Here’s How A Panic Attack Goes

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

You’re fumbling around trying to open the box of the frozen Amy’s meal you want to eat. You’re not really hungry, but you think eating might help. You think maybe getting some food in your stomach will help you think straight.

You’re not sure how you got into your kitchen. Doesn’t matter. You can’t really remember what you did earlier anyway. You just know that you think it might be important that you eat. Very quickly.

You finally get the cardboard Amy’s meal box open. You think briefly that now you should put the tray in the microwave — I can probably skip poking a hole in the plastic covering, right? It’ll just pop on its own in there, right? — but you don’t actually get the tray into the microwave. You lay it on the kitchen counter and walk deliberately into your living room, hands on your hips, exhaling deeply. You’re home alone because your family is out of town.

You start to focus on relaxing for just a little bit before you eat. Just let me sit on the couch and breathe for a minute.

You sit on the couch and exhale deeply. Then you violently throw the recliner function and kick your legs out in front of you and lace your hands behind your head. You’re sprawled all the way out on your couch. You exhale deeply again.

Then you start to feel your heartbeat around your ears. Little warm pulses, way faster than they should be. You exhale even more deeply and close your eyes. You see a bunch of those little chrome-illusion floaties, which scare you, so you open your eyes again and look at the ceiling. You start to feel the control slip away, but you know you can’t let it get completely away from you because you’re alone — jesus christ I’m having a stroke.

You rise from the couch rapidly because lying there surely isn’t going to help. You’re breathing fast now, too fast.

You walk back to you kitchen and force yourself to put the Amy’s meal into the microwave. You start it cooking and lean you hands on the counter. You feel your blood pounding in your temples and you know your blood pressure is way too high. You’re breathing even faster now. Yup, no doubt about it, I’m going to die right here. Fuck, I don’t want to die, I love my family… will I ever see my kids again?

You try to focus on something, anything, to steady yourself. You look at a particular tile on the backslash under the microwave. You’re looking at the title and trying to think of something to think about other than your imminent death when you realize that your peripheral vision is fading. The tunnel vision creeps in and you forget about everything other than the creeping darkness at the edges of your vision, the extremely rapid pounding of your heart, you know the blood vessels in your brain can’t take much more stress than this — too much blood pressure. You know you are literally having a stroke and dying right now. Your legs start to feel like jello so you turn around and slump down, back against the cabinets, and your head bangs against the wood as you strain to center yourself and get a deep breath. Your vision fades further and suddenly you don’t understand anything, you don’t know what’s happening, where you are, who you are, what you’re —

The beeping of the microwave scares the shit out of you and brings you back to the present for a moment. You remember what you’re doing and tell yourself that you have to eat.

You struggle up and pull the Amy’s meal out of the microwave, paying no attention to the burns it’s leaving in your fingers. You peel back the plastic and pick up a bite of blistering food in your fingers and stuff it into your mouth because you have to eat right fucking now.

The heat is painful in your mouth and only then do you realize that the right side of your face is numb. Oh my god… I really am having a stroke. I have to get to the hospital right now.

You’ve discovered that your will to live has literally taken command of your body and you watch as if through a first-person point-of-view movie as your hand reaches into the kitchen drawer and grabs your car keys. The next thing you know you’re backing out of your driveway, face number, heart pounding, tears streaking down your face.

You are only vaguely aware that some part of your mind is struggling desperately to keep your car on the road. You’re not sure what you’re doing, or how long you’ve been doing it, then you see the sign for the hospital up ahead and you remember.

You park, possibly bumping the car next to you, you’re not sure. Then you’re stumbling into the emergency department entrance and telling a guy with a raised eyebrow and badge on his shirt that you’re having a stroke. You tell him that you don’t want to die.

Then you’re sitting in a padded, high-back chair and a concerned-looking nurse straps a blood pressure cuff on your arm.

“One ninety over one thirty,” she says.

“I can’t feel my face,” you tell her through gasps and chokes and snot.

“You’ll be okay. How old are you?”

“Twenty-nine.”

Then you’re laying on a hospital bed — laying here dying, I know it — and an Indian doctors walks in and tells you he’s going to give you something make you feel better. You tell him to call your family and to tell them you love them.

“You’ll be fine.”

After an eternity, a nurse walks in and sticks an intravenous line into your arm and pushes something that changes your whole perspective about life, the universe, and who you are.

Within two minutes, you feel calm and can think again. You tell the nurse that you’re okay now.

“I know.”

You stay in the hospital bed for an hour, partially high and definitely not dying, wondering how you got yourself into this mess.

Pretty soon, the nurse comes back with the contact information for some local psychologists and psychiatrists.

“We’re going to send you home with five of these pills. If you feel like you’re starting to panic again, take one. You need to see a psychiatrist right away. They’ll help you with your anxiety.”

“Okay.”

The hospital discharges you an hour later. As you’re driving home, you realize that the bills are going to start coming within a week or so. You think about what you’re going to tell your wife, that you’re going to have to drain the savings to pay the bills, and that probably won’t be enough.

As you’re walking into your house, the thoughts of the bills start to mount, and you begin to worry. We can’t afford this. What have I done? Maybe I should try to hide this from my family.

You wash down two of the pills they gave you at the hospital with a beer and eat the cold and congealed Amy’s meal that’s still sitting on your counter.

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