Question: I’m having panic attacks and I’m not sure if I can repair my relationship with my boyfriend after he lied to me about having a 1 year old son and I am uncomfortable with his relationship with his child’s mother.

I don’t want to break up with him, but I do not know how to move forward in the situation and the prolonged stress of arguing with my significant other is starting to make my mental health slide backwards.

I was hospitalized in May for suicidal thinking, I have been doing great since June but I am starting to have panic attacks and feel depressed about this relationship.

In the past, relationship troubles have been a trigger for suicide attempts.

Please help.

Answer: First, you should be extremely proud of yourself and the work you have done since being in the hospital earlier this year.  It is a testament that your mental health is important to you and you have shown yourself how you can make positive changes for you.  Lets address the panic attacks, your mistrust and feelings of depression separately.

Since I do not have all of the details, one of the most important things is to make sure you are okay medically speaking.  Checking in with your primary care doctor is vital to make sure there are no physical issues, since you are experiencing panic attacks.  It sounds like you created some new coping mechanisms while inpatient and have been stable since.  Sometimes when we learn new skills it is hard to implement them when we are under a lot of stress.  

Having panic attacks, finding out your boyfriend has a 1 year old son and has a relationship with his child’s mother, while still managing your mental health is stressful.  Recognize you are doing the best you can with the tools you currently have. Since you have done some work on your mental health you are in a great headspace to continue your work and become the best version of you. 

Recognizing your behavior patterns and responses is the first step in making changes.  You mentioned that relationship troubles have been a trigger in the past, which lead to suicide attempts.  This situation may be sending you back down that path, but I want to remind you that you have a choice.  It seems like you have lost trust with your boyfriend because of his inability to be honest with you.  It is normal to question your ability to stay with someone who cannot be trusted.  It is also common to feel upset with the possibility of losing a partner and will make you question if you should break up with him.  

My suggestion is to take some time for you and identify what you want in your relationship.  This may be difficult due to external factors, but giving you some time to explore how you wish your life to be is important.  Either way if you stay with your partner or break up, you should have a conversation about your relationship.  The conversation should address your feelings and concerns about trust, communication and how you both want to show up in the relationship. You can recognize the thoughts and utilize your coping skills to make changes.  Remember you are not alone and people care about what happens to you!  If you need to set up a safety plan with a professional or friends to make sure someone is checking in with you regularly, please do so!

Panic attacks usually stem from being in stressful situations or external factors that can affect your physical health.  When I have clients who experience panic attacks one of the first things we practice is breathing exercises.  While this may seem simple, the research supporting controlled breathing is extensive and shows immediate improvement.  A simple breathing exercise to start with, especially when you feel a panic attack coming on. Take 3 deep breaths.  Have each inhale last for 6 seconds (shorter or longer depending on your lung capacity) and exhale for 8 seconds (again whatever you are capable of doing).  This will help reduce your heart rate and help your brain calm down.  This is an easy way to help you control your breathing and slow your thoughts down.

I hope this has helped you and I wish you the best!

Rachel Lee-Nigsch, LCSW, MEd