Panic attacks suck. They're draining and have been compared to heart attacks. And yet, there's a stigma surrounding them, mostly caused by an underestimation of the impact they have on the person having them. Every person's experiences with panic attacks are different. Some people handle them like champs, others are strongly effected. When I'm hit by a panic attack, this is what it's like for me.
Leading up to it, I'm usually anxious or stressing about something: work, school, life in general. As my mind whips around all the things that create stress in my life, my heart starts to race. And isn't just beating fast; it feels like it's trying to punch out of my chest.
Next comes the sweating and shaking. Now's the time where I get myself away from other people and find a quiet corner to fall apart in. Nobody wants people to see them vulnerable. That, and panic attacks aren't pretty.
As if it wasn't bad enough, my heart kicks it up a notch. It feels like it's trying to escape my body any way that it can - dropping into my stomach, working harder against my chest, or trying to crawl it's way up my throat. In addition to that, I struggle to breathe. My lungs feel like they're being sat on and crushed, leaving me gasping for air. Here the tears usually come, fast and uncontrollable.
With the tears comes the panic. Every worst case scenario, every fear, every insecurity and doubt fills my mind in a loop. Although I only have to endure this for a few minutes, it feels like hours and the aftermath/recovery takes much longer.
Once my brain decides to stop playing me my own horror show, it's time to clean myself up and get ready to face the world again. Wipe off the sweat, dry off the tears, touch up my makeup and cold water on the eyes to get rid of the redness. Practice speaking for a minute or two to make sure my voice sounds as normal as possible. Last but not least, a pep talk. "You made it. You're okay. You're alive." Emotionally, I feel nothing for the rest of the day; the exhaustion wipes away everything but the memories of the panic attack. I repeat my pep talk like a mantra until I can finally collapse into bed and sleep like the dead. When I wake up the next day, it's with fear that I'll have to go through it all again.
Panic attacks are horrible. They're draining and terrifying, making you feel weak and out of control. Everyone suffering from panic attacks experience them in different ways; however, this makes them no less awful. Hopefully, by being brutally honest about our experiences with anxiety and panic attacks, we can help get rid of the stigma surrounding them.