It’s hard to explain to what a panic attack feels like to someone who has never had one or even what anxiety feels like.
It’s like someone has a death grip around your throat while you frantically try to gasp for air, and then on top of that, someone punching you in the gut.
The first panic attack I had was in middle school. I was on a Girl Scout trip four hours away from home. I was sitting in the car waiting for the rest of my peers to join me to start off the day’s activities. Out of nowhere, it hit me. That silent invisible hand grasping for my throat and wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t breathe and I was beginning to freak out. When I finally regained composure, I began to sob. I had no idea what had just happened to me. I didn’t have a name for it. When the other members of my troop asked me what was wrong, I quickly lied and said I was homesick. Truth was, I had no idea what was wrong. However, I knew I couldn’t tell I had no idea why I was sobbing. They would have thought I was crazy.
I didn’t understand. I was in fine spirits earlier. Sure, I was a little homesick and with a group of girls I didn’t fit in with but I was OK. The rest I trip I was a bundle of nerves worrying it would happen again. I was more scared of what just happened to my body.
My next panic attack didn’t happen until I was 16 and learning how to drive. Since then, driving is the most soul crushing, emotionally and psychically draining event for me. I can’t drive.
I also suffer from anxiety, too. There will be days at a time where my stomach feels like a tangled knot of barbed wire. I don’t sleep and barely eat. These episodes as I call them usually happen when I am depressed or extremely stressed out.
Most people don’t know I suffer from this. I’ve learned to plaster on a smile even when I feel like jumping out of my own skin. The thing is, I don’t come off like I am very anxious person. I can get up on stage in front of a thousand people and perform without the slightest bit of nerves but driving down the street sends me into full-fledged panic mode. To be honest, I can’t even explain that to myself.
Many don’t understand that anxiety is a very physical experience. They consider it mental and while that is true, that is not the whole picture. The most frightening part of having a panic attack is the way your body shuts down and you feel like a prisoner in it. There are times when I literally can’t move.
For the longest time I was ashamed of my anxiety and myself. Just one of the many reasons I’m crazy, I would think to myself. I feared I would never get to live a full life when I was constantly worried about when the next strike of panic and anxiety would occur.
Over time and with help of a counselor, I’ve learned I’m not crazy and I am more than worthy of living a full and happy life. There are certain things that are a little more challenging and time consuming for me than the average person but that’s the way it is. There are times when I drop off the radar for a few days. Sometimes I need to be alone. I’ve learned what my triggers are and how to avoid. I’ve learned how to deal with the anxiety when it attacks. I am no longer in fear of what my body will do to me.
It can be exhausting at times but this is the hand I’ve been dealt. My opinion? I might as well accept it and live with a positive attitude because otherwise life would be way too long.
Written by Sara Brown