The Panic Attack


I’ve got skills.

At any given moment I can convince myself I’m having a heart attack. Once my heart rate picks up pace it’s all catastrophizing from there. Pulse pounding, fingertips tingling, searing chest pain and gasping for air.

I open my mouth to scream but no sound comes out.

I’ve gotten good at this over the years. I now put my hands on my head because if I don’t, I’ll punch something instead. Punching things is so self destructive and totally not cool.

Hey, I’m paranoid.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve thrown up in public places. I mean, public places are fucking scary. Everyone is out to get me.

The world shrinks rapidly. It closes in on me. It’s probably best to just never leave the house. So I don’t. Now I just panic in the comfort of my own home where I don’t actually feel comfortable because if I did, I probably wouldn’t panic.

There is no escape and if there were, what am I escaping? The fight or flight response is a normal human hormone. I have yet to develop a skill set which defies nature and being human.

The first time it happened was fifteen years ago. I was driving on the freeway. I had just left the Papago Military Reservation. I pulled over as cars flew by.

Dry mouth. My saliva was pasty. For some reason this is the most significant detail that stands out in my mind.

I got out of the car. I was suffocating. My jacket came off first, then my shirt. I started walking laps around the car and that’s when I stopped breathing. I pulled my belt off. My BDU pants tugged at me. My feet felt cemented to the ground from the weight of my tactical boots. My tags choked me even though the ball link chain was long enough to pull over by head.

“911, what is your emergency?”

I told them to go to the wrong place. The operator kept calling back. It annoyed me. I wasn’t in the mood for chit chat.

Once she and I finally squared away my precise location it took almost an hour for paramedics to get to me. I was already dead by the time they got there. That’s what I told them, anyway.

Paramedic: Ma’am, you had a panic attack.

Me: No, I’m dead.

I read an article titled, What to do When You’re Having a Panic Attack. #3 is to make a cup of green tea.

Are you shitting me? My version of a panic attack is freaking out and screaming, I’m dying, call 911, I can’t breathe! The room spins and I go down. In the process traumatizing everyone around me.

We all need counseling when it’s over. I’ll pass on the green tea, thanks.

Benzos are awesome. Not only are they physically addicting but by the time they calm me 30 minutes later I’ve already lost my shit and collected it again.

Then I started taking them before I ever panic just to avoid panicking because I start to panic that I might panic. Now they are mentally addictive but I justify this because they are prescribed to me.

Why do they tell you to take a deep breath when you call the crisis line? I called because I can’t fucking breathe. These people aren’t actually hearing me. They think they know better because I’m the one panicking and they’re not. That’s a bit judgmental, don’t you think?

I call anyway because reality is no matter what anyone else may say or do, I’m the one responsible for helping myself.

Waking up to a panic attack is the bomb, and not figuratively. It’s explosive.

It’s not fear I feel which is normally what causes me to panic. It’s anger. The next thing I know I’m walking up and down the road wearing nothing but a tank top and boxer briefs while my neighbors are staring at me. This causes me to panic more.

I blame them because that’s the rational thing to do and all.

Here’s the thing. My story has no ending. It just sort of cuts off opposed to some hero’s journey, life lesson, bullshit taught in writing school. Although there is always a journey, sometimes there isn’t a hero. This is real life after all and mental health can be a life long struggle.

One thing I am certain of is that panic attacks are both emotionally and physically exhausting.

I think I’ll take a nap now.

Newspaper reporter in Eastern Iowa. The views expressed are mine alone.

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