I like that you brought up that story because it really it shows
Lisa: That’s sweet.
Gabe: I have no faith in my wings. You have complete faith in your wings. And the way that I
Gabe: Manage my anxiety is to have complete faith in the branch. So what I was trying to explain to you is, look, our branch is in danger. And you were like, hey, if the branch breaks, we’ll just fly to another branch. Chill.
Lisa: This is a great proverb.
Gabe: The question that I’m getting at is, why are you this way? Look, I’m not trying to be a jerk by saying this, but I feel that I have way more survival skills than you. Like on a.
Lisa: You do not.
Gabe: But I do. Come on. Admit it.
Gabe: On a factual basis. Honestly, if you were trapped in another country and you needed somebody to get you out, who would you call?
Lisa: But that doesn’t show that you have more survival skills than me. If you were trapped in another country, who would you call?
Gabe: I would call you, but
Gabe: I wouldn’t get trapped in another country because I have skills that would make sure that I never got trapped in. How about this?
Lisa: If you needed something repaired in your house, who would you call?
Gabe: Ok, fine, I understand what you’re saying. Good point. I asked it wrong. Who is more likely to piss off the locals and get stranded in another country and then not be able to get out and need to call somebody?
Lisa: I feel like that’s a trick question because you never go anywhere.
Gabe: It’s not a trick question. Who is more likely to get stuck in a situation that they need the other one to get them out of?
Lisa: All right.
Gabe: You piss off everybody.
Gabe: You are constantly calling me and saying, I don’t know what to do. Bail me out. What have I ever.
Lisa: Well, I want social advice.
Gabe: That’s what I’m talking about. Socially, you are incredibly awkward, but strangely, you have no anxiety about it whatsoever. How? What is that like? What is that like to have so much unearned faith in your ability to manage? Whereas I have earned skills. You know that I am very good at public relations, marketing, with people, networking, social skills. You know how good I am at it. There is a reason that I am a public speaker, writer and a successful podcast host. And yet I am positive and I have so much anxiety that I’m going to fail at any moment. You, on the other hand, made my parents angry over a misunderstanding. Fifteen years ago.
Lisa: Oh, really? Really? That’s where you’re gonna go with this? Really? You want to talk about what you did to my parents? Really?
Gabe: Yes, I bought them a very expensive trip.
Lisa: Ok. Not that one, the other one.
Gabe: Cheated on their daughter?
Lisa: Oh, anyway. All right. What are you saying?
Gabe: I’m not sure where you’re going with this, but.
Lisa: I yeah. Anyway.
Gabe: I am better socially, yet I am anxious about it.
Lisa: You are better socially.
Gabe: You acknowledge that you are worse socially, yet you are not anxious about it. That’s the whole takeaway. I don’t know why you’re fighting me on this. You do not have anxiety.
Lisa: Some of that is protective, if you’re bad at something, you can’t be anxious about it or you’ll die. I can’t possibly be anxious about my behavior socially because then I won’t be able to function at all.
Gabe: Well. But listen to what you said. You just said that it’s protective. The reason that you don’t have anxiety is to protect yourself. Well, the reason that I don’t have cancer is to protect myself. You can’t control what health problems you get. You’re literally
Lisa: Well, that’s fair.
Gabe: Saying that you are keeping anxiety at bay. Well, just do that with everything. I am keeping COVID-19 at bay. Otherwise, I will have COVID-19. I mean, just you can’t not. You can’t choose which mental health issues to have.
Lisa: That’s true.
Gabe: What is it, mind over matter, Lisa? Ooh, are you doing yoga? Are you doing yoga? Wait, you went for a walk in the woods, because that’s what an antidepressant is. What are you doing here?
Lisa: Just cheer up.
Gabe: Yeah, you’re literally saying I don’t have anxiety because it’s a protective thing. Wow. Why didn’t I think of that? You just cured me.
Lisa: What I am saying is that you are much better socially than I am. Like I call you a lot because you always know what to write in the e-mail to apologize and stuff. But in terms. You’re super good at that.
Gabe: I am.
Lisa: But when it comes to.
Gabe: I am super good at apologizing for Lisa.
Lisa: You are. You are. He writes the best e-mails for this purpose. I put them in my own words. Anyway.
Gabe: I just, I’m thinking of all the people listening to this that have got an apology e-mail from you. They’re going to be like, damn it. She didn’t mean it.
Lisa: I meant it. I just didn’t say it right. That’s why Gabe said it.
Lisa: You do that all the time. You’re great at that.
Lisa: Anywho. The point is, when it comes to life skills, you don’t know how to do anything. You’re terrible at cleaning. You can’t repair anything. Remember the whole thing about how I have a drill? You don’t have a drill. Anytime something breaks in your house, you call me to fix it.
Gabe: Yeah, that means I know how to fix it. I call you.
Lisa: Really? Do you remember that time that you literally needed to hang something up and you called me to do it?
Gabe: Do you remember that time?
Lisa: It was the saddest thing anyone had ever seen.
Gabe: That you needed to turn on your computer? And you called me to do it?
