Kat Atwell
Jun 6, 2017 · 3 min read
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A panic attack descended today. And tonight, I’ve decided to write about it. Every panic attack is a special snowflake. So, here’s my experience:

The creeping anxiety. There’s that slow-motion fear that crawls into your body like that moment right before a roller coaster crests. It’s going into a haunted house (not that I’d know, but I’m assuming). You know something is coming, you know you can’t stop it, and bracing yourself only makes it worse. This is the part when you want to control the unknown and you absolutely can’t.

The hyperventilating. My breathing gets intensely shallow when I fall into panic. I try to combat it with breathing exercises, but I struggle with flashbacks. When my daughter was an infant, our whole family was run over by a stomach virus. It led to a 911 call for me due to an onset of rigor resulting from severe dehydration and, you guessed it, hyperventilating.

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The racing. Racing thoughts. Racing heartbeat. The intense need to run away from something.

Temperature swings. I’m freezing, then sweating, then freezing again. I usually stall on freezing. Really looking forward to menopause.

The impending doom. This is different from the creeping anxiety. The anxiety is an awareness that something is coming. The doom is knowing something has happened already and I just don’t know what it is yet. It’s subtle and sinister. The doom lends itself to more paranoia, while the anxiety is drawn to paralysis.

My stomach goes to hell. Instant diarrhea, churning insides, watery mouth. And I do not want to eat at all. I’ll usually try to fight it off by not eating on purpose, and then winding up with low blood sugar.

The crying. The crying is awful. The last thing I want in the midst of a panic attack is for anyone to actually notice I’m having one. Speaking is nearly impossible. Speaking specifically about the panic is an absolute way to make the crying worse, but trying to talk about something unrelated and crying anyway? That just makes the shame crash harder.

Expecting a death sentence. Knowing in my gut, instinctually, that I have a disease already brewing inside me that is going to inevitably lead to my demise, sooner rather than later. I usually go to cancer, but I’ve also had my fair share of heart attack scares.

The shakes. I get really bad hand tremors when I have an attack. And I’ve learned that staring really hard at my hand and mentally willing it to stop is not an effective way to treat the shaking. It just scares me further.

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Once I’ve made it through to the other side of the panic attack, the adrenaline drain happens, and I go numb. Everything takes effort, and all the parts that put me together are exhausted, especially my brain. But, I’m no longer expecting to die at this point.

The attack I experienced today lasted about 2.5 hours. Right now, though, it feels like it’s been weeks since it occurred, rather than ten hours ago. I’ve separated myself from it and it seems unfamiliar.

Someday I’m going to come to know surrender, and I’m going to move through one of these and come out the other end a stronger, more self-aware person. Today, it appears, was not that day.

Invisible Illness

We don't talk enough about mental health.

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