Presenting problem: Panic Attacks and a Fear of Dying
Treatment modality: BWRT®
Number of sessions: 1
J is having regular panic attacks, triggered just by the thought that, one day, she will simply cease to exist.
She rang me after a particularly severe attack caused her to gasp for breath and led her to believe she was about to die. When we meet, she says she isn’t so much afraid of dying; it’s the idea of total oblivion which is distressing her.
J’s first experience of death came when, as a young child, her paternal grandfather died. She remembers not being able to understand how one minute her grandfather was there and then, suddenly, he was gone. A few years later, now in her teens, her Uncle died in a car accident.
At his funeral, she discovers he did not die instantly in the crash, as she supposed, but a few days later, in hospital. Ever since, J has been disturbed by the thought her Uncle knew he was about to die and was staring at ‘nothingness’.
We speak at length about the concept of oblivion and the fact none of us
can really know death might equal nothingness, that it’s only her imagination which holds this belief. She agrees but says she is unable to stop her mind from triggering a panic attack.
I ask J what she thinks will help her to feel differently about death. She replies that she just wants to be at ease with the idea that she doesn’t really know. She especially wants to feel reassured in the knowledge that she has done amazing things with her life and still has amazing things to do. She says that, ultimately, if she has an uncomfortable thought, she wants to know it isn’t going to ruin her day.
At the end of the session, I ask J to think back again to the worst panic attack she’s ever had. She looks down and frowns, then tilts her head to the ceiling, and then to the right, to the view beyond the window.
Eventually, she looks back at me and shrugs, says she can remember it vividly but now she just doesn’t care about it, like she’s remembering a movie she watched on Netflix.
As she thinks about this, the corners of her mouth take a slight upturn and her eyes become wet. A solitary tear falls onto her cheek. I pass her a tissue and she tells me it’s a cry of relief that her nightmare is over.
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