Lisa: Well, yeah, you’re good at computer things.
Gabe: So that’s my point, though.
Lisa: You’re my computer person. There’s no reason for me to learn these skills when you already have them.
Gabe: Yeah. There’s no reason for me.
Lisa: Division of labor.
Gabe: To learn how to hang a picture when this is a skill that you already have. We trade this.
Lisa: Oh, that’s not bad logic, actually.
Gabe: The point that I’m making here is I know we’ve gotten
Lisa: You have one?
Gabe: A little far afield. I do have one. It’s that you acknowledge that you are good at things. I don’t acknowledge that I’m good at things, even the things that I know that I’m good at, I have anxiety about.
Lisa: That’s true.
Gabe: And even when I do acknowledge that I’m good at something. It’s the logic part of my brain that’s like, Gabe, you know you’re good at this. But at the same time, I don’t sleep on that branch because it’s gonna break. And it’s, I’m in immediate danger all of the time. And you don’t feel that way.
Lisa: Sometimes, to be fair, it works to tell you that, like, if you’re nervous about something and I say, look, you’re really good at this, you’re going to do a great job, sometimes it works. Not always, but sometimes.
Gabe: The logical part of my brain and one of my coping mechanisms is to apply that logic. Gabe, will this kill you? Gabe, is it true? Gabe, how do people feel about it? And I ask, you know, my friends and family a lot. Are you mad at me? Say, Lisa, are you mad at me? And you’re like, no. And I say to my wife, you know, wife, are you mad at me? And she’ll say, Yes. And I’ll say, OK, why? And she’ll say, Because of this. And I’m like, Oh, my anxiety said that you were mad at me for this other thing. So that’s good to know. And talking it out does help me. This is a coping skill that I have learned and honed over, frankly, over the last decade. But panic attacks. They come up so fast that logic doesn’t work. The other day we were watching a television show and in the television show, in the final scene, a whole bunch of high school kids got in what can only be described as a karate battle.
Lisa: Guess which show?
Gabe: I do like the show. It’s a really, really good show. But all of these teenagers, and they are teenagers, all of these teenagers are beating on each other. Now they’re using karate skills. And it’s this dojo versus that dojo. But they’re in high school and the other high school kids are cheering them on. Nobody is making any effort to break this up, including the teachers. And I had an immediate panic attack because I was one of the kids that got beat up in high school while the other students and the teachers did nothing. And I kept trying to say, that’s just a TV show. I kept trying to use logic. But as the fight wore on and on and on, I could not get over the fact that minors, children, were hurting one another and nobody seemed to care. And this all culminated in one of the kids falling off of a balcony or something and landing on the steps. And at the end of the season, I mean, I don’t know what it’s actually going to be because on TV you can fall two stories onto steps and just have a bruise. But in real life, that kid’s paralyzed for the rest of his life because the students and teachers did not care enough to stop this brutal beating that was happening in their school.
Lisa: Yes. And I really thought you would like it. And in retrospect, I should have known.
Gabe: I did like it.
Lisa: That has happened to you before when stuff like that’s been on TV. And I didn’t even think about it. I’m sorry about that. I can tell even now, as you’re telling the story, you’re still upset about it. It’s still bothering you. You can hear it in your voice. Yeah. In retrospect, I should have known that that was gonna get you.
Gabe: Listen, this is this is part of living in the world. You don’t owe me an apology. The show doesn’t owe me an apology. The world doesn’t have to adapt to Gabe. Gabe has to adapt to the world. I suppose you can argue that this is really the benefits of a content warning and trigger warnings and reading the description of shows, because maybe I would have been more prepared for it. But this
Lisa: That’s true.
Gabe: Is it. This is where panic attacks are so horrible. Now, you can also argue, let’s be a little bit fair, I could’ve just turned it off.
Lisa: You could have seen it coming.
Gabe: I could’ve said, you know, this is bullshit. I didn’t see it coming. I just thought it would be quick and it would move the story along. This was an epic battle. This was an epic fight scene that lasted.
Lisa: The choreography was amazing.
Gabe: It was. It really, really was incredible. I just couldn’t get past it.
Lisa: I know.
Gabe: I couldn’t get past the memories of my own life. And that’s where that particular panic attack came from. And it was really, really bad. Lisa was nice. She brought me all kinds of water and she gave me a hug and she told me that I would be okay. And these are the panic attacks that, like you said, you can see coming. But I’ve had the same panic attacks with no, just and I still don’t know where they came from. But, Lisa, still, you’ve had trauma in your life. You’ve had bad
Gabe: Things happen in your life. You’ve had things that you don’t want to revisit. And when you see depictions of them in popular media, you don’t have a panic attack. Why is that? Why do I
Gabe: When remembering or seeing depictions of my past trauma, just, my heart races. I sweat. I just, I get dizzy. I could not move. I could not move. How come when you see depictions in popular culture or in the media of traumatic events that have happened to you, you don’t seem to care? You just watch it and you’re like, yeah, something like that happened to me. I’m cool.
