What Having A Panic Attack Is Actually Like


Your anxiety slowly rises as your breaths become shallow, breaking through the cracks between your ribs. Your head separates, floats above your body. The ground begins to spin. You blink rapidly as everything around you changes. People weave in and out of your vision. Colors become loud and garish, blinding your eyes before fading away. Objects pull close to your face and then disappear. Everything is excruciatingly bright and loud, as if all the dissonant sounds in the world are thrust at once against your eardrums. Then everything fades away, blurs outside of your vision, and you are only aware of your heartbeat, thundering within your chest, the torrential weight of your breathing, and the numbness of your fingertips.

As the world spins, you desperately wish you could step off its carousel. You gasp for air but you can’t ever catch enough air within your lungs. You feel sharp pain at your ribs, as if someone is stepping on your chest as you squirm beneath that foot. Is this a heart attack?  Am I going crazy?  Your thoughts spin in wild circles as you try to figure out what’s happening. Fragments of thoughts, a cacophony of words, swim laps within the turbulent waters of your mind.

More than anything else, you struggle to breathe. It’s impossible to breathe with that heavy foot crushing your ribs. Wincing against the pain, you shudder as you attempt to swallow air into your crippled lungs. A voice by your head, a touch on your shoulder jolt you. The world implodes on you as you gasp for air. You’re drowning in an invisible ocean.

You fear that people are looking at you and don’t know what they see. Are you really breathing that loud?  Are you walking or standing still?  You look for a safe corner to collapse in, or an open space to rest in. Is there someone that can help you?  Or do you need to be alone?

Your breaths quicken as you wince in pain and try to still your trembling hands. Your heart is beating like a drum, vibrating your whole body. Dizzy, you trip on air and try to find a resting place.

It feels like it lasts an eternity, but it’s only been fifteen minutes. Finally the foot leaves your chest and you can breathe deeply, flooding your lungs with air. Your head falls back to your shoulders. The world stops vomiting color and noise on you. As objects around you rearrange into their usual pattern, your heart slows to its normal rhythm. You feel incredibly tired, like you could sleep for days straight. Those fifteen minutes consumed every bit of your strength.

But you have to keep going.

So after a while, you sigh deeply, pull yourself together, and head home, praying that this never happens again.