I suffered from panic attacks for over 15 years, and they destroyed my life in a thousand ways. I am someone who can describe what they’re experiencing pretty well. But, when I described what I was experiencing to friends or family, it just didn’t seem to sink in. I don’t fully understand it, but their intimate knowledge of me somehow taints it, and they never seemed to have the empathy needed to deal with someone who is having panic attacks (A few did.) That is until they (tragically) get one themselves, but thankfully, that is rare.
I discovered this post on Reddit.com by thelopocox2. They do a very good job of explaining what my average panic attack was like, and I wanted to share it. I think if you suffer from panic, or know someone who does, this can be very enlightening.
When you are done reading this I will share a technique that you can use to rescue people from the grips of a panic attack.
*Adult language ahead!
Panic Attacks = Some pathetic shit that little sissies get in a flap about when things aren’t going their way.
Growing up I’d heard occasionally about these things called “panic attacks” that apparently, some overly-sensitive people claim to get. Seriously? An attack… of panic? What a HILARIOUS concept!
It’s probably like some precious little princess in third grade losing her shit because Johnny flicked a booger in my hair as her arms flail around and she screams like the little whiny girl she is. Or maybe it’s like oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, I’m running late for Yoga and I can’t find my car keys and the dog just threw up – cue more effeminate limp-wristed flailing and prancing. Or perhaps when you lose your phone and oh shit I can’t find it anywhere, where did I leave it? Was it stolen? Oh my god! You know, just like… panicking. Everyone knows metaphorically what panic is. Some pathetic shit that little sissies get in a flap about when things aren’t going their way or the food blender spills everywhere or your girlfriend sees a wasp.
NO NO NO.
NOT EVEN CLOSE.
I had no idea what panic was until panic came to me a decade ago.
Twenty-four years old of strapping athletic just-graduated pilot; cocky and overconfident to the extreme, bitch to nobody and obnoxious master of the known universe. I’m sitting in a pleasant country restaurant with my family and six friends, chowing down my rib-eye steak with a fine red wine and guffawing loudly as I regale the table with stories and bask in my own assured invincibility in the pantheon of men.
Then a strange little sensation, imperceptible at first.
Maybe I caught some steak in my throat? No, that’s not it. Hmmm, my chest feels kinda strange like a… woah why am I so sweaty? I’ve stopped talking because my throat has clamped shut like a vice. The oxygen flow has turned to treacle and my throat insists it’s never known how to swallow. Why is everyone looking at me? Fuck this room is TINY. SO CROWDED. Something is wrong. Something is very wrong. My heart is pounding. My lungs can’t function. Vision narrows and greys. The walls spin as the lump in your throat becomes a tumor that envelopes your entire existence.
Then there is this overpowering feeling; a welling-up of all-encompassing fear. It’s like an ocean surge. A rumbling from the depths of your soul that comes from the pit of your stomach at the edge of consciousness, rushing up your throat and into your brain like an unstoppable juggernaut on a collision course with your own demise. It’s that crescendo of violins from the most terrifying horror movies just before the monster erupts from the dark, and it’s coming for me. My whole temporal experience of the world has turned inwards and I’m pinned helpless to the moment. Inside my head a deafening megaphone overpowers every other thought – Something dark, evil and truly awful is about to happen to you and you’re powerless to stop it.
Am I dying? Yes, that must be it. I’m dying. Fuck. I’M ACTUALLY ABOUT TO DIE. RIGHT NOW IN THIS ROOM. This is what a heart attack feels like. Your mind swims in a freezing, clammy, boiling torrent of fractured thoughts and confusing sensations as your body assumes the twitching convulsive outline of a fish caught on a hook. Vision loses focus, eyes dart in all directions.
MY HEART! BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM it goes, with the ruthless life-extinguishing violence of a machine-gun. Nothing seems real, seconds stretch to years. Familiar things distort into terrifying non-shapes as you try to grasp on to the slush that has suddenly replaced reality. Everything is wrong. So, wrong. My universe is about to collapse. The only sensation: IMPENDING DOOM. I must escape! If only I can get out of this room in the next three nanoseconds maybe I can survive.
I stumble to something resembling an upright position and announce garbled words in incoherent gibberish to the table before racing for the door in a shambling, hyperventilating mess. I’m dying. This is it. Any moment now. Will there be pain? I’ll never see my family or loved ones again. I never even got to say goodbye. This is the end. Everything lurches and races as the world implodes around you. I sit down and hyperventilate, furiously trying to catch a breath that is never satisfied, obsessively clutching the maniac pulse in my wrist. That’s no good. Stand up again. Even worse. Go outside. No, I’ll just die out there. Back inside to curl up in a corner. Logic has been obliterated. I am no longer rational. All that I’m aware of is the guaranteed knowledge that I am about to pass irrevocably past the line of my sudden cardiac death. Nothing exists except my crumbling body in a thick swamp of immobilizing terror.
I’m face-down on the floor in the corner of the restaurant, panting for breath, hoping that every gasp of air I can squeeze into my lungs isn’t my last and that my heart won’t instantly rupture and explode in agony. This lasts an eternity. What is happening to me?
