Panic Attacks
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Health and Wellness

Panic Attacks

A first-person perspective on what they actually feel like

Panic Attacks

I have been asked many times what it is like to have an anxiety attack. I understand why the behavior of an anxious person may seem questionable or interesting to someone who is not, but the exact emotions and thought process cannot be described in a few sentences. Everyone who encounters anxiety has a different experience with it; this is just my personal worst-case-scenario panic attack and my best attempt to explain it.

One second. That is how long it takes for the brain and body to transition from a laughing, smiling moment of joy to the blackout anxiety that brings on a panic attack.
A message
A song
A picture
A word
A place
A color
An idea
A thought
The cause may be subtle, but it's a reminder.

I zone out of my surroundings and my thoughts take over.
Though my eyes are wide open, I am not present; I am lost in the back of my mind; I have no idea where I am or what I was saying or doing. I was dancing in the kitchen and am suddenly leaning onto the table with both hands, face down, trying not to fall, but I don't realize it. I'm in the alternate reality playing, like a movie, in my mind. I'm completely unaware that this is happening until I'm jolted into the present by the fact that my lungs are filling past maximum capacity as if my chest is going to rip open and they're going to fly out like the bird in a cuckoo clock. Background noise becomes a muffled ring and the only sound that is clear is that steadily increasing intake of exponentially thinning air. Yet, I'm overwhelmed by the feeling that I'm holding my breath.
My entire body is soaked and I have no idea if it's from sweat or tears, then realize that both are contributing equally. I'm shivering as if the air around just turned to ice but I can't stop pressing my face against the cold wall in an attempt to stop the feeling that my tears are acidic and my head is burning.
I'm shaking like I haven't eaten in a month but the simple idea of food is making my stomach tense up so tightly that it feels like a ball of steel, pushing steadily into my lungs to stop them from moving.
I desperately need water but my hands aren't capable of holding the cup and my mouth isn't capable of pausing the cries coming from it and my throat is so tight that it feels like I may as well be trying to drink concrete.

At this point, I have two options:
-Pass out; stop trying to hold myself up and stop searching for air when there is none left. For a brief moment, I escape the hell I'm going through and, though I'm still weak when I wake up, I'm numb enough that I no longer feel my body shaking and I can't tell how nauseous I am, so I can now slowly and mindlessly eat enough to gain my strength back.
- Stay conscious; put all of my energy into the focus it takes to remain alert. I don't know how much longer this will continue but I am just functional enough to control myself. Within minutes, I'll probably be through it. My eyelids will feel like sand weights and my lips will feel like they've received too many botox injections and my lungs will be sore like I just ran five miles without stopping, rather than sitting in the same spot, hyperventilating for thirty minutes. But I will get to tell myself that I have the physical endurance to stay awake through it.
The attack is over but I'm left feeling like I weigh ten pounds and could be broken by so much as the breeze of a ceiling fan.

If I'm in public, I do all of this while pretending to be doing something like reading a book or staring out the window so as to make sure nobody looks over at me with the concerned, contemplative glance they have while evaluating whether or not they should approach me. I'll probably run to the bathroom (even the men's, if the women's is in use) and lock the door and come out after I am passable for public appearance. Or I'll try to fight off the inevitable attack by frantically tapping my fingers, biting the inside of my lips, breathing slowly and bouncing my feet until I can escape
If I'm alone, the situation worsens as I fumble through my contacts wondering who would not be bothered by my emotional crisis.
If I'm lucky, I'll be with a close friend or a loving family member who will play my favorite song and make me chocolate covered strawberries or hold an ice pack to my face and do stupid things until I'm forced to notice and laugh.

This is no longer a regular thing for me and I have a lot of people to thank for that, myself included. I'm not trying to make a statement, only answer a question that is so often left without one. I understand why it is difficult to figure out an anxious person's thoughts; we can't straighten them out either, so you're not expected to be able to, only to be understanding.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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