When You're Not Sure Whose Body You're in During a Panic Attack


I’ve had panic attacks since I was a child. It’s become easier for me to explain how an episode affects me physically. My heart beats fast, and I get lightheaded and dizzy. I feel sweaty and shaky. I start to black out and am afraid I’ll faint. I have an urgent need to leave the place I’m at.

The physical sensations are frightening. But for me, it isn’t the scariest part. There are symptoms of panic attacks I don’t like to talk about. I don’t even like to think of them.

Here’s how I can best describe the feelings: I’m in a fog. I’m in a dream. I don’t know whose body I’m in. I’m not sure if everything around me is real. I feel out of control.

I’ve had these strange thoughts since I was a girl. Now I know there are actual terms for the symptoms that totally freaked me out.

Derealization is being detached from your surroundings and feeling as if the world isn’t real. Depersonalization is being a detached observer of oneself, an out-of-body experience.

I was in fourth grade the first time it happened. My teacher had asked me to go to the administration office to pick up some papers. While I was there, an odd sensation came over me. I wasn’t sure what I was doing in the office. Is this me? I sat in a chair until I felt better. I didn’t mention it to anyone. I thought I was “crazy.”

It got worse in high school. I’d look in a mirror and wonder, Is this really me? If not, who is it? I practically had to shake myself to stop those thoughts.

One morning I was sitting on the floor in front of my full length mirror, getting ready for work. Those bizarre feelings hit me hard. I was shaky and felt like I was brushing eye shadow on someone else. Like I was in a fantasy world. I called in sick that day.

I’d tell myself, Stop it. Stop thinking I’m not who I am. I could easily make myself go to that weird, disturbing place. But it was hard to bring myself out of it.

Once I stepped over into the land of distortion, I couldn’t get back. The trick was not going there at all. That dreamlike state was an absolute nightmare.

When my daughter was 9 years old and experiencing the symptoms of panic attacks, she’d tell me, “Don’t ask me questions. I don’t want to talk because it doesn’t sound like my voice.” I was so sad for her because I feared I knew exactly what she meant.

It’s been years since I’ve gone into that frightening zone. And if I feel like I might, I can control it. I tell myself, No. I’m not doing this. I do my best to keep busy and stay distracted.

Anything to keep me out of the dreaded fog and back into reality.

Image via Thinkstock.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.