I’d like to tell you about my mate Charlie
I met Charlie because he needed some help.
He was in his fifties, living alone in a flat, on the disability pension and completely addicted to pain and anxiety prescription meds after a long history of GP mismanagement. He had a minor acute brain injury and a spine that had been smashed some time ago. He’d had a tough fifty years.
To cut a long story short on this particular day I arrived Charlie was lying on the floor in the middle of a massive panic attack but absolutely convinced it was a heart attack.
I knelt down beside him, checked all the necessaries (I am a Registered Sister) and then stated clearly;
“Charlie it’s a panic attack.”
Of course Charlie, with his pulse hitting new heights, adrenaline and such hormones coursing through triggering flight or fight responses to his thoughts, had some trouble believing me.
I cut off his protests abruptly. When a person is overwhelmed; be it depression, anxiety/panic attacks etc the mind’s ability to process any information is severely limited…it can become impossible.
“Charlie you must trust me. Now look at the tree. I’m here, I’m not going anywhere. Now look at the tree”
Out Charlie’s lounge door where he lay facing abided a magnificent Morton Bay Fig Tree. Charlie and I had discovered the previous week that we both loved trees. We shared the experience of having felt nurtured by nature. We had admired this specific tree as we sat on his veranda talking and sipping coffee.
Charlie however was far from that memory. By this time I had moved closer to his head and gently steered him so he could see the tree.
“Leesa I’m having a f-ing heart attack and you’re talking about a tree.” I understood in this moment Charlie felt I wasn’t taking him seriously.
“Charlie it’s Not… it is a panic attack. Now look at the f-ing tree.”
My hands were laying on his shoulders by now, giving constant tactile reassurance. Words are not enough.
His eyes went to the tree in an attitude clearly saying ‘I’ll look at the tree to shut you up you lunatic and when I die it’ll be your fault’ (he confirmed this later :)).
If it had been depression overwhelming him I would have got him to breathe with me as I discussed in my post “What do you say when a person says ‘what am I going to do…I can’t go on’?”. And controlled breathing absolutely does assist with anxiety disorders.
But this is extremely hard for a person right smack bang in the middle of a panic attack. Concentrating on breathing just makes them more aware of their physical body and that racing heart.
“The f-ing tree…why do I want to look at the f-ing tree” (we Aussies swear a bit :))
“Just watch the tree Charlie.”
The gods were kind to us. The breeze was perfect creating a gentle slow sway that was a healthy counterpart to his shallow breathing.
“Watch the branches moving Charlie”
Over the next several minutes I talked of nothing but the tree.
Of the branches moving, the colours and shades of colours I could see.
The solidness and beauty of this particular figs trunk; the magic of such a creation.
Initially every ten seconds or so he’d lose focus and his pulse rate would go up. I would increase the pressure of my hands slightly and speak more firmly until again he was back to the tree.
Ten minutes later we were sitting up at the table. He told me he had thought me mad but that that had probably helped because it distracted him. We talked of what had brought all this on and developed an immediate plan to begin the process of healing this disorder.
The following week I was delighted when Charlie told me every time he’d felt the anxiety begin he sat and pondered his tree. He hadn’t actually had a full-blown attack and his graph I’d asked him to keep showed that whilst he was regularly going in to the anxiety state he also was recovering quicker each time. He’d even named the tree.
We had a lot more work to do before he could be free of anxiety visiting him. But we had learnt the power of focus as well as the gift that nature can give us. It was an excellent start.