Lisa: That is an excellent point, and I’ve never really thought about it. I think a couple of things. One, I think it just happens a lot less often to me. It’s not that I don’t react. It’s that there aren’t as many things that set me off.
Gabe: Well, but do you ever have a panic attack or are you ever watching something and
Gabe: Have a panic attack?
Lisa: Not exactly. It’s not completely true that it doesn’t bother me. There are some things what starts happening on TV and I go, okay, that’s it, I’m done. I just can’t watch it anymore. But it’s not panic. You are right about that. It’s not panic. It’s more just incredible anger or upset-ness. And I think, why am I doing this to myself? Why am I making myself this angry? So I just leave the room. But one, it doesn’t happen very often. And two, it’s not panic. You’re right. It’s more anger. And I’m not having an anger attack for some reason. I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess this is what mental illness is. It kind of happens kind of randomly and you can’t control what you have.
Gabe: Do you ever have like? Obviously, we’ve talked about the panic attack that I had because of that show and there’s a reason. But I also have panic attacks that I, they’re not connected to anything. Do you ever have, like, anger or rage attacks that aren’t connected to anything?
Gabe: Or are they always connected to something?
Lisa: They’re always connected to something. Always. I’m never just sitting around and suddenly like, oh, my God, I’m so angry. No, that never happens.
Gabe: Panic attacks are really insidious for me because more often than not, they come out of nowhere. I use this particular example because, one, it’s recent in my memory and two, it had the added bonus of you being there.
Lisa: Well, that hasn’t happened lately. You don’t have near as much as you did when we were together. You know, I used to see you do this a lot more. It had been so long since I’d seen you have a full scale panic attack, I had almost forgotten how horrible it is and how terrible you look. I felt kind of bad about that.
Gabe: I know how I feel about having a panic attack. What’s it like for you? You’re just minding your own business and suddenly your friend turns into a giant ball of mumbling word salad water.
Lisa: It’s difficult to watch. You look horrible and like I said, I’d forgotten how bad you look. You get that real waxy, cast to your skin and you start to look real gray. And we’ve been many places where this has happened and people have wanted to call 911 or something for you. And I assume as you get older, they’re thinking that you’re having a heart attack. And yeah, yeah, I can see why they think that. You look terrible. You look like something really horrible is happening and you can’t hide it.
Gabe: What do you do about it? I don’t remember what you do because I’m focused on me, like you said, if I look horrible, imagine how I feel. So I have no idea what you do during this time. I knew you brought me water. I’d like to think maybe you did more than that. You brought me water and gave me a hug during the worst panic attack you’ve ever had. That’s not true. Or is it?
Lisa: This was not the worst panic attack you’ve ever had, but it was a bad one.
Gabe: Ok, but you’re avoiding the question of what did you do? Is the answer you just kept watching the show and ignored me.
Lisa: Not once I figured out what was happening. It’s, there’s not a lot that you can do. And trust me, if there was, I would have figured it out by now. You become very. I don’t know, I guess inward? Like you draw into yourself. And I always feel like there’s more that you could be doing or more that we could be doing together. And it’s impossible to make you do anything. Like, I always feel like, oh, my God, let’s just leave the situation. You know, we’re at a sporting event. We’re out. Let’s just go home. Why are we standing here? And you will not do it. It’s almost impossible to get you to move. You just stay in the exact same spot, no matter how difficult or poor of a decision that spot is. And you can’t get you to do anything. And obviously, things like calm down, it’s OK. It’ll be alright, that doesn’t work.
Gabe: Well, hang on a sec. OK. So. Yes. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever tell anybody to calm down, ever. It’s the literal equivalent of dumping gas on a fire to make the fire go down. But putting that aside, you don’t seem to have a great list of what to do because. Well, frankly, there’s
Lisa: There’s not a lot to do.
Gabe: Yeah. There’s just not a great list to do.
Gabe: What are some things not to do? What is some advice that you have for people like, hey, if your friend or loved one is having a panic attack, don’t do the following things because that’s stupid?
Lisa: Don’t yell. Don’t. They don’t like that.
Gabe: Geez, I don’t know why our marriage failed. Don’t yell at the sick guy. It’s sad that you needed to say that. But OK,
Gabe: Don’t yell at your sick loved one. Got it.
Lisa: Ok, but look at it from my perspective. And I know that this sounds terrible or this sounds selfish, but look at it from my perspective. OK, I want to go to the play or go to the hockey game or go to the party or do whatever it is that I want to do that we have agreed to do. That we have been planning to do. And now you have a panic attack. And that means I can’t do the fun thing that I’ve been looking forward to. And I understand that you can’t control it, but you feel like, I feel like you have more control over this than you would if you had cancer or if you suddenly became nauseous or something like that. Right? So I feel like, oh, my God. Control this better. Push through it. We’ve been looking forward to this. We paid money for this. And you’re messing with my fun here. OK, so it’s hard to get over that. It’s hard to accept. It’s hard to accept. I’m upset for myself as well. And then.
