Written at 1:14 AM by another, more distant mind.
There are many things a panic attack is and many things a panic attack is not. I would like to clear up the differences for readers who have only witnessed a panic attack in media, where panic attacks are often romanticized and embellished. Not all panic attacks are the same, however. In fact, they’re all wildly different for different people. The following is a general overview of my experience with panic attacks and I hope by opening up this personal part of my life to you, you are able to learn more about the debilitating feeling of a panic attack.
A panic attack is convulsing in the bed beneath your roommate's, hoping you don’t wake her, at 2 AM as you squeeze a stress ball while listening to old Parks and Recreation reruns on your iPod to distract yourself from your own mind, a panic attack is not being held in the arms of your significant other who magically makes everything alright. A panic attack is hoping your friends keep you company long enough to scare off the terrors that plague you but not wanting to ask them to because you don't want to scare them away, a panic attack is not them noticing immediately that you're about to fall apart and knowing exactly what they should do to help.
Do you know what I consider to be an accomplishment? Believing a good night is one in which I don't need a cold rag on my forehead the whole night and can hang it up after only an hour. Being able to turn off the bathroom light before bed because I feel like maybe I'll sleep through the night without interruption. Sleeping on my side instead of sitting at an 80 degree angle in my bed with a bucket in my arms. Waking up with a stress ball in my hands and my glasses still on my face and being proud that I managed to fall asleep somehow. Any day I can get through without pacing about a room in a cold sweat at some point is a great day for me.
As terrifying as the feelings of panic attacks sound, I know they are irrational. The whole time, I am aware that my thoughts are not rational or real and that the feelings will pass. It’s just impossible to realize that in the moment. This is the issue with panic attacks: I’m aware of my surroundings and of what’s going on, but I can’t stop the feelings no matter how hard I try. All one can do is wait and hope to feel better soon.
If you’re struggling with anxiety or suffering from panic attacks, do not be afraid to speak up and find help. There are many sources you can go to for support. Friends and family are typically more than welcome to lend a listening ear. If you’re not comfortable talking to someone you know, most colleges and universities have counseling centers. Don’t be too scared to stop by one day and just talk with someone! Sometimes, just letting it all out can help tremendously. And always remember you are never alone.