On panic attacks
This is story has been brought to you via a panic attack.
Just this week I came across the actual definition of a panic attack. I used to have this idea of panic attacks as long-lasting moments where you cannot breathe and start screaming, possibly also loosing control of your body. Those are certainly panic attacks, but apparently all panic attacks don’t have that shape. And not only are panic attacks not limited to that description, but they are inclusive of multiple events I have been dealing with all my life, specially recently.
Giving a name to those events doesn’t make them go away or make them or me any more or less interesting or pleased to have them. (Notice I don’t use the word suffer. More on that later.) I find it useful to have a word for them tho. Makes it easier to find resources and identify myself with a community.
As you might have read at the start or maybe seen in some way from my phrasing, I am having a panic attack as I write this. (I was really tempted to phrase it as “sort of having a panic attack.” More on that later.)
Having a name for these events also has the benefit of formally acknowledging their existence as a companion throughout my life, which in a way has made me see their impact on my life as well as their evolution. They’re not a friend, but they are with me, and I can’t dismiss how they’ve shaped me.
Thinking about how panic attacks have shaped my life inevitably addresses the question “How would my life have been like without them?” And an interesting note I would make on that is that pretending it would be unequivocally better than what I have today is difficult. Not only because personality is a complex system and therefore the effects simply “subtracting” a component are almost impossible to account for, but also because it has helped me in many ways.
Not only some, but many of the things I like most about my life are thanks to the impact panic attacks have had on my life.
Another peculiarity of panic attacks I have found is that it feels wrong to identify with having them. In some way, I liked it better not having a name for it, because naming myself as a person who has panic attacks every once in a while feels, somewhat, like me saying I am okay with that fact. Or worse, that I am proud. Self-victmization is a thing that everyone strong enough to name and accept their demons risks feeling or being called.
Having panic attacks can be seen to mean many things, but in the end it only means that you have panic attacks. All else is just bullshit you and other people add to the mix.
I think that in many ways, being unilaterally honest to yourself, almost robotically is very beneficial. When panic attacks do fade—and they do—, they also bring clarity that most other moments fail to bring. That is not good, nor bad, it just is.
For me, panic attacks occur at the intersection of self-worth and productivity/achivement. Their nature is quite strange, because they seem to turn off higher-level thinking but at the same time increase the speed of though. Your field of view diminishes, but your speed increases. You become hyperaware to micro things, but they fail to make a ton of sense. Sometimes you notice that lack of sense, other times you just think nonsense and only realize it was nonsense after the fact.
For me, panic attacks always trigger or are triggered by impostor syndrome situations and feelings. Not only is my whole life’s work discredited, but my whole life. Suicidal thoughts always follow, most times obsessively, but other times compulsively.
At their peak, they also usually bring about partially-unintentional spasms and erratic muscle movements. I shake intensive and lose control of my knees, usually dropping to the floor or a bed. I then breathe heavily. These moments also feel really good, meaning they seem to release a lot of dopamine, and usually make my panic attack fade slowly.
Appreciating panic attacks as an element of your body’s repertoire of tools to get itself out of danger—if evolutionarily ill adapted to today’s world—proves very useful. It certainly has a lot of similarities with hunger.
A calm song of repeat usually brings it all down, and since being on meds most of them have been more manageable.
Now that I can, I am somewhat grateful, for I can learn from them, as the primitive species living inside me, coming out to feast on my fears, and bring to my attention the many pending (non)catastrophes that await me.
I am still here, with them, and although I won’t miss them, they’re as me as anything could be.
PS: the attack has ended, just on those last two paragraphs.