As I sit here, I feel that sinking feeling within my chest that I can never quite describe. It’s heavy, burdening. It feels like everything is crumbling within the confines of your body, while your outside remains calm and collected.
My face is expressionless, but my breathing is more burdened. Claustrophobia is the only real way I can explain it, but you feel trapped inside your own body rather than a physical space. My thoughts need an escape, but even while my mind is busy it’s my subconscious working overtime.
Today’s panic attack: Lockdown extension.
I felt fine, the news hasn’t rattled me. I’ve felt calm and collected and understanding. But I think my head and heart know I crave routine, human interaction, social encounters. The thought of this panic lasting indefinitely has finally hit my body.
I remember my first panic attack vividly. I thought I was dying. I was sitting on the sofa watching TV with my then boyfriend and suddenly I couldn’t catch my breath. I was severely asthmatic growing up and chalked it down to that, remained calm and tried to slow my breathing. I couldn’t. It had been almost an hour (or what felt like one) and my parents were contemplating calling an ambulance when my brother suggested I was having an anxiety attack. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t.
I couldn’t breathe properly for an hour or more. I was in bits, scared and confused.
They proceeded onwards from here.
I would have them twice a day, sometimes more.
I always thought it was something more, anxiety attacks couldn’t feel this bad, this REAL.
The turning point came when on one evening whilst in my third year uni bedroom, I was sat, breathless, trying to explain to 111 how I felt. An ambulance was sent. An ECG showing heart palpitations meant a journey to A&E.
Surely this has something to do with my heart. My mum has a pacemaker, she started having trouble around my age, maybe more tests will show something.
No. My heart rate returned to normal, palpitations ceased. A 24 hour heart monitor showed similar. But, still nothing concrete bar anxiety.
I never realised anxiety could be that severe. Come completely out of the blue, with no conscious feelings of panic. When I feel them coming on now, I have a much better grip and control. Breathing, headspace, distraction.
I urge you, if you have never experienced an anxiety attack, to cut any sufferers some slack. It is still not something I entirely understand, but there are times when I feel like, truthfully, I could die. Not all attacks are created equal, some are lighter and in waves, others more severe. But not all of them are triggered by conscious things either. It can take a while to understand what has set mine off.
If you don’t suffer and don’t understand – just please realise that these can affect anyone. They are wildly unwanted and difficult to explain. They are real and they feel terrifying.