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What My Panic Attack Really Feels Like


My hands start shaking. I cannot breathe. I know these feelings. I have been here before — in a safe place — feeling like the whole world is out to get me. I am terrified of dying in this moment, sitting here in this chair. I feel like I have nowhere to turn and I know there is no way I will ever get out of this. I know the only way this shaking mess can end is when I’m no longer breathing.

I hate this. More than any other feeling in the world. I despise this feeling of choking on air without even opening my mouth. The words I want to speak get stuck in my throat, making it even harder to breathe. The world starts to spin, even though I’m not moving.

I cannot move. I am stuck in this moment, unable to see anything past what is happening right now. It seems like every sound means danger. The lights are too bright and my heart is beating too loudly. My heart is going to stop beating soon, isn’t it? Isn’t this how someone dies? Isn’t this how my family finds me: curled up in a ball on the floor of my bathroom?

Should I text your best friend? No, she won’t be able to help. No one can help me. I’ll just be bothering her. She has more important things to do than deal with her hot mess of a friend. I don’t deserve her. She deserves better than all of my tears and antics.

I am going to throw up or pass out. Or both. My body reacts to the world in ways I know it’s not supposed to. But I cannot make it stop. My muscles don’t seem to obey the signals my brain sends them. But then again, my brain isn’t exactly in the best place to be calling the shots. So I ride the crashing waves, letting myself come close to drowning because it is so hard to remember how to swim.

I can’t seem to remember how to open my eyes. They are squeezed so tightly shut that my head starts to hurt. And headaches are always a sign of brain cancer, right? I am going to die. I notice the world is black. Is it night or am I dead? No, my eyes are still closed, still somehow managing to shed tears.

I start to regain control of your limbs. The short raspy breaths slowly return to a natural rhythm. I know this feeling. I am safe. There has been no harm done, and even though I am exhausted from fighting this, I breathe a sigh of relief. I am safe.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Favor_of_God