I have been asked to describe a “panic attack” by friends, family members and social workers alike. While the physical attributes include racing heart, nausea, headache, and so forth, there are deep emotional and spiritual attributes that vary from person to person. The emotional response throughout and after a panic attack can always vary from peaceful resolution to exhaustion and deeper depression.
I once had an attack that was so severe, I ended up having my parents drive me to the hospital. You may be curious to know what my trigger was…I dropped a chicken nugget and got ranch on my shirt. That may seem ridiculous to the sane minded, but to myself and those that may also suffer from anxiety, this was commonplace. What began as crying uncontrollably divulged into hyperventilating, moaning “I’m okay!” and I found myself wishing that I could just stop breathing, and the panic would dissolve.
The miserable truth about panic attacks is that you just have to ride them out and acknowledge the feelings that are dredged up. For instance, I was not crying over the mere fact that there was ranch dressing on my shirt. In fact, I was crying because I loathed myself for making a mistake in front of other people, and not being perfect. Harsh, I know, but that is how mental illness consumed my mind, my feelings, my everything.
Once I finally calmed down enough to go home, a migraine kicked in and I drugged up and slept for nearly 12 hours. Like I mentioned before, panic attacks can be exhausting. After my worse attack, I realized that I needed to devise a plan to prevent another trip to the hospital. The best way, I thought, to help myself would be to verbalize my feelings. If I put pen on paper or fingers to keys, I could write a guide for myself to reference when I felt the panic bubbling up. However, I ended up writing a sort of poetic tribute to the emotions and feelings that I experienced the night before. So here it goes:
“The boundaries crowd in and I scream until I suffocate. Choking on the pressure and demand of this world. Then I was cleansed. I was, I am, I will be free once more. Calm in the world and ethereal. Floating above the trials and tribulations. Passing by the negativity and dislike. I am myself and I was shaped by the storms of loss and neglect, of mourning reprise. Live. Love. Cherish. For hope and for peace. To be myself. No longer repressed by childish thoughts and actions.
The haze swirls around my head, enveloping my senses and contorting the reality. My reality is blurry. I have no focus. I have lost my sense of direction. I speak and the words do not come out, a scream but nothing escapes me. I need a renewal. I need a fix, I need to be fixed. I found my drug, I used my drug, and I came back for more. I lost my sense of feeling, loss was no longer painful, relationships had no meaning. The weights and measures no longer had any presence in my life, I let go of everything. Out of whack, out of balance, and out of control. Spinning, spiraling, the cars are honking, the lights are flashing. My heart is pounding , my head is pulsing. The flashbacks are coming, bad thoughts, angry thoughts, make them stop. MAKE ME STOP. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Breathe, relax, enjoy. REPEAT. Continue to love and to try. There is no other escape, your bridges have burned; all that’s left is prescribed and diagnosed. Take a pill, take a chill, and breathe again. Caaalllmmm.
Here am I, come find me, drift with me. Float on the waves of feeling, the over-reactive currents and the under-reactive undertow. Find my balance. Help me balance. Lead me, hold my hand, be my compass. Stand like a tree, let the breezes pass through. Sway with happiness. Shed away the browning leaves. Rebirth. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Renewal. Strength.”
Nobody can explain exactly how it feels to experience a panic attack. Doctors can diagnose the physical symptoms and a therapist/psychiatrist can analyze your feelings, but only you will know exactly what is plaguing your mind. To verbalize feelings is to give them reality and life, and some feelings are irrational and do not deserve to be made real. My writing had given me clarity and peace at the time, but there are some days when it still hurts to read over my own writing. It hurts to relive the experience, to address irrational fears, and to descend into that darkness once more. There are also days where it feels bizarrely therapeutic to re-experience my past. It is on these particular days where I can feel proud of myself for the changes I have my in my life.