crowded street

I’ve lived with panic attacks for five years now. I’ve had so many panic attacks, I’ve stopped counting. Memories of my worst attacks stick in my mind like bad nightmares. The time I was house-sitting for my friend. The countless attacks in my college dorm room. I will never forget them.

When I have panic attacks, I have the symptoms everyone always mentions. These are the symptoms you can quickly find with a Google search of “What is a panic attack?” The rapid, pounding heartbeat that feels like a giant bird is stuck in my chest, the sweaty palms, the nausea and the trembling. These are the terrifying physical symptoms of panic attacks, and chances are most people can say they’ve experienced something close to this at least once in their life.

Panic attacks are more than a sudden feeling ofanxiety. They’re much more than the feeling you get when someone scares you and you say without thinking, “You almost gave me a panic attack!” Panic attacks can be incredibly traumatic experiences that happen over and over.

What people don’t realize is the physical experience of panic attacks isn’t always the worst part. There are some pretty terrifying things that can go on inside your head. Some of my worst panic attacks involve two symptoms no one really talks about when they talk about panic disorder: derealization and depersonalization.

Derealization is a fancy word for feeling like you are detached from your surroundings. When I experience this during panic attacks, everything around me feels unfamiliar. I could be in my bedroom, surrounded by things I’ve seen many times, like my cat, my bed or my clothes. Yet, I feel like I’m in a strange world. I feel like an alien who was beamed down into a random house.

Not only this, but things around me appear foggy and fake. Becoming detached like this is terrifying. My brain is doing something incredibly strange I don’t understand and I’m stuck in my body, trying to make sense of it. During panic attacks, I need something to hold onto that I can rely on. The familiar is what I crave, but my mind makes seeing the familiar difficult.

The people I love feel like strangers to me during panic attacks. It’s because of derealization that I worry about traveling to unfamiliar places. I love traveling, but the fear of unraveling can be enough to hold me back.

Depersonalization is a completely different sensation than derealization. Sometimes, the two happen at the same time. Depersonalization is the “out of body” experience. I feel detached from myself, like I’m looking at myself from afar. It’s tough to remember what’s important to me during this experience. I’m just going through the motions with no purpose.

Panic attacks leave me exhausted and searching for reminders of who I am and what makes me feel comfortable in my skin. A panic attack like this is a journey to find myself again. When I have them frequently, it’s like I’m constantly having to affirm who I am.

For me, depersonalization and derealization are the most terrifying sensations because I know they are coming from my brain instead of my body. They’re the symptoms no one else can see and this makes them even scarier. Both sensations are met with this overwhelming feeling of going “crazy” and losing control over everything.

Sometimes, I have a strange feeling that the entirety of the world’s problems, the news stories I hear daily, are on my shoulders. My panic attacks have themes like this. This feeling and the fear of going “crazy” make the panicking worse. I fall into a terrible cycle of panic that makes it hard to stop.

I wish people understood panic attacks aren’t always just a pounding heart. They aren’t always a prolonging of that startled feeling when someone spooks you. The solution isn’t always to relax and breathe slowly. Sometimes, it is to hold on for dear life to what you know is real and remind yourself the people and things around you are familiar. It means trying not to freak out even more and wait patiently until the sensations pass, even though you want to scream and cry.

During panic attacks, the body is doing what it knows to do when afraid and this can mean disconnecting from the world for a little while. I like to remind myself of this because it makes the panic attacks feel controllable. The body is doing what it needs to do.

Panic attacks are a delicate dance between reality and fantasy. Although depersonalization and derealization are terrifying, I know they will pass. I know I will eventually get back to who I am and the people I love.

My panic attacks can feel like a long and treacherous journey back to normalcy. Although I might feel “crazy” and out of control for a little while, the journey has a finish line. I try to remind myself of this when my heart starts pounding.


Paranoia is not my friend. Paranoia pretends to be your friend, egging you on to think things through more than you should, pushing you to dig deeper and find out more than you want to, waiting for you to feel comfortable and then snatching it away from you.

My paranoia is related to my anxiety/panic disorder. It sometimes is hardly there and then sometimes it’s there in full force. It feels like something is smothering me. I first experienced the smothering feeling at work in my first, proper job. I had an argument with a fellow colleague about something trivial and when I left the thoughts started.

This was a mistake.

You’re stupid for arguing.

She is going to ruin your career.

What if she tells a supervisor?

What if she turns everyone against me?

