That’s got to be the most common response I’ve ever received to having a panic attack and possibly the most frustrating. You think the clue would be in the terms “panic attack” or “anxiety attack”. There you are feeling under siege by your anxiety, quite literally under attack. The last thing you feel is under control of your emotions, much less the ability to “calm down” just like that.
Honestly, if it were that easy, panic attacks wouldn’t happen. It’s not like anyone wants to experience one. For me they’re pure hell. And you might think I’m exaggerating but honestly I’m not. I find it so hard to describe what they feel like to have. Sure I could list off the physical symptoms you can get off any google search; shaking, rapid and irregular heartbeats, dry mouth, breathlessness etc but to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) on how they actually feel? Now that’s tricky.
I think it honestly varies from person to person. At least that’s what I’ve deduced from chatting about it with other anxiety disorder sufferers. For me it almost feels like an out of body experience. It often starts with that tell-tale feeling of tightness in my chest, then I can feel my heartbeat picking up to the point where I think it’s going to pound right out of my rib cage and my extremities begin to tingle like I’ve got pins and needles. Then it’s like the rest of the room disappears and yet in my head I hear nothing but noise. I feel like I can’t breathe. And often I can experience this without anyone around me knowing. I’ve gotten to the point now where I can recognise the signs as they begin and mostly head them off, but never completely. I still feel short of breath, pain in my chest and it can wipe me out. Often, later on, I’ll feel randomly irritable for no reason at all.
Then there are the times which are a bit more obvious. The times when my emotions really get the better of me and I feel like they just bubble over. Suddenly everything gets too much and I feel completely overwhelmed. These are a lot rarer for me than the more silent attacks but sadly they still occur. And, I know I shouldn’t, but I still feel such shame when they do. After all there’s still such a stigma attached to mental health. There shouldn’t be but there is and if I were to have an obvious panic attack in front of someone? Well it feels as though I may as well be stood in front of them naked.
Vulnerable is a word I’d use to describe how I feel when experiencing a panic attack. I feel exposed, open, raw and afraid. But weak? No I wouldn’t say that. Because dealing with panic attacks has given me more strength than I ever could have imagined. Fighting. Fighting fear. That’s how I think of it. Every time I have an anxiety attack and conquer it, it’s like I’ve fought a mini battle and won. So many of us are fighting these battles day in, day out but just remember, that if you’re here reading this right now, you’ve won. Anxiety is a bitch, it really is. But we are stronger. We have the ability to put that bitch to sleep and say…
“nope not today”.