If you have never experienced a panic attack let me share what it feels like. A physical sensation starts in your throat. Out of nowhere for no obvious reason. ANYTHING can trigger this. Suddenly your throat swells. Swallowing feels impossible. You can no longer remember how to breathe. Then your vision starts to wobble. Not unlike when you’re very very drunk and see “double”. Only everything shakes and comes in and out of focus. It’s around here that your chest decides it wants in on the action and your heart starts pounding as if it’s about to burst out of your chest. “Just slow down, count to ten and BREATHE” the advice you’ve been given a thousand time flits through your mind.
I can’t breathe. I don’t remember how. I can’t see. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know what to do. I’m so scared. What is happening to me? What is WRONG with me? Am I mad? Why can’t I just be normal like other people? Is everyone staring at me? Oh No. They know I’m mad. I need to get out of here. I don’t know how. My legs won’t move. I feel sick. Please don’t cry. This is embarrassing enough without crying in public. If I could just sit down. I’m scared to sit down. What if I never get up again?
If you’re “lucky” this happens when you’re at home and you can just stay in bed, under the covers shaking, sobbing, fearing for your sanity until eventually, inevitably you wear yourself out and fall asleep.
What caused the above? It varied. There were days when just the thought of getting dressed and going out for milk could bring this on; the terror that an actual panic attack could happen as soon as I left the house was enough to bring it on.
Another thing you might not know about a panic attack- they are exhausting. I can vividly recall not having the energy to brush my teeth. In the days following an attack, if I’d managed to go a few days without, I can remember how taking a shower, brushing my teeth and getting dressed would leave me so utterly drained and depleted that I would need to lie down and even take a nap before I could do anything. Days when I felt strong enough to go out and “get over this” only to make it as far as the bus stop before feeling like I’d completed a marathon and would have to retrace my steps and go back to bed. Then of course I could spend the rest for the day dwelling on what a total failure, waste of space, pathetic excuse for a grown woman I was.
I hope you NEVER know what this feels like. I have experienced many things. I’ve woken with a hyena on my bed, been held at gunpoint for overstaying a visa, had a group of men threaten to rape me. NOTHING is more terrifying than feeling like you are losing you mind and not having a single clue how to stop this.
For those of you who recognise every nuance of this. I see you. I hear you. I feel for you. And I have a promise for you. You CAN beat this. How do I know? Where do I get off telling you this? Because I did. And now, now you’re thinking “Oh well you clearly weren’t as depressed as I am.” I was. I attempted suicide. I ended up homeless. I’ve sat in those rooms and been assessed. I’ve had the counsellor look down at me; at me. I’ve been told to “go have some cake and feel better” or to “pull yourself together”. And I’m here on the other side. I’m not just okay. I’m freaking amazing. I HEAL people. I have amazing friends. I have people tell me that I’m an inspiration. ME! The screw up. When the time is right, you will find the help you need. It might be a therapist. You might need to dance, run, paint or sing. You might need to reach out to a healer like me. You might need to carry crystals. You will find your way and you will learn how to choose love. It really is the answer to everything.