Gabe: I’ve never really thought about it from your point of view, and you’re right. If you and I are out at an event and I have a panic attack that ruins it for you, it ruins the events
Gabe: And. But you. This is. How come I don’t.
Lisa: Even if it’s my event, like what if we went to something for me? You know, I’ve been looking forward to this play that you didn’t really want to go to, but I got the tickets and I’ve had them for six months. Or, of course, we’re visiting my family. We’re at a family wedding or a family gathering. And now you’re a wreck. Or my personal favorite, we’re visiting your family. And so that just puts this incredible burden on me. Because this is something you’re supposed to be doing. And let’s say there’s some responsibility that you have when the panic attack comes on, like you’re supposed be taking care of a kid and you just check out. And now it’s my problem. It seems so incredibly unfair and it’s a lot of extra work for me.
Gabe: It’s always interesting to hear the other side. Right. There nothing that I can say to that. I feel terrible. And that’s how come. That’s
Lisa: I know.
Gabe: How come you said you, Gabe, you won’t leave for nothing. You won’t move for nothing. Yeah. I don’t want to move because if we leave the event, then you won’t get to see it anymore. So I am trying to get through it. I think this is a core misunderstanding and why
Gabe: I don’t want to move. There’s also I can’t. I can’t move.
Lisa: Ok. That’s not bad logic. I hadn’t considered that might be one of your reasons. But, don’t do that. You’re not helping. You know, that is not helping. It is better to get out.
Gabe: It may be.
Lisa: But again, you won’t. Remember that time you had a panic attack in the bathroom at a Wendy’s? OK. And I could not get you out of there for nothing. And that was not ideal. You just can’t stay in the bathroom at a Wendy’s having a panic attack for a half an hour. Yeah.
Gabe: This is where it really sucks to have mental illness, because listen to what you said, it is not ideal for you to stay in a bathroom for a half hour. You can’t do it and you can hear it in your voice. You’re annoyed that I tried to camp out
Lisa: I know.
Gabe: In a Wendy’s. Remember that time that you refused to leave an international flight, airplane bathroom in violation of TSA law because they were trying to land because you were so airsick. You still, to this day, even though you are violating federal law by trying to stay in that bathroom, you still feel like you were right because you were sick.
Lisa: Ok. I could not stop vomiting.
Gabe: I could not stop the panic attack.
Lisa: That’s all I’m saying. I don’t know what that woman wanted. What did she want me to do? I could not stop vomiting.
Gabe: I could not stop the panic attack.
Lisa: I know, I know.
Gabe: Look, obviously I know it’s got to be horrible to be sick and just want to be not in an airplane. And you felt safe in the bathroom. Just like I felt safe in the bathroom. Now, I was not violating federal law and nobody was trying to land a plane. But you still felt like I should have moved faster and gotten out of the bathroom. Now, you though, you look at it completely different because I don’t know, maybe you had a physical illness?
Lisa: I know.
Gabe: Like that. Like, is that maybe?
Lisa: Yeah, I know,
Gabe: You’re pushing? Hmmm?
Lisa: Again, I understand, and I do know that intellectually, but in the moment. And it’s hard to get this out of your mind. You feel like you should be able to control it more. You feel like if you tried harder, you, Gabe, tried harder, you would be able to get more control over the situation and fix it or at least make it better. And I know. I know that’s not completely reasonable. This obviously is one reason why we’re divorced. But I just can’t get over that feeling. I can’t get over that thought, especially in the midst of it that, oh, come on, pull it together or at least pull it together more. Maybe you can’t get over it completely, but you could certainly stand up and walk out.
Gabe: Remember at the start of the show when I said, which one of us is more likely to be trapped in a foreign country by creating an international incident?
Gabe: And you have just said that you violated federal law in another country and refused to leave a bathroom while also chastising me for not leaving a Wendy’s bathroom, I might add. Now, can
Gabe: Can maybe people understand that of the two of us, you are more likely to be arrested on foreign soil?
Lisa: If I could have stopped vomiting, I would have left the bathroom. It’s not like I wanted to stay there.
Gabe: If I could have stopped my heart from racing, stopped from sweating. Been able to stand up on my own feet, which were wobbly, end of the vertigo, and been able to focus, see and think straight, I would have left the Wendy’s bathroom, though. The reality is, is listen, we’re both right and we’re both wrong. That is why there’s no good solution here. We’re both sick. I would like to point out that society in general is probably going to agree with you more. Well, what could the woman do, she was vomiting?
Lisa: I know.
Gabe: And not agree with me. And this is, this is why the world is just, well, frankly, tough for people with mental illness. And I know. I know that I wrecked plans for you because I know that if you were vomiting and we had to leave a hockey game or a Rolling Stones concert or something that I spent a lot of money on and was looking forward to, I would be mad or upset or at the very least annoyed. And you only ever got sick once. I got sick all the time. Really, the question is, and this is serious question, why did you keep buying tickets to events? Because I was having these panic attacks in crowds at your events 80% of the time. Why did we keep going? It’s like you were setting me up to fail.
Lisa: Was it that much?
Gabe: It was it was at least 50% of the time.