They started cycling around and around, all night and all day, a constant stream of thoughts directed at how I had ruined my life by arguing with someone over something I now realize was so stupid.

I started to become withdrawn from my friends at work. I felt like they all were against me. I remember watching them talking to each other in the hallway and imagining all the mean things they were saying about me behind my back. How they hated me. How I was bad at my job. How they were gonna get me fired.

It became crippling and I began to not trust anyone. I didn’t talk to people. I didn’t eat with them at lunch. I just shut them out and became so paranoid and anxious every day at work. I ended up taking a two week leave of absence.

In my two week leave, I started to become anxious about going back and it was hard. Paranoia is invisible to the naked eye. Only people close to me can see it rearing its ugly head. I become more irritable, more withdrawn. You need those people to help calm your clouded thoughts. They are the light that pushes the thoughts away and give you clarity.

What really helps during these times when you are being consumed by your thoughts is to think about how you do not know how others truly feel about you. You can’t control how others feel about you. Please, don’t do what I did and become obsessed with the paranoia you are experiencing. It does get better once you realize how to calm the thoughts down.

Now, I keep moving forward. I try to not linger on the thoughts. I push them aside as soon as I think about them and I’ve found it helpful to write them down and throw them away. You can do this!

This past year has been a healthy one. My daughter, who is a liver transplant recipient, only spent one night in the ER when she had a tummy virus and got a bit dehydrated (knock on wood).

We have new health insurance we selected when we started our own company, and it is wonderful. They actually cover what they say they will, without loopholes, without struggles, and when I call in, I get an actual person within one ring who personally works to resolve my issue. Absurd, right?  Things have been fairly quiet. Dare I say… “normal”?

Why is it, then, that I am struggling?

This past year, I started having panic attacks — some so intense they required a trip to the ER. I recognize, now, that I’ve had them before. I just didn’t know what they were.

If you’ve never really had a panic attack, it’s easy to write it off. It’s easy to misunderstand how debilitating these things can be. It’s more than feeling a little anxious. It’s not as simple as just calming down.

Panic attacks sneak up when I’m not expecting them. I may not be thinking about anything in particular at that moment. I might be doing laundry, or checking Facebook, or playing with my kids. I’m not dwelling on anything stressful, in most cases. It usually doesn’t happen when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed or worried.

It starts out as a dull ache in my belly. At first I think I might be hungry. Then it becomes an intense, burning pain, banding around my torso. It feels like my stomach is melting. I get nauseous, I begin to sweat, my breath becomes shallow, I get dizzy, I might throw up. I become scared. Terrified. I feel like a monster is trying to claw out of my skin, screaming inside me, but it can’t get out. It’s trapped.

The monster is me.

These attacks usually occur around something to do with my daughter’s health. I understand they are caused by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — the reaction I should have had during more stressful times is buried in my hypothalamus, the more primitive part of my brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response, and it is triggered by experiences that pull up those memories and, suddenly, in a quiet moment, that emotion comes rushing out, like a bottle under pressure that has been uncorked. But, I don’t know how to release it. My reaction is to tense up. It scares the hell out of me. I’m trying to push the cork back in.

So, telling me to “calm down” or “just don’t think about it,” doesn’t help. I’m not thinking about it. I’m just scared my body is reacting in a way completely beyond my control. The monster is driving.

More than once, the terror and pain became so intense I remember thinking, “This is worse than child birth, and I don’t know when it’s going to end, or when it might come back.” I’ve had three babies. Two were completely natural births without any drugs.

It can be depressing. It adds stress to an already full plate. It overwhelms me. It completely derails me. I am afraid to go out because I’m worried I’ll have an attack and be stuck, unable to get home, with three kids, and no one who understands to help.

I want so desperately for someone to understand. I’m not “crazy.” I just have a monster inside me.

Image via Thinkstock.

“Have you ever had a panic attack?”

The question hung between us like angry, rain-saturated clouds positioned overhead.

For me, the answer was obvious. Panic attacks can be a common, unfortunate part of battling Lyme disease and coinfections. But my relationship with panic attacks pre-dates my relationship with Lyme disease.

I have been married twice. Twice I picked out a gown, attended showers in my honor, pranced down an aisle and committed my life to the groom found waiting for me at the end. But once, the groom and I dismantled the life we’d built. We hurt each other deeply. And as I saw the end of our union barreling towards me, as I attempted to adjust to living alone for the first time in my life, as I worked to process the shame and loss of a failed marriage, I was introduced to panic in its rawest form.