There is noise. A commotion. People. Hands on my shoulders. “ARE YOU OKAY?” “HEY, LOOK AT ME!” Am I okay? No, I’m fucking dying you fucking idiot. Do something! Help me! HELP ME!
Fifteen minutes of absolute raw-faced terror pass, adrenaline and fear pouring from every sweaty inch of your soaked body. The interminable minutes seem like years.
Slowly something comes together. The floor is the floor again. It’s wooden. Brown. Shiny. I can touch it. That’s okay. Hold on to it. The walls are here. I’m wearing blue jeans. My parents are hunched down next to me talking soothing words.
IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY. JUST BREATHE. YOU’RE HAVING A PANIC ATTACK. DON’T WORRY.
Like a murky runway appearing from the fog, lights of reality slowly begin to emerge. Breathing shallows. My heart starts to slow as the aura of doom subsides into a dull roar like a distant waterfall.
Dinner is abruptly abandoned and I’m driven home slack-jawed, a prisoner to my own reeling mind of neural traffic jams. What the fuck just happened to me?
Before I know it, I’m on the couch at home with my shirt unbuttoned. An on-call doctor arrives and I try to articulate the symptoms of my almost-death. He attaches bulbous rubber suckers to my chest to perform an ECG, EEG and other tests. Everything is normal. Ask some questions, check the history. Nothing out of the ordinary, all systems nominal.
“He’ll be fine” the doctor laughs, putting away the machines and tape prints. “Classic panic attack. Rest up and drink some tea.”
And that was the day I realized that anxiety and panic attacks aren’t the pitiful little hand-flailing bad hair days that I’d condescendingly imagined.
It’s not the momentary nervousness of losing your phone or being late for an appointment. It’s not just some trivial moment of stressful overreacting, and it certainly doesn’t just happen to weak-willed schoolgirls and pussies. That’s not true panic.
True panic is the instantaneous, all-encompassing explosive jolt of terrifying certainty that without a doubt, you are about to die – right here and right now as your heart explodes – and submerge suffocatingly into a crushing blackness you never knew existed.
Anxiety burst into my life without warning during a peaceful family dinner while I was at the prime of my life, so confident in my mastery over the world that I never imagined a crippling betrayal would come from inside my own body. It can come to anyone at any time.
I don’t laugh about that any more.
They do justice to the experience, to say the least. I never called 911, but I think most who have that style of panic attack do. You just can’t imagine the bizarre hole you fall into in your own being, while the physical side of you is screaming lies you can’t ignore, unless you experience it for yourself! But, thelopocox2 does a great job showing the insanity of it.
There were days I couldn’t leave my bedroom (thankfully, it was the master with a bathroom) and there was nobody in my life who understood.
I learned to go to work and suffer through the days. At its worst, I was having a panic “attack” almost around the clock for two weeks straight…I went to work sweating through my undershirt and stuttering through my retail deeds for the day then came home and would lay on my bed and experience my heart shaking the bed.
It is over now.
I was even able to go to Hawaii and stay for a number of days with co-workers I didn’t really know. To most that seems like a non-anxiety producing situation. But, to someone who feared leaving the house because, “I might cause a scene.” It was like winning the Nobel Prize!
I want to tell you the answers of how to get out of your anxiety for the rest of your life – but I don’t think I can, it is unique for each person…most likely. I will answer any questions you might have to the best of my ability.
But, I can rescue you. I mean, we can rescue you.
The key to escaping a panic attack is to be distracted.
Your body is LYING to you! Do Not Listen!
It says, “I don’t have enough oxygen!”
Wrong! You have too much. (Research breathing techniques – Correcting your breathing will also stop a panic attack quickly!)
Panic is all a lie. A lie that creates a real and horrifying experience.
Don’t listen to a known liar.
If you have a friend or family member you can trust to not make you feel judged during your attack, (someone who has experienced it themselves is obviously best) call them and ask them to talk to you about something that you normally care about and am informed about.
For me, even another crisis would be okay, because it would distract me from mine, but other people couldn’t take more emotional negativity. (Little story – I was commuting an hour to work and would be panicking almost the whole way – I was able to make work a “safe place” thankfully – and one time when it was too much, I started speeding towards the next exit, I got pulled over doing 95MPH. In my mind when I saw the lights behind me I thought, “oh, thank God.” As my panic melted away as I was distracted by how I am going to get out of this ticket.)
If you don’t have someone in your life that you can call, then we need to be that person for you, and you need to be that person for others. I don’t know the mechanism; an 800-number, Reddit, Facebook, etc. but we need a place where you can sign-up and be connected to a local group that would eventually give you phone numbers of people you can call when you are in the grips of an attack. People who have been there and know how to talk you out of it.
I wish I could give you all my number and be there for you, but that isn’t possible.
Someone here must be able to show us where that place is, or make it.
Good luck friends. THIS CAN BE OVERCOME!
Link to another anxiety based post… https://mutemandeafcat.wordpress.com/2016/12/26/more-help-for-those-who-suffer-anxiety-and-panic/