Lisa: What are you supposed to do? Give up your life? Stop going out?
Lisa: Like that was one of the things people said at the time that people who have panic attacks, at a certain point, you stop doing things not because you’re afraid of the thing. You’re not afraid to go to the Blue Jackets game. You’re afraid that you’ll have a panic attack at the Blue Jackets game. So you start avoiding activities because of the fear of the panic attacks. You’re not afraid of the thing anymore.
Gabe: Blue Jackets is a hockey team for those that don’t knows. There’s like 18,000 people there and tickets are hundreds of dollars. It’s ridiculous. And yeah, I stopped going to a lot of things because I was afraid of.
Lisa: Right. But you weren’t afraid of the thing, you were afraid of the panic attacks. So it becomes the panic attack that is limiting your life. And whare you supposed to do with that? Should you lean into the curve and just start curtailing your life because you’re afraid you’ll have panic attacks? How long is that going to last? Pretty soon, you’re gonna be housebound. I don’t know if that is a good strategy or even something you should want to try, to stay home to avoid panic attacks. Because where’s that going to end?
Gabe: You obviously don’t think that’s a good idea, and I benefited from it because you kept buying tickets. We kept going to plays, we kept going to concerts. We got on airplanes and flew to other cities and went on vacations because you just decided, I’m not letting Gabe’s mental illness and potential panic attacks get in the way. And I had panic attacks on almost every single one. In fact, there’s a funny story. I was invited to a conference for people with mental illness, and I was having so many panic attacks, we’re pretty much stuck in the room. And Lisa called. Well, well, Lisa, you called your friend. And what did she say? That the whole reason you’re there is because he has panic disorder?
Lisa: I called and said, I can’t believe this guy is doing this. He’s mucking up our trip, blah, blah, blah. She goes, you know, the reason you’re on that trip is because he’s mentally ill. So you’re going to be mad at him for being mentally ill on the trip? And I was like, huh? Well, that’s good logic, I guess. But I almost feel sick to my stomach even thinking about that trip, because when you had a panic attack on the airplane and it was so horrifying and I was so afraid for you. And, you know, this was 15 years ago. And so only a few weeks earlier, a man with bipolar disorder had been shot and killed by air marshals because he had a panic attack on a plane and people freaked out. And I almost cried listening to the story because it was exactly like every time it had happened to you where the person was with him, his wife was saying things like, it’s okay, we’re gonna be home soon. It’s all right. You’re all right. And I still all these years later, I still feel sick just thinking about it. It’s horrible to watch. And I was so afraid for you. And I was just so afraid that something like that would happen.
Gabe: This was only a couple of years after September 11, and much like the other gentleman, you know, I’m a big guy. I’m a loud guy. And I’m acting extraordinarily irrationally. And the entire country is on high alert for people who are acting irrationally on airplanes. It reminds me, several years ago I was coming back from a conference and a woman had a panic attack on a plane and she tried to get into the cockpit. She thought that the cockpit door was the bathroom door and she was pounding on it and screaming and pulling on it. And she was very, very fortunate. One, she probably weighed 90 pounds soaking wet. And they came to the back and said, hey, we need to move this woman to the back. Can you sit in the front? And I overheard them say this to the person who is directly behind me. And I said, I work in mental health and I would be happy to sit with her. I’m sorry this happened. It sounds like a mental health issue. And the stewardess said, I don’t know what it is. This has never happened before. But if you will keep tabs on her, this would probably go a lot smoother. And I said, OK. And she sat by the window, me in the middle seat. And two hours later we landed. And of course, she was you know, they had to have an air marshal escort her off of the plane. I don’t know what happened after that, but I do think about this a lot. You know that this woman did try to get into the cockpit of an airplane in flight. What would have happened if she was a large black man? What would have happened if she was a large white guy? What would have happened if she was a man? Apparently?
Lisa: What would have happened if she was you?
Gabe: I don’t know.
Lisa: You’re a big guy. And so when you start acting erratically, it freaks people out. People get nervous. They get upset. And frankly, they get scared. And I worry about that. Not so much now, but I worried about that for you. Quite a lot on that particular flight. It was horrible.
Gabe: I also wonder about that woman. What would happen if I wasn’t on the flight and I don’t mean me because I think I’m.
Lisa: Yeah. You helped.
Gabe: I’m fantastic. It’s because I have specialized training. I’m a certified peer supporter. I have skills in leading a support group, working with people with mental health issues. I myself have a mental illness. I know de-escalation, etc. So I offered to help. And I just chittered at her and we talked. And whenever she would ask questions or try to get up, I would put her focus on something else. And she sat there for the entire trip and did not move. Well, what if she would have sat all alone and the person next to her would have been annoyed by her? Afraid of her? And that would have, you know, ramped up her annoyance? Because you can feel that, you’re so packed in. These are the things that cause more anxiety and more panic. And what if she would’ve started kicking or lashing out? I mean, again, she’s very tiny. And I don’t know that she could have hurt anybody. But I do know that she can be arrested for assault. I don’t know if she got arrested for trying to get into the cockpit. I honestly don’t know. And they would not tell me. And that is probably reasonable. The woman has rights. I don’t know, I hope that she got the help that she needed and she was OK. But these are the things that weigh heavy on my mind. And, Lisa, I just you knew that whole story and you still saw the greater good of getting me on that plane. I don’t know if you just really
Gabe: Wanted to go to San Francisco, but if you would not have done that, I would not travel the country giving speeches all by myself right now.
