themighty logo

How I Was Wrong About My Panic Attacks


My panic attacks have had a very distinct and identifiable history: labored breathing, feeling faint, difficulty breathing, the “impending doom” of the world caving in around me, and crying, crying hysterically at … I don’t even know what sometimes.

I can usually predict it, too. The perfect storm for a typical panic attack is to feel like I have a thousand things to do and not enough body parts to do it. In my mind, I feel like Inspector Gadget but 12 arms extending in various directions. Meanwhile, I have a scroll of demands from family, friends, co-workers, finances and my health. My mind can’t keep up, so I throw my hands up in frustration, anxiety, disappointment and sadness. I break down in exhaustion, wondering why I can’t keep up, and how other people can deal with these same tasks with ease and grace. I blame myself, start the self-sabotaging negative thoughts and reprimands, and hate myself for not being all the things I want to be and should be. I shut myself off from the world, take some medication, cry it out, and be left with zero self-esteem and absolutely no energy to do the simplest tasks for the remainder of the day. If I exposed myself to the world for the rest of the day, I risked not being at my best and thus feeling embarrassed about my inadequacy.

A few days ago, my idea about panic attacks changed. No, it wasn’t amidst the hyperventilation fest or even on the same day. I reflected on my feelings and emotions for days after it happened, perhaps the first time I’ve done this after a panic attack . The truth is, I didn’t even realize I was having a panic attack when it happened because it was silent. A busy day adhering to the demands of e-mails, phone calls, appointments and errands left me unable to think about anything. Not crying. Not my list of things to do and people to call. Not the things left undone in my life. I just sat emotionless, unable to open my eyes for a long period of time, and drained from all things which made me human. I felt frozen in time and paralyzed by my own anxiety and panic. A zombie.

This couldn’t be a panic attack, though … right?

I went home, changed into my softest leopard print pajama set, turned my phone off and fell asleep on the couch at 4 p.m. I had to reduce the stimuli in my life to recenter my body and mind.

It was a panic attack; it just didn’t fit my self-created mold. The odd thing about having anxiety is that I can’t even explain this “thing” that affects me every day. I don’t know if it’s going to manifest itself in awkwardness in conversations, in hard work because I’m afraid to fail, or in debilitating nothingness for days. How can I live every day with something I cannot explain?

What I can explain is how important it is to understand your body and your mind. This actualization is why being reflective, inquisitive and self-aware is so important when it comes to mental health and wellness. You may not always understand why anxiety does what it does, but you can understand it is unpredictable. You can understand yourself and what helps you during panic attacks or extreme moments of anxiety.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via contributor