What It Feels Like When Panic Attacks


Have you ever woken from your dream because you feel like you’re falling?

Out of nowhere, for a split second or two, you have this horrible feeling in your body. You feel out of control. For me this is what a panic attack starts like, but instead of the feeling lasting a second, my panic attack can last anywhere from a couple of minutes up to an hour. The feeling doesn’t last for the whole panic attack though. It happens at the start when my mind goes into “fight or flight” mode.

Have you ever walked into a room full of strangers, room where the music is playing so loud you cannot hear yourself think?

This is how it feels for me next. I can be surrounded by the colleagues I have known for three or more years, the family I have known all of my life or my best friends, but in that moment, it feels like I am in a room full of people I have never met before in my life. It feels like 10 times as many people have just entered the room. I feel closed in, trapped. I need to get out of here. I need to get out of here, except I don’t recognize the place I am in, even if I have been here 100 times before. I can’t think of the way out. I’m still free falling through my dream. My thoughts are becoming irrational. All I can focus on is saving myself.

Have you ever had a child jump on your chest, playfully, unaware of the discomfort/pain it will cause you?

For me, this is what the next stage of my panic attack feels like. Except the child doesn’t just jump on you once, they jump on you over and over again. The child isn’t one who weighs an average weight. It is more like an elephant that weighs tons. I feel like I have the weight of the world bearing down on my chest. My breaths get faster and shallower. I begin to get pins and needles in my feet, my hands and my lips. I begin to lose control of my body. It makes me panic more. The longer it goes on, the longer it takes to regain control of my breathing.

Have you ever been shouted at for something you didn’t do as a child, maybe even as an adult?

“You need to breathe, calm down.”

“Just breathe.”

“You’re fine. You’re OK.”

“Take deep breaths.”

“Stop being over dramatic.”

“You’re not dying.” (Laughs.)

These are a few of the things I can remember being told during my panic attacks. Some more helpful than others. A lot of the time, especially when my panic attack has been ongoing for a while, the voices of my friends begin to get louder, sterner and more serious. They tell me to breathe. I am trying my best to.

Please, do not tell me I am fine. I am not. I need/want your reassurance, but I am not OK in this moment. Please, do not laugh at me when I tell you I feel like I am dying. I am petrified. I am trying to control this. Please, do not be mad.

The more panic attacks I have, the more the people close to me are able to help me. They know what makes me feel most comfortable. They know to ask before holding my hand during a panic attack to see if that will help or hinder. They know when to give me space and when to stay close. They know when to talk to me to try to keep me distracted on other things and when to leave me to focus on my breathing. Thank you, friends.

Have you ever unexpectedly had to do exercise like running for the bus?

You don’t have your running trainers on. You’re not dressed to run. You’re dressed to go to work, not to exercise. You feel uncomfortable for the rest of the day. After my panic attack, I ache. I am tired. I am hot. I am sweaty. I need to shower. I need to go to bed, and I need to rest. My panic attacks wear me out physically, as well as mentally. I can’t just go back to being OK. I can’t just carry on working. I can’t go back into my lecture. I can’t go back into the party or back into the shopping center. I need to recover. I need time to to tell myself I am OK.

Image via Thinkstock.

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