Lisa: You are much better.
Gabe: I’m not much better. I’m perfect.
Lisa: I cannot emphasize enough the difference between then and now. You used to be completely incapacitated by your panic attacks. I mean, you did have periods where you essentially could not leave the house. And you have made, I don’t want to say recovery, because that’s not quite the right word. But you are much, much better than you ever were back then to the point where when you had a panic attack last week, it took me a while to figure out what it was. It had been so long since I’d seen one. There’s just a huge difference in your stability now.
Gabe: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Lisa: And we’re back talking about panic attacks.
Gabe: I am extraordinarily thankful that you kept buying tickets. I’m extraordinarily thankful that you supported me in a partnership. You didn’t yell at me and tell me to calm down. You didn’t treat me poorly. You did get annoyed because you’re human. But you really probably handled it as best that anybody could. And we talked about it a lot. And I learned more and more coping skills by going to therapy, by adjusting my medication and by trying again. And you gave me the courage to try again. Like you said, people stop going places because they’re afraid of the panic attack, not because they’re afraid of the event or the venue or even the people there. You helped me go again and again and again. And I don’t know if it’s exposure therapy. I don’t know if I’m using that correctly. But without you, I would not have tried again. And now I can enjoy flights and travel and concerts and plays, and I can really just enjoy life to the fullest. It’s interesting that you brought up recovery because on one hand, I immediately wanted to interject. I’m in recovery. What are you talking about? But then I just had a panic attack. It’s not 100 percent. You can’t call yourself in recovery if you have zero symptoms of mental illness because that’s an improbable, likely impossible goal. Do you consider me to be in recovery with panic? And I’m asking your opinion.
Lisa: Well, okay, that’s going to be yet another topic that we add, the whole definition of recovery. That’s a whole debate in mental health circles. I would say that definitely you still have panic disorder. You still have panic attacks. But it’s almost, not all the way, but almost, inconsequential at this point. It has very little impact on your life these days. How many panic attacks do you have? I mean, again, I don’t live with you. Less than once a month?
Gabe: Probably, yeah.
Lisa: Once every couple of months?
Gabe: I probably have 12 a year. I have slightly more around the holidays.
Lisa: Are they not as bad as they used to be, like are the individual panic attacks themselves lesser?
Gabe: No. When I was having one a day, you know, again, we talk about spectrums a lot. When I was having one a day, they were pretty mild. They were panic attacks and they were problematic, but they were smaller. And now I pretty much only have four alarm panic attacks. Now, having ten to twelve four alarm panic attacks a year seems like a lot. But I really did used to have one every day or two or three a day or. I haven’t ran out of a job in years. Remember that time I quit the job from the parking lot?
Gabe: Because of the panic attack?
Lisa: Yes, I do.
Gabe: And almost wrecked the car on the way home because I should not have been driving? But I didn’t know.
Lisa: That’s another thing you always did that annoyed me. You’d be like, oh, no, I’m fine to drive. No, you’re not. You’re too sick to stay at the hockey game, but you’re fine to drive? That’s just stupid. But, hey, I’m over that now. That was 15 years ago. Not still mad. Anyway,
Gabe: But you should have been mad. You’re not wrong.
Lisa: I was mad.
Gabe: That anger led to a good place because I should not have been driving and you stopped me from driving. To this day, I will not drive when I have a panic attack.
Lisa: I go back and forth between being angry at you and feeling like that’s unreasonable because on the one hand, it kind of seems like it’s unreasonable to be angry at you for having a panic attack. But on the other hand, it kind of feels like it’s not unreasonable. So, yeah.
Gabe: This is not clean. Listen, I was angry at you for forcing a stewardess. An air marshal? I don’t know who it was that was pounding
Lisa: It was a stewardess.
Gabe: On the door, saying loudly So everybody in the plane could hear. Ma’am, we will not land if you don’t get out and you will delay this flight by an hour. But I wasn’t even on the plane. All right. Just hearing the story later made me angry that you would jeopardize a flight with three hundred people on it. You can hear me getting mad now. How could you inconvenience all those poor people that had been on a plane for 11 hours? Because, oh, I’m throwing up and I don’t want to do it in front of people. Oh, my God.
Lisa: That wasn’t why.
Gabe: Just. Just. That’s it. So. Yeah.
Lisa: I didn’t want to throw up on the stewardess or on the guy I was sitting next to who was a stranger. Sorry about that, by the way. Poor thing.
Gabe: So you were going to leave a plane in the air?
Lisa: Well, I didn’t understand that until she started yelling at me.
Gabe: The point that I’m making is you can hear me as you are explaining this to me, just thinking, wow, you are incredibly unreasonable. But I go back and forth.
