They can hit at any moment, and without warning, leaving you crippled and unable to react. They can last for any amount of time, from a few minutes to an hour, and in some cases even longer. They are Panic Attacks, and this is what happens (in my own experience).
The day is bright, and things are going well. I accomplished something in the morning that I had been working on for quite some time. It turned out well, and I’m quite pleased with it. I walked to where I needed to go, whistling a happy tune.
But then things change. I see something up ahead and two words shoot through my consciousness like a high pitched scream causing all other thoughts to immediately fade away. They are: “Oh no.”
Time seems to slow down as things start to happen very rapidly. My mind begins racing, trying to come up with some sort of plan to change the situation. Escape and Evade is the general idea, but nothing comes. Hundreds of different solutions present themselves one by one. One by one they are shot down.
The mind, unable to find a solutions, begins effecting other parts of the body. This is called somatization – The mind sending your body signals that have no organic basis, and it responding as if it did.
Blood rushes to the face, causing me to suddenly feel very hot. It also means I’m looking like a tomato, as blushes are hard to hide – impossible if you are a redhead.
My heart begins to race. It feels like I just finished the 3.1 miles runs I used to do as a cross country runner. My breathing soon follows suit, and I find myself unable to get enough oxygen. I begin to feel light headed.
My stomach begins to simultaneosly tighten and twist, threatening to repel it’s contents back from which it came. Any thought of food is expelled quickly at the risk of losing it entirely.
The walls begin to close in, and there is an unescapable feeling of sudden suffocation which is worsened by the fact that I’m already breathing hard and my heart is racing. My mind is frantically searching for anything that will bring relief, but at the same time trying for force my body into standing completely still. Sudden movements will only bring unwanted attention from others.
I know what’s coming next, and it only adds to the chaos that has engulfed me, leaving me completely paralyzed. They don’t always come, though, and I’m praying in some part of my mind that has retained it’s wits that they don’t come this time. But they don’t listen. The tears begin to flow, and all dignity is forgotten. All other thoughts disappear to make way for the only thing that now matters: fleeing the area.
Somehow – God only knows how – I find my way to the last place I felt safe – usually my apartment. Slowly time returns to normal and things begin to settle down. But at the same time, the way I was before is unattainable.
Every panic attack changes you. It pushes you, molds you into something else. Things from your old life persists, but from that point on, you’ll always be a little more careful, a little more on edge.
At least, that’s been my experience.