These episodes were intense and unlike anything I had ever experienced before. They often reduced me to rocking back and forth on all fours or curling up into the fetal position, heart pounding seemingly outside of my chest. They seemed to be birthed by a thought, a “truth” too painful to bear – the weight of which induced sheer panic I could not control. These “truths” varied by the day or moment but they might have been “I will always be alone” or “I always make the wrong decision.” One day after the separation, while driving around and around SeaWorld, unable to find the entrance, it was: “I am unable to provide proper care for my son. I don’t deserve to be a parent.”

Over time, I learned to “talk myself down” from these episodes, to soothe myself away from these “truths,” to breathe, to disentangle fears from truths. I also spent years in the plush corner chair of a kind and capable counselor’s office doing the good, hard work of healing. In time, the panic faded to black and became a memory.

And then, Lyme disease seemed to bring on a different sort of panic attack. I can only describe these attacks as feeling somehow “chemical” in nature. They were unattached to any sort of thought or feeling. There seemed to be no specific triggers. They just were. As such, they were free to attach themselves to the most benign of events and were difficult to “talk yourself down” from. If a panic attack showed up because of some chemical trigger and not an emotional one, the panic itself was free to attach itself to whatever it wanted, like the last email I received, or the fact I’d just noticed we were out of milk. But all the self-talk in the world didn’t change anything, because these situations weren’t the actual trigger.

These “chemical” panic attacks became endurance-focused. And then elimination-focused ­–­­­ were there certain foods or meds setting them off or making them worse? How in the world do we get rid of them? (The “we” here being me and my doctor.)

And I confess to you that although the last few years have been riddled with many symptoms and diagnoses, this one sent me over an invisible edge. It somehow seemed more unacceptable than others. It felt like something I couldn’t and shouldn’t talk about.


Because according to some, only “weak” people have panic attacks. Don’t believe me? Just ask her, the woman sitting at my table, telling me she believes panic attacks are an excuse.

Just ask the people you know who have never had one. Unfortunately, their answers might sound like:

“You just need to pray more.”

“Are you sure that it’s not just all in your head?”

“Well, I’ve been through a lot and I’ve never had one, so I’m pretty sure that says something.”

“You control your own body so you must not be trying hard enough.”

But anyone who has had a panic attack knows none of these things are true. People who have panic attacks are not “lesser than” people who don’t.

They do not define a person any more so than any other physical symptom. And while there are many different ways to deal with panic attacks – which are as unique as their triggers – please know this: answering “yes” to the question, “Have you ever had a panic attack?” doesn’t make you worth any less as a person.

Image via Thinkstock.

I am writing because my therapist told me writing will level my mind. I know I cannot survive without writing what I experience. It is how I make sense of the extremes of human spectrum, and it is how I make sense of the nuances of sadness and joy that make up each normal day. When I was younger, I recognized and delighted in others’ cathartic work. Literature has molded me into the empathetic, sentimental, and analytical woman I have become. 

There are words I stored within the boundary of my skin that I must let out. I tangibly feel their weight. They gather in my chest and leave no room for my lungs to take in a full breath. They migrate to my throat and greedily push out any food that tries to travel to my abdomen. I wish these examples were metaphorical and not literal, but I truly believe when these words are no longer captive in my body, I will feel health in the words’ absence.

I am angry at my body.

Today is one more day in an exhausting line of days that my body is working against me. Upon opening my eyes in the morning, I am allowed two or three breathes before sharp pains occupy my stomach. Rolling to my side, I feel a deep ache run from my stomach down my leg. I hold my stomach, hoping I can placate it with a familiar touch. The pain is so real, so visceral, and so nauseating. I wonder what could possibly make me feel like this every single morning for the past two weeks. While holding my stomach, my fingers move to my sides in a self-hug. My hands make note of my bones that were previously protected with more flesh.

As I pull myself into getting ready for the day, my throat constricts. The back of my throat becomes metallic and unwelcoming at the thought of food, although I am so hungry. Aware of the tension in my throat, my hands, without thought, run down my ribs to my hipbones, as if to check that everything is in place. Why can I not eat? Why is my body denying me its most basic need?