Lisa: And selfish and inconsiderate.
Gabe: And selfish and inconsiderate. But logically, that’s. You didn’t know what was happening. You didn’t know that you were jeopardizing the flight from landing. I understand why you feel this way. I do. It took me a long time to understand it. But just because I am upset that you did this or you’re upset that I did this, just because your feelings are reasonable doesn’t mean they’re right.
Lisa: Like I said, I go back and forth with it. I still am angry with you and I can understand some of the arguments intellectually that it’s not reasonable to be mad at you. But, yeah, I’m still mad. I still feel it. And, yeah, I understand what you’re saying about your feelings aren’t right. But how do you not listen to your feelings, you know? I mean, how do you ignore your own feelings?
Gabe: Your gut and your feelings are not the end all be all of the world. Because my gut has told me a lot of things that have turned out to be very incorrect.
Lisa: It feels like they are. Yeah.
Gabe: My gut has told me to hit and I lost all $25. I follow the logic of blackjack, you know, hit on this. Don’t hit on this. Play the odds and I win a lot. So clearly the feeling of whether or not to hit is not how I should be gambling. And you know what builds casinos? People that use their gut to gamble. You know who else builds casinos? People who use a logic and a system to gamble. Everybody who gambles helps build casinos. But
Lisa: These are good examples.
Gabe: The best way to play blackjack is to put the odds in your favor. And the odds being in your favor is just intellect and logic. There’s no feelings involved. But you know as well as I do, everybody sitting at that table, their gut starts to tell them.
Gabe: Their gut tells them to hit. And you know what happens when they listen to their gut? Sometimes they win.
Lisa: Yeah, that throws off the whole system.
Gabe: And that’s why they believe their gut. Don’t believe your gut, your gut is wrong. We need to follow logic more than we do. I know that it’s hard. I want you to know that logically, I know that you weren’t trying to do anything wrong. And I know that logically, you know that I wasn’t trying to do anything wrong. And this is what makes this so complicated, right? It doesn’t matter how we logically feel. Emotions get the better of us all the time. All the time. You know, logically, I know that I am going to outlive my parents, but I don’t feel that’s right. I just don’t. I’m not prepared for it. I don’t want it to happen. I want all of us to live forever. But logically, I know it’s going to happen. But my gut tells me that it’s not gonna. We’re gonna be together forever. And most of us listen to our gut. And that’s why things like death hit us so hard. Because even though we all know what’s going to happen, none of us prepare for it because we don’t care. We go with our feelings that things are fine now and they’re going to be fine forever. And that’s a problem for another day. I think it’s a lot like that. Lisa, I need to say again, I’m not trying to belabor the point, but I might be an anxiety ridden panic attack, having housebound agoraphobic if you didn’t keep helping me get out. My advice to listeners is, you know, find a buddy. Find a buddy that’s willing to tolerate it and go out as much as you can. All the places that gave you panic attacks. Go there again. And if you have a panic attack again, go there again. If there is any secret to my success, it’s that Lisa stuck around and kept helping me.
Lisa: You realize this is the first and only time you’ve ever said this.
Gabe: Well, yeah, I’m doing it publicly, so I sound really good. As soon as we’re done recording, I’m going to say that, hey, I only did that to sound good on the air.
Lisa: One of the things that would make me so angry back then was that you never apologized. When we had to leave or stop doing or whatever, you never said you were sorry. And if I would say something like, screw you, buddy. You would say, you can’t blame me. It’s not fair of you to be mad at me for being sick.
Gabe: Yeah, isn’t this?
Lisa: And maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. But you never apologized. That really pissed me off.
Gabe: I now understand this. When I put myself in other people’s shoes, the world looks a lot different. But I was so busy protecting myself and caring for myself, and I could not understand why you were mad at me for being sick. You know, my grandfather passed away from cancer and he was sick for a couple of years and nobody was mean to him. And he had all kinds of problems, as you can imagine two years in hospice is a very, very long time.
Lisa: Well, but he probably did.
Gabe: I don’t know that he ever. Nobody expected him to apologize for being sick.
Lisa: I know, but I bet he said thank you.
Gabe: I don’t know if he did or not, but nobody expected him to. The man was dying of cancer.
Lisa: So you’re telling me that if you’re dying of cancer and someone comes in and takes care of you, you weren’t gonna say, hey, thank you?
Gabe: I have no idea.
Lisa: Thank you for doing this for me. Thank you for showing me this care, this consideration, this love. Thank you.
Gabe: I have no idea. Because the overwhelming thought of lying in bed dying might overcome my sense of I should be thankful. I don’t know. I have never had to hold that on my chest. I have never had to consider my own mortality in this way. And maybe considering that I am going to die and leave my family will make me forget please and thank you. Because maybe it’s just not so important anymore. I don’t know. I hope not. Some people get terminally ill and they’re still making jokes. They’re still making YouTube videos. I consider those people to be just amazing and incredibly inspirational. And some people get terminally ill and they just they cry every day. And I’m not going to say that one person’s right and one person’s wrong, because once again, you don’t have panic attacks when you see things that are traumatizing to you. You get angry. I don’t get angry. I have panic attacks. Do you want to sit here and debate which one of us is right and which one of us is wrong? Because I think that would be just one, a waste of time and two, kind of a jerk move. We can’t control our feelings.
