panic attacks: what they feel like

TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses panic attacks.

What I’m about to say is hard for me to talk about for three reasons:

  1. It’s hard to put everything into words.
  2. It feels vulnerable.
  3. It’s scary for me to think about my own thoughts afterwards.

Realize that the thoughts and experiences can be different for everyone. Also, not every panic attack is the same and not every panic attack is this bad. Click below if you want to read a detailed explanation of what panic attacks feel like for me.

Imagine this: you’re sitting next to your best friend on her bed, watching a movie on the TV. She’s helped you through panic attacks before, and knows what they’re like. You trust her and are sitting right next to her.

Imagine feeling every single bad emotion all at once. Imagine loneliness, brokenness, sadness, shame, abandonment, anger, despair, bitterness, helplessness, indifference, frustration, grief, embarrassment, powerlessness, worry, guilt, boredom, hurt, and disappointment all at once. Now imagine that there is also this overwhelming fear on top of all of those emotions. Your friend is still there. She hasn’t moved. But still, you feel the most alone.

Scary and hopeless thoughts are repeating through your head:

Why are you alive? Why were you born in the first place? You’re just a loser. You don’t have a purpose here. You’re worthless. You’re nothing. Give up. Stop fighting. Nothing you ever do will ever be enough. There’s no point in trying anymore. Just give up. No one would even care anyways if you were gone. They’re just pretending. Wait, a sec, so you think your God loves you? Yeah, well, does it even make sense? Who are you that God would love you?

Now imagine some abnormal physical sensations. You can’t move your right hand. Your left foot hurts so much you want to scream. You think something is wrong with your heart because it is beating a little faster than normal. You think you’re going to die because it’s harder to breathe and your chest feels tight. Maybe one of your arms or legs feels weird, too.

And then you have a nightmarish daydream that you can’t seem to pull yourself out of. Your best friend died. Some shot her. You saw the whole thing and there wasn’t anything you could do about it. The daydream ends. You wonder if it was real. You want to call your friend to see if she’s okay. But you can’t. You’re scared that she won’t answer the phone. You call her. No answer. You wonder if she’s at work or asleep or busy or if she’s… You shudder and try to push it from your head. You curl up into a ball and start shaking and crying.

Maybe you don’t have a nightmare. Instead, you hear every sound around you (air conditioner, the television, someone walking upstairs all at the same really loud volume). You curl yourself up into a ball. The sounds are louder. You put your hands over your ears. Even louder. You start shaking and can’t seem to calm yourself down.

Or maybe you have a hallucination instead. There is a creature wearing a dark cape over black clothing with finger nails as long and sharp as paring knives. It stares at you with black eyes sunken into its skull-like face. It moves closer quietly and swiftly but with the grace of water. You’re shaking, you’re curled up on your bed. You want to scream but you can’t. You open your mouth but can’t make a sound. It pierces your side, in between some of your ribs with its fingernails. Pain shoots everywhere. You’re bleeding. You feel the blood trickling down over your fingers that you have pressed firmly against your side in a futile attempt to slow the bleeding. You’ve lost a lot of blood….

You’ve been sitting next to someone the whole time. They noticed you were shaking. They’ve been trying to pull you out of it, but you barely noticed them. “Open your eyes,” they say. You never even noticed they were shut. “They’re open!” you respond. “No. They’re not. Open your eyes.” They instruct you to count their fingers. You say the wrong number. You open your eyes, or maybe they have to pry them open for you. You can barely keep your eyes open. You’re tired and mentally exhausted. Your friend keeps reminding you to breathe, sit up straight, and keep your eyes open. And then it’s over.

Well, the panic attack is over. Your fight isn’t. You’re scared, confused, maybe a little unsure of your surroundings. Maybe you’re angry at yourself for having another panic attack. And sometimes, you don’t really have any emotions. It feels awful. There’s nothing to fight back at when you only have the emotions.

A few hours later and you’re back to “normal,” but what just happened is still in the back of your head.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s