Shedding more weight terrifies me, and the thought of it gives my stomach a new reason to violently turn. I pick a dry bagel apart, one small piece at a time. I cry because I so desperately want to wake up with thankfulness. Morning is my favorite time of day. Nothing makes me feel as wholehearted and hopeful as morning light greeting a room. I dread mornings. I dread how I feel after I take my first two safe breaths. I dread feeling my sharp bones and knowing I cannot eat, no matter how small the piece of dry bagel is in my hands. I hate not knowing how many mornings it will take for my body to stop producing flu-like symptoms. I hate the reasons and narratives my mind creates, trying to make sense of what it is doing to me. I wish my body would stop taking orders from my mind.

I am seven months into a panic disorder. My body can do nothing else to surprise me (this is not a challenge). I still feel fearful thinking about the first time I experienced a panic attack. I was sitting in my History of the English Language class and letting my mind drift to what kind of embroidery thread I wanted to buy at Hobby Lobby after class — potentially the least stressful topic I could have been thinking about. I suddenly realized I could not breathe. I adjusted my posture in attempt to let more air in my lungs, but my breaths were small and shallow. My heart rate skyrocketed and escalated into chest and arm pain all over my left side. I called my doctor’s office and they advised me to visit the ER since my symptoms were similar to heart attack. I decided to try Emergicare since the copay is less expensive. The episode was slowly escalating and I felt like I was losing my grip on reality.

You’re going to die. You’re going to die. You are dying right now.

I couldn’t control my thoughts and felt electric shocks run up and down the left side of my back and head as I stood in line to check in. The blood drained from my head as my heart started skipping beats. I walked past everyone in line in front of me and told the receptionist I needed an ambulance immediately. The poor woman bolted up and shouted for back up. I slumped against the counter, unable to hold myself up under the pressure of the episode. They placed me in a wheel chair and took my vitals right there in the lobby. Everything was normal. They wheeled me back to a private room and began an EKG, which also had normal results. My mind was still telling me  this was the day I was going to die. My heart was still pounding with unbearable speed.

They transferred me to the emergency room where they could complete more tests. An x-ray, blood work, and two more EKG’s revealed I am a healthy young woman. I was despondent to hear I was in good health.

How can I rest when I felt such fear for my life? How could I go to work the next day when I felt I must have an undetected cardiac or neurological problem causing these terrifying symptoms?

I skipped work the next day to see my primary doctor, who was the least helpful person on the planet to me. She told me to maybe skip the extra cup of coffee next time. As if I went to the emergency room because I didn’t realize I had too much caffeine. I was offended, confused, and scared I could experience these sensations again at any moment without understanding what caused them.

woman standing in an empty field

After a few months, the chest pain finally subsided and I felt comfortable to continue my life normally. The day before Valentine’s Day I experienced another attack as powerful as the first. This time I was working and not only felt unable to breathe, but the left side of my face also alternated between tingling and feeling numb. I felt the shocks and chills return to their runway on my spine and felt as though I could pass out at any moment. I couldn’t feel my left arm, and reality was a dissociated blur. I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was. I wasn’t sure of anything except how terrified I was and how horrible I felt. I made a doctor appointment for their soonest available opening. The family doctor I saw was just as unhelpful as the first. She told me that my episodes seemed to be getting better and to come in again if they got worse. I felt helpless and that my health was out of my control.

Over the next month I experienced panic attacks almost every day, sometimes for up to six hours. It took nearly four months to find someone who could confidently tell me my mind is the cause. I have spent thousands of dollars in medical help, simply seeking answers for why I was experiencing stroke and heart attack symptoms. I’ve been to the ER twice, Emergicare twice, and my primary care doctor more times than I can count. I’ve seen cardiologists, neurologists, and a woman who tried talking to my central nervous system. When I mentioned to my cardiologist that I had been researching panic attacks he just looked at me unblinking and said, “You don’t seem like a panicked person.” That was the end of our discussion, and he diagnosed me with occipital lobe migraines. After enduring a 24-hour EKG machine strapped to my body, they decided my symptoms are not cardiac based. I begged my primary care doctor to refer me to a neurologist, but she refused to acknowledge my tingling face, numb limbs, and dissociation as a neurological condition.

When I was at my lowest point, I threatened to hurt myself. Living with these symptoms was unbearable. I was too lightheaded, dizzy, nauseas and afraid to go to work or function. My father had the idea for me to see a psychiatrist to help me get a referral to a neurologist. When I saw the psychiatrist he had me fill out a chart with panic attack symptoms. I had almost every single symptom circled on the chart, which determined the cause of the terrifying reality that I had been living in. It was a relief to finally know I wasn’t dying, but it also took me a long time to accept that my mind could turn against me and cause such horrifying physical sensations.

