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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 ‚Äúcrazy.‚ÄĚ

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, ‚ÄúDon’t ask me questions. I don’t want to talk¬†because it doesn’t sound like my voice.‚ÄĚ 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.