How I Showed Panic Who’s Boss

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Panic, I’m not scared of you! I may be scared of the things that make you show your ugly face, but you don’t scare me one bit. I’m strong and courageous. I am in control and I know how to kick you to the curb. I am certain of this now, because I did it just yesterday. I did something huge. I conquered one of my biggest fears. You tried to get the best of me but I didn’t let you. Here’s how I showed you who’s boss.

First, some back story

I have PTSD.  I’m not a veteran (did you know that you don’t have to be in a war to get PTSD?) but I have suffered multiple traumas that led to the condition. Because of this, some things that are just everyday things to  most people cause me to have severe panic attacks. One of those things is getting an MRI. I’ve needed one for a while now because I have back issues that are causing pain, leg weakness, mobility problems and overall decrease in quality of life. Up to this point, I have not been able to make myself get the MRI. My doctor insisted on a closed MRI, which is a test where they put your whole body into a very small coffin-life capsule and leave you there for about 30 minutes while zapping you with a very strong magnet that sounds like machine guns shooting at you.

After much coercing from my therapist, I went back to this doctor and told him a closed MRI was non-negotiable for me. I just couldn’t do it. I reluctantly agreed to try an open MRI which is, as the name implies, a bit more open. You still are surrounded on three sides by the coffin, but you have one side open so you can see out.

Yesterday was the big day. I had the MRI. I won’t tell you that it was easy.  I won’t tell you I enjoyed it. I won’t tell you I wasn’t scared. Or uncomfortable. Or really glad when it was over. But I will tell you that I kept the big, fat, ugly panic monster away. He tried to get me a time or two when I was in the machine, but I beat him into submission. Here’s how I did it.

How I Stopped Fear From Turning Into Panic

These are the tools I used to keep my fear from turning into panic.

I Used Medication

Folks, I want you to know there is absolutely nothing wrong with using prescribed medication to keep panic at bay. I anticipated that this situation was going to be a potential trigger and I took a Xanax right before I left my house.

I Practiced Grounding

To keep myself present in the moment, and not traveling back in time to my traumas, I used grounding techniques. For the entire duration of my test I made an intentional effort to continually notice the things I could see, hear, smell, taste, and feel to remind myself that I was in a safe place.

As I laid there, I turned my head and looked out the side of the machine. I looked out the window and saw all the cars in the parking lot. Modern cars. Lots of people were in this place. I was not alone in the country in a pickup truck in 1980. Or any of the other places that I suffered trauma.

When it hurt too much too keep my head turned I would look up at the big wall of the machine that was 2 inches in front of my face. I looked at the color of it. The size of it. The material it was made out of. I reminded myself that this thing was not in my face in the pickup truck in 1980. Or any of the other places I suffered trauma.

I paid attention to the sounds of the machine, which were dulled by headphones and music I was listening to. At one point the headphones fell out of one ear and the noise of the machine was very loud. I had an immediate panic reaction but I was able to reel it in by putting the headphones back in and reminding myself that those noises came from this machine, right here, right now, and they were not threatening noises.

I focused on the taste and the smell of the peppermint I had in my mouth, and the feel of the button I held in my hand. The one that I could push if I needed to stop. I didn’t have a button like that in  the pickup truck in 1980. Or any of the other places that I suffered trauma.

I Acknowledged My Power

During my traumatizing events, I had no power. They were things that were done to me against my will and I could not prevent them or stop them. My brain gets confused sometimes and thinks other things I am afraid of are the same.

To keep that from happening, I repeated this mantra over and over during the test:

I am here because I chose to be here. This is not just happening to me. I chose this. I chose it because I want to get better. I am safe. I am in control. I can make it stop anytime I want to by pushing the button in my hand.

There were a few times I wanted to push that button, but I didn’t.  Just knowing I had the power to do it was enough for me. My desire to finish the test as soon as possible was stronger than my desire to stop.

I Anchored Myself In God

When the technician asked me what kind of music I wanted in the headphones, I chose Contemporary Christian. I know where my anchor is and I had music that reminded me of it constantly piping into ears.

I cried out to God and prayed for peace and courage. I thought about my favorite Psalm– Psalm 91–  which promises us God’s protection. I claimed that promise and knew that although I was going through something hard, I would be OK.

To The Victor Go The Spoils

And that was it. After what seemed like a very long thirty minutes, the test was done. The technician pulled me out of the machine and I just laid there for a moment gaining my composure. I swallowed a few times (when I panic I have trouble swallowing), wiped the tears from my eyes, took some deep breaths, and sat up. I looked around and realized that I had made it. I was glad it was over, but I made it. It wasn’t easy. I was clearly shaken. But I didn’t have a full-blown panic attack. I didn’t feel like I was dying. I was proud of my accomplishment and confident in my ability to face a scary situation again. It brought me one step closer to healing, and in my book, that’s a victory.


He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.

-Psalm 91

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