The physicality of panic disorder should never be undermined. I would not describe myself as an anxious person, but the anxiety lives in my body. It courses through my central nervous system and wreaks havoc on the way I function daily. My mind confuses food with poison and a social gathering with a battlefield.

Through working with a great hypnotherapist I have been able to calm my subconscious and convince it to work normally on most days. In fact, after my first hypnotherapy session the most terrifying physical symptoms were alleviated. Now my body cycles through different debilitating physical symptoms I must relearn again and again are anxiety driven. The most recent stunt my body is pulling is being sick in the morning and rejecting food. It is still hard for me to believe my mind can cause my body to seem like a separate entity from myself. I am constantly trying to communicate with my body, asking it what it is trying to tell me by rejecting food or cutting off air from my lungs.

I have been angry and hateful towards my body because I oftentimes don’t understand it, but this disorder is teaching me I must be kind to myself before healing. Healing is not possible when I feel angry towards my body. I could write hundreds of pages on what my body has been teaching me about my past traumas and wounds. Self-aware to a fault, I believed I understood every trauma coded in my wiring.

I encourage everyone with a mental illness, or not, to pay attention to the way their bodies communicate. The physicality of my panic disorder has completely rearranged my life, but it is leading me to a becoming a new, healthier self. I would also encourage everyone with an anxiety disorder to never believe they are a burden. It is so healing to be open with loved ones and give them the opportunity to accept you the way you are. If you are struggling with a panic disorder or anxiety disorder of sorts, you may have a huge important story inside of you that wants to be released.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

There is a subtle but important difference between the triggers and underlying causes of anxiety, and sometimes it can be hard to recognize this difference without help. Triggers are usually small, specific instances that put you on alert. Underlying causes are more about why you’re feeling the anxiety — what you’re actually thinking about. Clues to these can often be found in the ruminating or racing thoughts you have when feeling heightened anxiety or panic.

For many of us with anxiety or panic disorders, our underlying cause(s) have something to do with control. For instance, I tend to experience anxiety when I feel my behavior can influence the outcome of a situation. I had a panic attack when meeting my boyfriend’s parents because I believed if I wasn’t (or didn’t appear to be) good for him they would tell him they didn’t approve and it would lead to the end of our relationship. This was a particularly big deal to me because I’d started to realize I was in it for the long haul, and I’d never really felt that before. I can’t even explain how important it was to me that my boyfriend and his family felt like I belonged with them. And, to be clear, never, ever did my boyfriend or his family put any kind of expectations on me. They were and are nothing but kind, empathetic, and a joy to be around.

I realize now there are multiple levels on which these thoughts were not accurate. But that’s what happens with anxiety: something triggers it, and then your brain ruminates or races and you end up spiraling into this place where your thoughts feel real and inevitable and like the worst case scenario is automatically the most likely scenario. It takes a lot of work to get to the point where you can recognize your anxiety is running away with your thoughts and even more work to learn how to reframe those thoughts. But it is possible, and it is worth it. When you’ve put in the work, you get to the point where you feel a little anxious, a thought like that pops up, and instead of seizing it and spiraling it, your attitude is just kind of oh, you and then you move on. To get to this point, I highly recommend three things:

These three things helped me immensely, and even using just one of them is a great start.

For a long time, looking back on the experience of each of my panic attacks just brought up those feelings again, which is natural. It took a lot of work to distance myself from the experience of anxiety and to really learn it is not part of my personality; it’s part of my body. It’s biological. This depersonalizing is essential. The difference between “my anxiety” and “the anxiety I feel” is so incredibly important. If you do nothing else, I’d recommend talking about the anxiety you feel in this way.

Now that I have this perspective, I want to take the time to really break down that first panic attack and talk about triggers versus underlying causes. This process — thinking through the timeline and anatomy of a panic attack — is one that has been really helpful in identifying my triggers and underlying causes. It’s also helpful to do in the middle of an attack because you’re not distracting yourself (and making the problem worse next time), you’re giving yourself a focus and stepping outside of the experience of anxiety while still addressing it and dealing with the feelings and symptoms.

A panic attack functions like this: panic attack infographic

I’m sure you’ll be able to see in my description below how my thoughts followed the panic loop, but I’ll try to also be clear about which step I was experiencing at each time.

