What the flapjack is a panic attack? Good question. Most people will picture teenagers – crying and rocking as they clinch their eyes shut. Well, that isn’t too far off for some people, but there is a lot more that goes on. I don’t know a lot of people that suffer from panic attacks, so this is based on some limited information, but I am going to tell you a bit about how I experience attacks and how I know others experience them. Sometimes knowing how others feel really helps you to understand what you can do for them – or understand what you are going through yourself.
Panic attacks, also called anxiety attacks, can come on suddenly with an obvious trigger. They can also be an ominous feeling that grows until it bursts. There are all kinds of symptoms and everyone experiences attacks differently. I will show you what it looks like for me, but I want to be clear that this is not how every single person experiences an attack.
Please do not continue reading if you aren’t ready to get a view of me in my most vulnerable state. I will try to keep it as lighthearted as possible, but this is a heavy topic. This post is not for those that stopped by for a cheery topic (I’m sorry if the title was misleading). So, without further ado, here is what a panic attack looks like for yours truly.
I experience full-blown panic attacks about once a month at the very most. Some people get them once a week others only have one in their entire life. It is completely based on you and your own anxiety levels. I have also recently started on a new anxiety treatment so my anxiety attacks have seriously backed down as my coping levels have increased. My attacks are not regular and I never know when one is on the horizon, but when one comes it is like a ton of bricks has fallen on top of me. Usually, I can tell there is something wrong with my anxiety levels in the days before I experience an attack, but it is always a surprise when I actually lose my bearings.
Here is a timeline of what it looks like on a night that I have an anxiety attack.
6 PM. Dinnertime. Dad comes in the door dressed in his dirty work clothes – they smell. He is in a bad mood too, I can tell. He asks how we are and the answers are the same as always. Fine. What did we do today? School. He goes to change as I set the table. The plates are loud as they clank against each other. I grit my teeth together. We sit down. We pray. We eat. They all chew so loud. Has it always been this loud? I hardly eat. I haven’t been hungry all day. The sound of scraping forks and knives makes me want to scream. Seriously. I want to scream.
I help clean up the kitchen and take care of the dogs. It’s so cold outside. I disappear to my room – I tell my family I have a lot of studying to do for a test the next day. It isn’t a lie. I sit in my room. I listen to music and journal furiously. I convince myself that writing will take away the feeling that has started to grip my entire body. I know what is coming now. I know that if I feel like this now, the night will only bring worse feelings. Sometimes the feeling would leave me by now, but it hasn’t. It has made itself comfortable and is waiting for the perfect moment to act up.
9 PM. I start cleaning my room. I organize my shelves and pick up my tangled jewelry. I feel like I might throw up now. Actually, there might be something in my throat. I check in the mirror to see if my tongue looks weird. My heart is beating fast right now, but it calms back down when I turn on one of my favorite songs.
11 PM. It is quiet in my house now. My parents are in their room and my sister’s door is shut. I slowly close mine halfway, but not all the way or she would know something was up. I never close my door unless I’m on the phone. I retreat to my bed. I check the time and clean my nails. I get up to sit in my rocking chair but I return to my bed in less than five minutes. My legs kinda hurt. My head is throbbing. I wonder if I will even sleep tonight. I turn my light off and try to distract myself with a game on my phone.
Midnight. The door is shrinking. No it’s not, of course my door isn’t shrinking! But… it is. It is shrinking and then growing. Shrinking and growing. Over and over as I stare at it. I look away and at my hands. Are these really my hands? They seem so big. Am I a giant? I close my eyes, but the inside of my eyelids play a video of crackling paper and the dry earth of the desert. All I can see is peeling skin and spiders. I open my eyes again. My body feels like a balloon. Am I going to float away or am I filled with cement – not air? I can feel the panic in me now. Real panic. This isn’t the feeling I had all day today. This is amplified. Intense. Excruciating.
