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The Toll a Panic Attack Takes on My Mind and Body

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The sound of my racing heartbeat is deafening. I’m pretty sure — no, I am 100 percent certain — my heart is about to pound itself right out of my chest. The room is starting to spin, and everything is closing in on me before I can react.

Sounds and movement are amplified beyond normal recognition. It’s nearly impossible to process what’s happening around me.

My throat feels like it’s closing, which is absolutely terrifying. If I can’t get more air soon, then I’m afraid I am going to suffocate. My chest is constricting. With each passing moment, it feels tighter and tighter.

My legs are like Jell-O. If I try to move them, then I just know they will give in on me. I’m afraid I’ll collapse. So I find a wall to lean against for support, or I plop down on the ground.

The rest of my body feels funny, too. Everything is surreal, and I feel as though I’m on the outside looking in. I don’t feel like I actually own my body or can control any of it.

I can’t focus. I can’t process. I’m simply trying to get through this. I have zero control.

My body’s fight, flight, freeze has kicked in. My reaction depends on the circumstances, although I usually freeze at first. Then, I fight until I get enough strength back in my legs to engage in flight. My legs finally support me and carry me away from the (incorrectly) perceived danger as my mind races a million miles an hour and screams with questions and blame.

Speaking of support, during a panic attack, I need support. I need real, true, genuine compassion. Please.

By the way, I am fully aware that my attack is not rational. I know this is not the proper response, and I’m not in real danger. My mind and body, however, are telling me otherwise. I am absolutely terrified, and I feel like I’m reduced to a childlike state.

Please, stay with me. Assure me that I’ll be OK. When I have a public attack, it shatters my heart if I’m ignored. I’m struggling through this attack, really, truly struggling. So the least someone can do is ask if I’m OK and see me through it. I know it’s probably awkward, but put yourself in my shoes. I’d choose awkward any day over the panic that I’m experiencing as my mind and body are screaming, defying me and losing control.

When my head starts clearing, I remember coping skills I have learned in therapy, and they help. When I can get to my medication, I’ll take it and that will also help get me through this. Yet, those aren’t magical cures, and it takes a lot out of me to get through a panic attack.

For me, once the physical attack on my body is over, I still have a recovery period that can last days, especially if others witnessed the attack, because I experience so much shame and humiliation. Getting over those feelings is just plain hard. I continue to bash myself for days because I feel reduced to so little. Once it’s all over, I keep pushing forward.

Please, do not judge a person struggling through a panic attack. It’s simply a human problem, and we all have those. Instead of judging or avoiding, ask how you can help. Lend a hand or an ear. Most importantly, practice compassion. You may not be able to tell, but your presence and compassion can go a long way.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: December 19, 2016
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