I woke up early, feeling what I considered a “normal” level of anxiety with regards to traveling. I’d been feeling this for a couple of years, so nothing seemed unusual or more heightened. I felt nauseous but also like I needed to go to the bathroom, so I spent the morning alternately sitting on the couch shaking my leg and leaning over the sink or toilet. Again, this felt “normal.” I didn’t recognize this initial feeling of anxiety as a trigger (step 1) because it had never escalated to a panic attack before. I was assuming once we got to the airport, I would be fine for the rest of the trip. Now, though, I see the waking up early as a trigger and I know this is my cue to start belly breathing or meditating.

Once we got to the airport, things felt better. Going through security was familiar, as was the flight. They both occupied my mind and I could sort of forget about the anxiety I was feeling. I was sure it was done and this was going to be an awesome trip. The next thing I knew, the flight attendant had announced we’d started our final descent, and I was crying quietly in my seat with my headphones in. Again, I didn’t recognize this as a trigger (step 1) because I didn’t know then that anticipation is a huge factor for me, and I didn’t know about control of my own behavior being one of my underlying causes. I hadn’t really thought through why meeting the parents was such a big deal this time, and I didn’t understand how high my expectations of myself were. I let myself cry, thinking that was it, and hoping my boyfriend’s parents didn’t notice. Everything was fine for the rest of the day because I had enough to keep me distracted.

The next morning, I was up at 4 something hurrying as quickly and as quietly as I could to the bathroom. The trigger here was actually something that we all have — the left side of my brain was alert because I was sleeping in a new place — but I didn’t know that (step 1). I wasn’t expecting it. My racing thoughts were as follows: What’s going on? Why do I still feel like throwing up? What if his parents can hear me crying? What if this doesn’t stop and I can’t go out and do anything today? Are they going to think I’m doing this on purpose? Are they going to think I’m like this all the time? Oh my God, what if they think I’m like this all the time — they won’t want him to be with me! What will I do if he thinks they’re right? What if I can’t get it together and he doesn’t want to deal with that and this is the end of our relationship? (step 2) All of those thoughts happened in about 30 seconds. Unbelievable, right? But this is what your underlying causes do. They hijack you. They make you panic and worry and think everything is controllable and your responsibility when it is not. They force you to assume the worst thing you can think of is the thing that is absolutely without a doubt going to happen. Mine — the need to be in control of my own behavior and fear of losing someone important to me — were out in full force. Anxiety tricked me into believing my actions, and more specifically my ability to hide how I was feeling, were all that were keeping me from doom. Add to that the intense physical symptoms like nausea, crying, or shortness of breath, and you are in the second circle of hell, in the middle of a storm with no hope of rest. This is a panic attack. It sucks.

Eventually this subsided, as panic attacks always do. I was able to stop crying, shower, and my boyfriend and I went out shopping at the outlet malls while I slowly drank some coffee and a protein shake. By the end of the day, I felt more calm, if not entirely myself, but I was left wondering if this would happen again and definitely scared of the possibility (steps 3 and 4). This cycle of events happened every morning I was there. It was hard to break because I was surrounded by triggers: unfamiliar places, unfamiliar people, not knowing what was expected of me. Add to this the expectations I placed on myself because of my underlying causes of anxiety, and I consider it a miracle I even made it out of the bedroom, let alone made some jokes at dinner. I was trapped in this cycle for the entire trip, and then for a few days after I got home.

Once you’re in it, the panic loop is incredibly hard to break because it’s self-perpetuating. Most of a panic attack is not about whatever the initial thing that triggered your anxiety is. It’s about your fear of losing control in a public place or your fear that you’re going “crazy.” And then you start to fear having another panic attack, and you end up keeping yourself anxious all the time and actually giving yourself panic attacks.

The important thing to understand here, though, is that people don’t do this on purpose. People don’t say “you know what, let me have a panic attack right now.” (And if there are people who fake a panic attack as an excuse to get out of something, f*ck those people, those people suck). It’s important to understand panic is a physical, biological response, so when I say “give yourself panic attacks” what I mean is that you haven’t yet learned the tools to break the panic loop and so it continues. I don’t mean you’re intentionally doing this to yourself or that you are purposefully escalating your anxiety; I just mean your body feels something weird, your instincts respond a certain way, and that leads to more panic. I had about four or five months of what the f*ck is happening to me?! before I was ready to dive in and really start looking at my triggers and underlying causes. Then it took about a year of work to learn when I could expect to feel anxiety and how to work with it when I did. It was hard, but I have never done anything so worth it in my life.

If you’re still in your WTF phase, it gets better. I promise. It’s horrible AF now, but you can do this. You are not alone.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.