12:05 AM. What if my mom dies tonight? Did I tell her I loved her before I came to bed? I can’t go tell her now or she would know I am having an attack. Remember when my dog died last year? Remember when she used to nose my arm while I watched a movie? Remember how I tripped over my words at the movie theater four months ago? Remember that feeling of embarrassment I had as I spoke? Why am I crying? Why can’t I breathe? Can anyone hear me crying? Am I quiet enough or is my sister on the other side of her door worried? Should I be quieter? Can I be quieter? My breathing is so loud.
12:10 AM. I feel like I should scream. My throat itches with the need to release the sound. My heart is beating faster and faster inside my chest. I have to remind myself that this isn’t a heart attack. I’m not actually dying. But, wow, it feels like dying. My eyes see black spots floating around my room. The light from the door grows bigger and then smaller again. Am I going crazy? Is this the time my mind is really going to break? Tears streak down my face with the difficulty to hold my screams inside. I fold over into a ball trying to keep my sobs from shaking the bed. My breathing is so labored and fast. Why am I so scared? My closet seems so dark. Has it always looked like such an abyss?
12:15 AM. My hands are shaking. My legs have those same aches in them that I used to get when I was little – growing pains. The arches of my feet prick and my hands feel like I have needles being stuck in them. Are there spiders in my bed? I get up and rip all of the covers off. I can’t sit back on the bed even though it is obviously clean. I sit on the floor surrounded by my sweaty and crumpled up blankets. My breathing slows down and my eyes cry until they run dry. My chest hurts. My head feels as big and heavy as a watermelon. I’m so tired. My eyes hurt so much.
12:20 AM. I text my best friend to see if he is awake. Without an answer I turn on music to calm my pulsating head. My breathing is still shaky. I can’t seem to focus on anything. The walls of my room are still again. I am normal sized again. My hands still don’t seem like my hands. I don’t feel like I am really here. But, obviously, I am. I wait to see if my friend responds.
12:30 AM. My red and swollen eyes can’t stay awake any longer. I drift into restless sleep. I am plagued by nightmares for the rest of the night.
In the morning I wake up feeling like myself again. The room is bright and my family is awake. I can’t tell if my eyes will give away the night I had, but I get up anyway. I am exhausted. Yet, somehow, relieved. As horrific and awful and degrading as it feels to go through a panic attack – how light I feel after all of that built up anxiety is released in such a short period of time is astounding. I can’t really explain why on earth it should feel better after an anxiety attack, it just does for me. I do not think this is a normal thing.
Other people can have anxiety attacks that last for hours. Mine only last for about twenty minutes before I can begin to calm myself down. Keeping an anxiety attack from happening always make mine longer though. If I am in public and I feel parts of me start to panic, I can usually hold it back. I can get away from the trigger and disconnect from what I think is causing me to lose my bearings. I can be mean and rude but in my eyes it is the only thing keeping me from literally losing my mind in the middle of the food court. After keeping an anxiety attack down in public, the feelings that overflow into my mind later when the attack bursts from my mind and into reality are increased tenfold. It lasts longer and causes me to panic faster. My room spins and I can’t even walk due to the dizziness.
That is an anxiety attack for me. Some people prefer to call them panic attacks – there are specific definitions for both but society has really started to mold them into one. Regardless of what they are called, that is what it like to experience one. I have tried to explain the visions to other people before. The way my door shrinks and grows – like I am Alice and have just eaten the little cake offered to her. I feel like the entire world has turned to wonderland and makes no sense. I can’t see where my room ends and it stretches longer than I thought possible. In the blink of an eye it is back to normal and my panic is refreshed. Am I crazy? This is all in my head, isn’t it? I can’t really be seeing these things. Alice in Wonderland is the only way I can really describe it in any way that makes sense. Others may call it tunnel vision. It is actually a very common symptom according to my doctors.
So, now you know. Some of you won’t be able to do anything with this information, but others will read this and their eyes will widen as they realize they aren’t alone. Soon I will post more information like what you can do for someone having an attack or what you can do for yourself in an attack. I’m obviously not an expert. But I am genuine. I know how you feel. Please be safe. Till next time, love yourself.