Trying to Describe a Panic Attack
Has been one of the hardest things to do
Trigger warning and disclaimer: This post talks about anxiety and panic disorders in an open, somewhat vulnerable way. It is not intended to advise on how to handle coping with said disorders. For help or advice about coping with said disorders or any other mental health-related issues, please contact your health care provider(s) or a certified physician.
I am going to attempt to describe one of my panic attacks.
I'll be switching from the far past narrative to a near past/present narrative of me writing this article. For the sake of clarity, in the latter narrative, I will refer to myself as "the author." Edits from the first draft of the following section have been made to make the story clearer and more readable, but the general thoughts from the first draft are the same.
Let me set the scene for you.
The author is looking at her computer, watching these words you're reading form letter by letter. She's trying to pull a memory from her brain, and already she is tearing up.
I'm sitting in class. The details are blurry. I was worried about a test I hadn't studied for. Failure was ringing in my mind.
I am staring at my classwork for another class. My feelings intensify - what exact feelings is difficult to say. Worry? Yes. Disappointment? I'm not sure. Fear? I don't know if I would call it that.
Suddenly, my vision is blurry.
I can't see through the tears. I need to be able to see. I can't focus. I start to panic because I can't focus.
The words have stopped forming on the screen. The author had begun crying and hasn't stopped yet.
She had lifted her fingers from the keyboard. Her mind had blanked. She closes her eyes, trying to find the words again.
She leaves the draft to look at another article then comes back with dried eyes and a fresh mind.
She closes her eyes once more and deepens her breath.
My throat constricts, and my heart races.
Tears form in the author's eyes once again.
My head is filled with fuzz. I think I might pass out. Is the room spinning?
The author is twitching in her seat.
I feel like I'm losing control. Nothing around me is clear. I'm worrying because I'm losing control. I'm frustrated because I can't stop myself. My hands shake, and I can't power through my work. I'm sobbing.
Tears roll down her cheeks, her train of thought gone.
She can't remember what she was going to say, though the last words of the previous paragraph were written just a few minutes before the ones in this one. She decides to start again somewhere else.
A dense, painful lump appears in my throat. It feels like it's blocking my airflow. I'm gasping for air-hyperventilating. At some point the teacher takes notice. And I tell-
The hands remove themselves from the keyboard. The author starts bawling. Her breath had caught in her throat and her stomach had tightened.
I tell her through my cries that I just need to go to the nurse. I shuffle there, crying.
She bends over her desk with her hands on her legs, hoping to get a bit more air, taking deep breaths.
I went home. And later my teacher emailed home, asking if I was alright because she had never seen me like that. She thought I was normally so well-composed.
I think I may have scared her. Heck, I scared myself.
And I did so enough to cause myself to consistently experience strong emotions when I think or try to talk about anxiety and panic attacks.
In a matter of minutes, I thought my life was spiraling out of control. It felt like it was.
Anxiety and panic disorders are very real and have the potential to have an enormous impact on one's life.
There's something about the discussion of anxiety that is absolutely triggering to me, especially when I try to think or talk about my own experiences.
When asked about my panic attacks, I always give general answers, the symptoms. There was shortness of breath, crying, shaking, racing heart, a feeling of being out of control, etc. These I can say and type with pretty much no problem.
But if you were to ask me to pin-point just how those symptoms manifested in me, I'd sob almost every time I was asked. The narratives above attest to my struggle with expressing this.
I'd be asked about the emotions I feel during an attack. I'd say-I don't know- "anxious" or something like that. They would ask how it really felt. I'd say "bad" or a word similar to it.
How anxiousness can lead to all the difficult to explain emotions and intense bodily reactions that accompany a panic attack is beyond my understanding.
And I wish I could explain it more and give more insight into the intricacies of why and how I feel the way I feel. But as of right now, the best I explanations I really have are variations of "I was stressed" and the narrative above. And that's going to have to be enough…for now.
I'm a work in progress, like every other human on this earth. And although what I have is a mental illness, it is a part of what makes me me.
To do better, we must take steps in the right direction. Writing this has been a big step for me. I've detailed here - not without difficulty - what I've had trouble saying aloud to myself, my family, my friends, and even my therapist. And I feel healing coming.
Forgive me if this article seems like a diary entry. Regardless, I hope you'll walk away from it with something - maybe it's some reassurance that you aren't alone or maybe a newfound awareness of mental health disorders or maybe even encouragement to try or continue to improve yourself and your conditions.
Cheers to taking steps in the right direction.