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.
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.
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