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What a Public Panic Attack Feels Like

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It’s like a switch flicks off in my brain.

My breathing picks up speed, and all of a sudden, the walls are closing in. I look down; the way my heart is thumping, I am sure you can see it from the outside of my chest. I recognize the changes, but I am not able to pull myself back. My face turns pale, and I try to keep my breathing from being erratic.

There are people nearby, but I can’t hear them.

My heartbeat can be heard thumping in my ears, and it blocks out everything else. My eyes are wide open but the room gets smaller. My hands are shaking and I can feel a quiver in my chest and stomach. My heart picks up speed. My breathing has turned to gasping. I know there are people around and I know I have to get away.

I don’t want people looking at me. I don’t want people talking to me. I don’t want anyone touching me.

I know what I’m feeling is unnatural, but the downward spiral has already started and I can’t make it stop.

I try focusing on my breathing, hoping if I get one of my symptoms in control, that the rest will follow suit.

In out, in out.

I am afraid.

People are looking. I want to be alone. The walls close in even more. My eyes close in an attempt to block everything out.

In out, in out.

My body is tense, coiled to spring. My chest is hurting and my head is pounding. How much longer is this going to last? I don’t want to think about the people watching me, but those thoughts overwhelm my senses. I sit down on the bench behind me because the trembling has reached my legs.

In out, in out.

I hug my arms to my chest so I can hide the trembling. My mind is racing, trying to focus on each symptom, but unable to focus on just one. People are staring. My shaking hands move up to my heart and I can feel the beating picking up speed. The walls start crumbling, and I feel lightheaded.

In out, in out.

I attempt to block out all of the noises and focus on my breathing.

In out, in out.

I can’t do this. I don’t want to open my eyes. I don’t want to see the pity. I don’t want to see the fear.

In out, in out.

I’m starting to come down. My breaths are no longer coming out in gasps. I am still breathing fast, but the breaths are starting to slow down. I can focus more now.

In out, in out.

My heart is still frantic, but the beats are slowing down.

In out, in out.

I focus on positive thoughts. I focus on safe thoughts.  My breathing has returned to normal, and my heart has finally slowed down. My eyes are still closed. I’m afraid to open them. People are looking at me. My legs are no longer shaking. My hands are still trembling, but I know that is the last symptom to go. I take a deep breath, hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

I open my eyes.

I am sitting on the bench, and notice the shoppers going on about their day.

No one is looking.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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Originally published: May 28, 2018
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