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The Experience That Reaffirmed Panic Attack Recovery Is Not Linear

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When we talk about anxiety, we tend to say the same sorts of things.

“You will learn to manage your anxiety.”

“You will learn tools to ease in and out of panic attacks.”

“You will figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

“In the end, you will come out a wiser, more balanced person.”

We like this version of things because it’s full of hope and light and for the most part, it’s true. Sometimes, though, the line is a little curvier than that.

Yesterday, I went to a presentation on domestic violence. I sat in the second row in the seat closest to the wall and turned my chair slightly sideways, because it makes me feel safer to have my back to a wall. A row in front of me on the opposite side of the room, a boy mirrored my position. He wore a baggy sweatshirt, a backpack and a noticeable frown. One of his hands rested on the table and the other, in the pocket of his sweatshirt. There was no danger, no reason, but I panicked. I convinced myself the bulge in his pocket wasn’t just his fist, but a gun, and at the end of the presentation he was going to take it out and do something unspeakable. My heart rate spiked, my breathing became shallow and the rest of my body quickly followed into a full panic attack.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Last month, I had to leave class because I had a panic attack while we watched a documentary on masculine violence in American cinema. That same week, I went to the park to call my parents and saw a fight instead. Teenage boys, shoving and punching and yelling at each other. On the phone, I asked my dad what I should do. Intervene? Call the police? He told me to leave before I got shot. My friends said the same thing later that night. They weren’t wrong to be worried because the month before that, one of my classmates did a local news presentation with security camera footage of a fight that ended up with one of the people being shot at a gas station near our college.

This thing, this violence trigger, has been a long time coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. I never thought here, years later, I would develop a new trigger for panic attacks. I thought I could identify the triggers I had, learn the tools I needed to learn and will myself to a more manageable level of anxiety — but here we are. Dealing with anxiety is not a straight shot towards a balanced, happy life. There are curves in the road — new triggers, new roadblocks and maybe old, unhealthy coping mechanisms. But with effort and hope, it can still be part of your upward trend. Instead of succumbing to these panic attacks, I am identifying the trigger and I’m working through it. You can, too. Don’t give up hope.

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Thinkstock photo via Pimonova.

Originally published: April 14, 2017
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