The Mighty Logo

Today I Had a Panic Attack While Driving

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I am amazed by the ignorance of my teenage self for thinking that, one day, I might look back and see my ongoing battle with mental illness as glamorous. Now, as an adult who is a lot closer to 30 than to 19, stopped in my car in the middle of a main road holding up traffic, with the intrusive eyes of passers-by watching me shake and cry, I envy my wide-eyed younger self. Not only because it was then that I had a flatter chest, but also because I viewed my days of debilitating anxiety as temporary. I planned my life as though it would begin when I finally “grew out of it.” But, this adult now 100 percent understand that those days wasted to fear and loathing will remain, probably forever. And, speaking frankly, that really f***ing sucks.

I wish I could say that anxiety (let’s call it Harry — I never really liked that name) and I were frenemies – that Harry and I have had some good times, but ultimately we weren’t great for each other. But, that has never been the case. I hate Harry. I’m not sure what Harry thinks of me but either way we don’t work well together on a personal, social or professional level. At best, we have a relationship similar to the one that I had with that girl who “stole” my boyfriend in high school — I didn’t want to see her then and if I bumped into her now, it’d be extremely uncomfortable.

Wiping away gushing snot with my bare arm, I feel sorry for the schoolgirl looking on with an expression of concerned disgust and I feel even worse for the bus driver who doesn’t beep but waits patiently for me to inch forward so he can make his stop on time. I am quivering and I am scared. My boyfriend calls me and I hold my breath in between each sentence that I manage to vocalize.

“Are you OK?” he asks.

“I just need to get home.”

He hangs up and I know he is worried. I am too, because he is the third person that Harry has touched without my permission today. First the schoolgirl, then the bus driver, and now him.

Harry pushes and punches a lot of people in my life. And, he gets worse when I start realizing him getting in the way of other people’s lives. The problem is, I don’t blame Harry for that; I blame myself.

If I could, I would murder Harry as payback for that overwhelming guilt. Even on my good days, when Harry is not around, I worry about the next time he’ll show up unannounced and hope he brings no other friends.

I sat in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens last week, with a friend who scurried me away from my boyfriend who was lying peacefully asleep on the grass in the sunshine. I began crying after we had eaten breakfast at a café. Before then I had been absolutely fine. In fact, I had been happy. My friend and I discussed what it meant when something like this happened. We described a feeling between our neck and chest that suddenly appeared and got the better of us. The feeling was one of despair and hopelessness that we knew not everyone understood. It is never stress — anxiety and stress are two different feelings. This feeling feels like the end of everything and strikes at the most insignificant of times. That’s what’s happening in my car in the middle of the street.

I want you to know — I don’t choose to have him around. I want Harry to f**ck off, even more than you do. For now, I just really need to get home.

Follow this journey on

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

Thinkstock photo via kieferpix

Originally published: May 20, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home