I could be in my living room. I could be on a bus. Sometimes I’m in my bedroom. Sometimes I’m at my desk. The location matters less than the event, itself. The event? A panic attack.
A panic attack is a period of fear or apprehension, brought on suddenly with or without apparent cause. While the phrase is sometimes used colloquially to refer to smaller worries (“you almost gave me a panic attack!”), an actual panic attack is something much more debilitating.
The other night, I had one of these panic attacks. Over the years, I’ve learned that the best way for me to overcome these is simply to let them play out. As I felt one coming on, I decided to start writing down my thoughts and feelings. Since I was headed into this, anyway, I figured that it might make some interesting post-attack reading. Without further ado, here’s my panic attack:
I’m in my bed. I feel cold, panicky. The thought of getting up to make dinner is too much to entertain at the moment. I feel like my lungs are shutting down, like my heart will fail. It feels like I’m going to die.
I don’t want to die, and I’m sure that eventually, no matter how bad this feeling is at the moment, I’ll snap out of it, alive and well. The damage, the pain in my chest, the aches. I need to acknowledge that this starts and ends with my mind. My mind is triggering these physiological symptoms, and if I can acknowledge that, maybe I can will them away.
I page through my phone’s contact list, look at active Facebook connections and Twitter followers. Through the list of names, I don’t know if there exists anyone I could call a friend, at least in the sense that I believe it’d be appropriate to ask for help in this shaken, fragile state. Then again, if I don’t have a connection with anyone strong enough to consider a friend that would help me through a panic attack, do I really have anyone I could consider a friend in any sense?
This thought adds fuel to the pain as I feel my lungs ceasing to function, as breathing gets harder. My heart stings as the actions it’s been asked to perform strain as the resources to complete these tasks isn’t there.
The symptoms subside after a few minutes and I catch my breath. I’m sweaty, tired and in my bed.
I fell asleep for a few minutes after that. Obviously, I didn’t die. Obviously, my heart didn’t explode, nor did my lungs cease to function. I know this now. This knowledge, this logic — none of it matters when you’re in the thick of an anxiety fit. Your mind will lie to you. Your body will play along.
A friend might ask why I had a panic attack. Sometimes I’ll have an answer, and sometimes I won’t. Maybe the thought of entertaining people at my apartment set it off. Maybe it was walking into a crowded store that triggered this. Maybe there’s no reason at all. There’s nothing logical about a panic attack.
That’s just it. Life isn’t logic. A panic attack exists even if you don’t comprehend what goes into it, even if you’ve never experienced it. It exists because those we know and love tell us of its existence.
I write this, not as an excuse or as a complaint, but rather, I write this in simple acknowledgement: I suffer from panic attacks. Maybe you do, too. Maybe you don’t. Maybe your experiences differ from mine, and from that we can learn from one another. Maybe, no matter how clearly we try to convey an experience like this, others won’t ever be able to fully understand what it’s like. It’s okay, though. Try. Describe how you feel, write down what you know, and share it with the world. Through that, we can witness how pleasant and tortuous, wonderfully weird human life can be.