Lisa: I am trying to say that for all of you out there who are having panic attacks, I know that you feel that you don’t need to apologize or maybe you feel like you have, hey, I’m sick. Leave me alone. Hey, I’ve earned the right to be a little self-centered here. But it would be nice and it will make your life easier. Try to apologize. Try to look at it from the other person’s point of view. Try to respect that they’re going through a lot, too. And it wouldn’t hurt to say you’re sorry or to try to be extra nice about it. That’s all I’m saying.
Gabe: Lisa, I. I love giving you shit.
Lisa: That’s a life tip there.
Gabe: But as you know, I agree with 100 percent of what you just said.
Lisa: Oh, it’s like that thing you always say that it may not be our fault, but it is our responsibility.
Gabe: I was literally just getting ready to say that.
Lisa: You’re welcome.
Gabe: I love the part where you’re like, hey, Gabe, it’s the thing you were always going to say. I’m sitting right here. At least we have learned from each other. You know, you’re right, Lisa, because I, you know, I got lucky even though I never apologized. I never tried to make amends, et cetera. You did stick around. And I appreciate that. But, you know, a lot of my other friends did not. It took a long time to get back in good graces with, you know, some of my family members that, you know, I was that family member that everybody’s like. He’s coming? All right. Well, we’ll only stay for a half an hour. I put the people around me through a lot. And what fixed those relationships is me apologizing. And you’re right, Lisa. I do say all the time, just because it is not your fault doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility. But I also say and I think this is really the crux of it, I’ve never once apologized for being mentally ill. I’ve never once apologized for having a panic attack or being depressed or having to go to the hospital. I have apologized for ruining the play. I have apologized for ruining the concert or ruining the evening, or I have paid back people who have spent money and then had to drive me home because the thing got canceled. I have thanked people for taking care of me when I was sick.
Gabe: I don’t expect people to run around and say, hi, my name is Gabe. I apologize for having bipolar disorder. But I do expect people to say hi, my name is Gabe. I’m really sorry that I got sick and ruined your evening. I know that you were looking forward to seeing Hamilton and you spent a lot of money on that. Please let me reimburse you for the ticket. And I’m just so incredibly sorry I ruined the evening by getting sick. That’s a very reasonable thing to say. I did ruin the evening. Listen, I got a million of these analogies. If you accidentally bang into somebody’s car, you have to fix their bumper. If you have a seizure and bang into somebody’s car, still have to fix the bumper. I think we get hung up on that a lot. That really is my the more you know moment. You want to keep the people in your life around? Appreciate them and try to see things from their perspective. And I hope this lets the people in our lives stick around more. And I hope everybody with panic disorder and anxiety can find a buddy. I hope everybody with depression can find a buddy. You know, I hope everybody can find a buddy. You know, Lisa, like we did. I mean, not like exactly like we did. Like, I don’t I don’t want them to be, like, codependent and really screwed up.
Gabe: But I hope everybody finds a BFF. But don’t start podcasts. That’s, we don’t need the competition. That’s our thing.
Lisa: That’s true, but this isn’t about panic attacks. This is just more of a golden rule type thing. Be polite. If someone has done something nice for you, say thank you. If you’ve messed with somebody else, even if you didn’t mean to apologize. It goes a long way.
Gabe: Are you trying to turn our show into, like a touchy feely, huggy huggy, hippie dippy kind of sunshiny thing? I mean, that’s a.
Lisa: Yeah, well, that’s something I’m known for is my sunshine.
Gabe: It’s the golden rule.
Lisa: People tell me that all the time.
Gabe: Do unto others.
Lisa: So much sunshine.
Gabe: As you would have them do unto you. I feel bad at how often we joke about some of the podcasts that are out there that really are just teaching basic, you know, follow your bliss, be your best self. It’s not bad advice, but no, we’re just we’re snarkier, apparently.
Lisa: It’s not my thing.
Gabe: It’s not my thing?
Lisa: I don’t know. I’ve just never been into that. Apparently, it’s really working for some people and it’s certainly working for the people who make the podcasts. But I yeah, I don’t get it.
Gabe: Hey, this is why we are the mental health podcast for people who hate mental
Lisa: Mental health podcasts.
Gabe: Health podcasts.
Lisa: Good one.
Gabe: Listen up, everybody. Here’s what we need you to do. If you loved the show, please subscribe. Wherever you downloaded it, rate, rank and review. We would love that. Use your words. You can e-mail us at show@PsychCentral.com with any topic ideas that you have. And finally share us all over social media. And once again, words matter. Tell people why they should listen. We will see everybody next week.
Lisa: We’ll see you then.
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This article originally appeared on Psych Central as Podcast: Hiding Panic Attacks in the Bathroom.