The Mighty Logo

When I Had a Panic Attack in the Middle of a Walmart

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I was in the back of a Walmart a few years ago, and I was walking around and looking at things before I did my actual grocery shopping. I’ve always liked just walking around to see what I might like to buy later on. On this particular day, it had been raining off and on, so it was cloudy out at times. As I walked through Walmart, the store would go from bright to dark. Because it had a glass ceiling, the clouds moving around outside were actually able to change the amount of light inside the store. And once I reached the back of the store, it seemed darker than when I had first entered the store. For some reason, this scared me.

I told myself there was nothing to be afraid of. After all, it was the middle of the day, and I was in Walmart with other people. And the lights were on even though at times it didn’t look like it. This darkness due to the clouds moving happened twice more, and then I began to fall apart. My heart started racing. It felt like it was going to come flying out of my chest. I got sweaty and panicky. Then everything just started rushing past me as if I was in a movie being fast-forwarded. By the time I reached into my purse for a tissue to wipe the sweat from my forehead, about 30 seconds has passed since I felt the first of pat of a racing heart. I grabbed my shopping cart and made my way to the front of the store as quickly as I could. I parked my cart by the registers and walked outside.

Once outside, I bent over, trying to slow my breathing down, but being outside didn’t help. So I ran to my car, jumped in and locked all the doors. I sat there for a minute before I decided to drive home. I pulled in front of my house and jumped out, ignoring everyone who was outside. I ran inside and jumped in my bed and pulled the covers over me. This is where I stayed for three days. I barely got up the nerve to walk downstairs to join the family to eat and see what the kids were up to.

It was a week before I ventured out again. I had agreed to go to the grocery store, but not Walmart. Inside other stores, I appeared to be OK. It would take a few months before I tried Walmart again. And it would be a hit-and-miss depending on how my body reacted to being there.

I went to see a psychiatrist, and he informed me that I had suffered a panic attack. And since these attacks happened outside my home, they were most likely a result of agoraphobia.

What is agoraphobia? For me, it is a fear of being outside my home. I tend to shy away from large superstores. I don’t like crowds or long lines. And some days I can’t even talk myself into going to the drive-thru at the pharmacy. I want to be home. It’s my safety zone.

It’s the panic attacks that get me. It renders me a mess. I begin trembling. I have trouble speaking. My heart races. I get so hot that I began sweating as if I’m having a hot flash. My breathing gets heavy, which then causes me to have an asthma attack, and then I have to use my emergency inhaler. I don’t want to held, hugged, comforted or told to calm down. Because at that precise moment in my mind, I am dying and my world is caving in, and there’s nothing either of us can do about it.

And it’s not until I’m in my safety zone that I begin to feel better. For me, it is my bed. After having an agoraphobic moment, it’s usually three days before I venture out onto the porch. And if I’m lucky, to the mailbox. But it’s typically a good five to 10 days before I can make my way out into the actual public. And if I begin to fill a little anxiety coming on, I try to focus on my safety zone. Sometimes knowing it’s there and that I’ll be home soon enough will help. Sometimes. Not always.

Having agoraphobia can take up a lot of headspace. The key is to widen your safety zone. The more you shrink your safety zone, say from your whole house to just a room in your house, the harder it will be to get that space back. The key is to seek help. Don’t let agoraphobia shrink your life.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: February 14, 2016
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