What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like to You?
Finding a good metaphor/descriptor....
I was writing about panic attacks, and got me wondering, what does a panic attack feel like to you? I’d love to know how you describe them to yourself, your friends, your therapist, whoever. It’s one of those things that’s so specific yet hard to really elucidate; you have to kind of resort to inadequate metaphor. So I’d love to know how you manage to relay your experience!
Here’s a description of a panic attack from my forthcoming book, Rabbit Hole.
To me, panic attacks were a feeling of a feeling—a sudden and overwhelming sensation that I would return to my previous state of brokenness, be re-swallowed; that I no longer controlled my brain, my body, my reality. A series of events, internal thoughts, triggers, maybe a thought of something bad—a friend who had done something that pissed me off, or a thought of an uncertain future, or whatever it may be—that would lead to a stomach pang that felt like a stomach pang from the breakdown years, that would lead to a heart racing that felt like the breakdown years, and on and on, a chain reaction, until boom. Or like like a lock pick—if one pin triggered, nothing, a jiggle in the door; but if enough of them were touched, in the right order, the lock would click open; my insanity from long ago no longer safely contained behind the steel door I’d spent so much energy constructing; it would rush in, the past amalgamating with the present, until the present was no longer perceivable as such—a mind in several temporal states simultaneously. Craziness.
For me it’s sensory overload. Words stop making sense, my ears ring loudly, clothing feels wrong, lights are too bright, objects around me seem overwhelming…it’s a full body experience where everyday things are suddenly painful and/or too much to process.
I think the way I described it when they first began was just this sense of being outside myself. I would get them at high school dances and other similar events, and I’d get this sense that I was just looking at myself from above and watching myself weave through the crowd and I couldn’t do anything about my climbing heart rate and inability to take a deep breath. It just felt so removed - like I was going through something so entirely divorced from my actual physical reality and I couldn’t really control it.